Fishing Rodeo’s prizes, family fun lure hundreds to Pier Park

By: K. Michelle Moran | Grosse Pointe Times | Published August 9, 2017

 During the 68th annual Grosse Pointe Farms and City Family Fishing Rodeo last year at Pier Park in the Farms, volunteer Don Sanford measures the 14.5-inch smallmouth bass caught by Ashton Zimmerman, 9, of Grosse Pointe Farms. This year’s event will take place Aug. 12 at Pier Park, rain or shine.

During the 68th annual Grosse Pointe Farms and City Family Fishing Rodeo last year at Pier Park in the Farms, volunteer Don Sanford measures the 14.5-inch smallmouth bass caught by Ashton Zimmerman, 9, of Grosse Pointe Farms. This year’s event will take place Aug. 12 at Pier Park, rain or shine.

File photo by Patricia O’Blenes

GROSSE POINTE FARMS — Parents: Are you tired of events for your kids that need as much paperwork as your taxes? Well, believe it or not, there’s still at least one family function that doesn’t require forms, reservations or money.

The 69th annual Grosse Pointe Farms and City Family Fishing Rodeo — which takes place, rain or shine, Aug. 12 at Pier Park in the Farms — is, by design, a hassle-free morning of fun. 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.

“The beauty of this is, there’s no forms, there’s no registration, and you’ll walk out of here with your arms full of prizes,” said Richard Graves Jr., of the Farms, the general chair and coordinator of the fishing rodeo. “We even supply the worms.”

From 8 to 9 a.m., participants can enjoy complimentary coffee, juice and doughnuts. The fishing rodeo itself runs 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. Every child takes home something. Graves said everything is over by 11:30 a.m., leaving families the rest of the day for other activities.

Since 2014, even kids who don’t want to fish are welcome, and the non-anglers get a prize as well. Graves said each of the prizes is worth about $30, and he gets toys and other fun items for youngsters of all ages. Those who aren’t fishing can come later, at 9:30 a.m. — unless they want to join in for the breakfast at 8 a.m.

“I don’t want to exclude any of the kids in the community,” said Graves of the decision to open up the rodeo to non-anglers.

Besides free prizes for every child, each youngster has a chance to win one of six mountain bikes — three for boys and three for girls. Like the rest of the event, the raffle tickets for the bikes are free.

Kids aren’t the only ones who leave with more than they brought. Parents, grandparents and other adults are eligible for free raffles that include restaurant gift certificates, suites at Comerica Park and flat-screen televisions. Graves said roughly one of every five adults there that day will go home with a raffle prize.

“The prizes are part of what make people come back,” Graves said.

Graves is as pleasantly shocked as anyone that this event continues to break attendance records. Last year, he said, about 1,257 were on hand — 20 more than 2015, which also had been a record-breaking year.

“The only thing that was larger than this in Grosse Pointe was the (Grosse Pointe Woods) fireworks, but they don’t do that anymore,” Graves said.

He gets to Pier Park by 5:30 a.m. that Saturday “to fire up the coffeepots,” and an army of volunteers help out in various ways, including by cooking hot dogs — with a crowd this large, they’re boiled in industrial-sized pots, 500 at a time. Graves said “a lot of generous” donors — who take out ads in the annual program — are the reason the event can be presented without cost to attendees.

“The Fishing Rodeo is important to the community because it introduces a lot of kids to the sport for the first time in (a) fun and exciting way,” Farms Assistant City Manager/City Clerk Derrick Kozicki said via email. “The event also provides teachable moments for parents to explain how the ecosystems that the fish inhabit work, and the importance of conservation.”

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 66, wasn’t born yet when this event started, nor were his younger brother and sister; he’s the oldest of his siblings. 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. He said he loved seeing the table of prizes when he was a boy, and now he loves seeing the kids who are as awestruck as he was.

The popularity of the rodeo inspired Grosse Pointe Shores to launch its own version, an annual fishing derby, a few years ago. Graves said Shores Mayor Ted Kedzierski sought his advice.

“I encouraged them to do that,” Graves said. “I think too much time is spent and dedicated to electronic devices and Facebook and texting, and not enough to family events like this. You’d be hard-pressed to find a cellphone out that day. There’s no time — (the kids) are too busy (fishing).”

He’s also happy to see multiple generations taking part, with grandparents sharing their own memories of earlier fishing rodeos with their grandchildren.

“I think it’s great,” Graves said. “They’re building memories with their grandparents.”

Officials say Graves is key to the event’s success.

“Dick Graves’ tireless efforts have made the Farms/City Fishing Rodeo the best around,” Kozicki said in an email. “The most impressive aspect of the event is the quality and quantity of prizes Dick is able to provide the kids, thanks to his ability to fundraise.”

Pier Park is located at 350 Lake Shore Road, at the foot of Moross Road. No advance registration is required for this event. For more information, call Farms Parks and Recreation at (313) 343-2405.