A Safe Day for Worms
Many people in North Central Florida feared rain would bring an early end to their Fourth of July plans, but in Lake Butler, a lack of rain brought an early end to an annual bass fishing tournament.
Thousands have competed in the contest over the last two decades. This year however, drought conditions made it impossible to launch most boats. A far cry from last year, when the winning fisherman's launch was just as memorable as his catch.
"Me and a couple of friends, we built this bicycle-boat trailer and put a row boat on it and I brought it down here on my bicycle and everybody laughed at me when I pulled up," Jerry Beavins recalled. "They thought it was the funniest thing. Funny thing is I won first place."
In previous years, up to 96 boats could be found trolling on the lake. This year, there's not a row boat or fishing pole in sight.
"The lake's way down," David Androlevich, the fishing tournament director, explained. "It's too hard to get the boats in."
The shoreline is currently down about four feet around the lake making it impossible to launch large boats and extremely difficult to get even a jet ski in the water. The Lake Butler City Manager said this has led to plenty of disappointed fishermen.
"We had quite a few calls at city hall about whether or not we were going to have the tournament, but the Rotary felt that with the problem, we have here trying to get boats off, it just wasn't a practical thing to do this year," Richard Tillis said.
Lake Butler had more than a fishing contest to offer for the holiday however. The Rotary Club President began planning the festivities in February and even without the tournament, there was more than enough to attract a crowd.
"We've definitely got record attendance and we're looking forward to about nine o'clock tonight when they do the fireworks," Chuck Oden said. "You won't be able to move in Lake Butler. It'll be a crowded house here."
Lake Butler has a population of approximately 2,000 people. For the Fourth, the estimated a crowd three times larger than that. Between local businesses and the City, almost $20,000 was spent on rides, food and entertainment for the celebration.
According to Rotary Club members, they try to make the celebration bigger every year. This year, the night ended with skydivers and an $8,000 firework display, which was paid for by the City, leaving everyone feeling like a winner; even though Beavins did not bring home another $1,000 prize, he said he still enjoyed the day.
"Atleast I don't have to sit out in the sunshine, because this florida sunshine in July can really beat down on you."
By Ted Latiak, WCJB TV20 News.
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