Eye-catching large prizes lure kids to fishing rodeo

By: K. Michelle Moran | Grosse Pointe Times | Published August 4, 2015

 Patrick Gough, 4, of Grosse Pointe Farms — a participant in 2014 — said he hadn’t caught anything yet, but he was trying really hard.

Patrick Gough, 4, of Grosse Pointe Farms — a participant in 2014 — said he hadn’t caught anything yet, but he was trying really hard.

File photo by Donna Agusti

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GROSSE POINTE FARMS — Fishing might not sound like something that would generate much interest among modern kids. It doesn’t have flashing lights or sophisticated computer graphics, there’s no tie-ins to comic book superheroes or animated movie characters, and it requires patience.


But time and time again, the Grosse Pointe Farms and City Family Fishing Rodeo has demonstrated that even a tech-savvy youngster can have a great time with a rod, a reel, some bait, and a parent or grandparent at their side. The 67th annual Grosse Pointe Farms and City Family Fishing Rodeo will take place, rain or shine, Aug. 8 at Pier Park in the Farms. It’s all free — even bait is available — and it’s open to City and Farms boys and girls ages 17 and younger with park passes. Anglers only need to bring their own fishing rods.


“We broke an attendance record last year,” said Richard Graves Jr., of the Farms, the general chair and coordinator of the fishing rodeo. They had about 1,205 participants in 2014, of which Graves estimated roughly 60 percent were kids, and the rest were adult family members who accompanied them. “To have a fishing-based event keep growing each year is amazing.”


From 8-9 a.m., participants can enjoy complimentary coffee, juice and doughnuts. The fishing rodeo itself runs from 9-10 a.m. off the pier. A lunch of hot dogs, chips and pop will be served at 10 a.m., followed by an awards presentation and distribution of prizes at 10:30 a.m. Graves said everything will be over by 11:30 a.m., leaving families the rest of the day for other activities.


Regardless of whether or not they catch anything, all kids will receive a prize worth $20-$30. And the event is now open to kids who don’t want to fish. Children who aren’t taking part in the fishing rodeo are encouraged to arrive by 9:30 a.m., although they’re welcome to come earlier.


“We changed things a little bit (last year) so kids don’t have to fish to participate,” Graves said. “We don’t want to exclude anybody. It’s such a fun event, we want everyone to come down.”


Trophies will be presented to three children from the Farms and three from the City for the largest fish, largest game fish and first fish caught.


If it’s raining, the fishing will still go on outside, but lunch and prizes will be handled inside the community recreation building.


“It’s now the largest and oldest children’s and family event in Grosse Pointe,” Graves said.


And it has inspired similar events in other cities. Grosse Pointe Shores recently held a fishing derby that was a big hit with kids there, and Graves recalls talking to Shores Mayor Ted Kedzierski as the Shores was planning its own event.


“We need this kind of stuff for our kids,” Graves said.


As not only a city administrator but also a father of two, Farms City Manager Shane Reeside has enjoyed taking part in this event with his son and daughter. Although he laughingly admitted that his daughter “makes me bait the hook,” both kids have had fun competing in the rodeo.


“It’s just a very neat event,” Reeside said. “You can see the smiles on their faces as the kids are racing to the measuring station to measure their catch.”


Graves said the mad dash is because if there’s a tie in any fish size category, the child who caught the fish first will win.


Much of the credit for the event’s success can be attributed to Graves, who quite literally works on the fishing rodeo year-round, starting to purchase prizes for the coming year the day after each rodeo, because he said that’s when he finally has room to store the prizes again.


“Dick Graves is incredible,” Reeside said. “He works tirelessly to coordinate this event year-round. His face just lights up when he talks about it. He’s particularly excited this year because of the caliber of the prizes he’s been able to secure for it.”


Little has changed in the fishing rodeo since Graves’ late father, Richard Graves Sr., launched the event with the assistance of a handful of police officers and firefighters from the City and Farms, including police officer Joe Miller. Richard Graves Jr., now 64, wasn’t even born yet when this event started, nor were his younger brother and sister. Graves Jr. has been organizing the event since his father’s death in 1986. Even before then, Graves said he used to help his dad, and he fondly recalls how much he looked forward to the fishing rodeo each year when he was a boy.


“Even though the event has been held since 1948, there’s probably as much excitement today as there was (almost 70 years ago),” Reeside said. “Last year, they had record crowds. People enjoy it immensely.”


One of the few changes? “They used to start (the competition) with a shotgun shot into the water,” Graves said. Now, a police siren signals the start.


There are raffles for more and bigger prizes today, too. In addition to the gifts each child automatically takes home, six new mountain bikes — three for boys and three for girls — will be given away. And the parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles who show up have a chance to go home with their own big-ticket goodies, with an adult raffle that includes prizes like flat-screen televisions, restaurant gift certificates, suites to see the Detroit Tigers at Comerica Park, and more. Like everything else about the rodeo, the raffles are free; Graves said the many local businesses and individuals who sponsor this event make all of this possible.


“There’s no cost (for anything),” Graves said. “You couldn’t spend any money even if you wanted to.”


Longtime fishing rodeo volunteer Donna Imesch, of the Farms — who was much loved by attendees for making the hot dogs each year — died this winter at the age of 86. Graves said her family will be returning from all over the country to cook hot dogs in her honor this year. Imesch’s relatives already had been gathering at the fishing rodeo each year to help out, and Graves said they plan “to continue the tradition” in her memory.


Imesch was among a group of about 30-35 volunteers each year who set up and handle other tasks during the fast-paced event. Graves said they go through 3,000 hot dogs each year.


“The whole family is invited, and they all come, too,” he said. “We’ve got three generations of people coming now.”


Parents who are convinced their children’s smartphones must be fused to their hands likely will be stunned by the sights at the fishing rodeo.


“It’s so weird to see that many people in one place and not see a single electronic device,” Graves said. “(The kids aren’t) interested in their phones.”


Pier Park is located at the foot of Moross and Lake St. Clair. No advance registration is required for this event. For more information, call Farms Parks and Recreation at (313) 343-2405.

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