Janelle James with big striper

Janelle James with a 30-inch striper she caught while fishing with pro guide Clay Yadon on Saturday morning before the wind kicked up and blew them off their trip. She caught it and others on a chartreuse fluke.

The 32nd Annual Fishing Event for Very Special People is etched into the calendar for Feb. 2 from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the Heart O’ Texas Fairgrounds Creative Arts and Exhibits Building, located at 4601 Bosque in Waco. Admission, food, drinks, and all activities are free.

Travis Bailey, who has been at the helm for the event’s 32 years, has seen the party grow in a lot of ways, including the number of folks who attend and volunteer, the technologies associated with the entertainment and production, the fish tank itself (he started with a tank that was donated by Lone Star Breweries), and more.

But some things haven’t changed — most importantly the happiness that spreads through the place when the doors open and people start arriving. I’ve been to a number of Bailey’s parties, and what impresses itself on me most is the blurring of lines that separate those with and without disabilities. The activities and games are designed to make everybody successful, and the fun builds as success builds enthusiasm.

Carnival style games, sports, music, a dance contest, food and drinks, trout fishing, and other fun await participants and their families/caretakers. Bailey recommends participants to dress warmly, because not only is it the first week in February, the building has to maintain a cooler temperature to support the cold water-loving rainbow trout, which will be on hand by the thousands.

No fishing license is needed, and all equipment and bait is provided. There will even be volunteers standing by to clean and bag your catch. There’s a limit of 3 fish per angler. Sign-up for the dance contest lasts from 9-noon and will be limited to 50 contestants.

Groups of 3 or more should call 254-752-8361 or 254-752-9152, or e-mail hoti.user@hotrmhmr.org, and provide the name of the organization, contact information, list of people (including staff) attending, and estimated time of arrival. Bailey also wants to caution people with seizure disorders that flashing lights will be in use.

Individuals and groups are also invited to volunteer. There are a number of ways to help, including 1-on-1 partnering up with participants, manning booths and games, assisting with the fish tank and cleaning table, food service, custodial duties, and more. Call the numbers above if you’re interested in serving.

The party draws thousands of people from around the state, and a project of this magnitude can’t be done alone. Bailey extends his thanks to Buckeye Bingo, the Optimist Club of Waco, Heart of Texas Region MHMR, Coca-Cola, Apex Productions, Dr Pepper, Alcoa, Baylor University, Texas Parks & Wildlife, VFW Post 6008, BugsDotCom, Tow King, and Blue Bell Ice Cream.

Fishing in earnest

The TuffMan Bass Tournament series championship tourney wraps up its season on Jan. 26-27, with the final weigh-in taking place at the 43rd Annual Central Texas Boat and Outdoor Show, hosted at the Bell County Expo Center.

Organizer Rick Smith, whose Marine Outlet in Temple is a key sponsor of the tournament, says the late fall and early winter floods forced some changes to tourney locations, but all signs are now pointing to plans holding together through the championship.

“The Corps of Engineers has tentatively agreed to allow TuffMan to fish Lake Belton both Saturday the 26th and Sunday the 27th,” Smith said. The championship was originally scheduled to be split between Belton and Stillhouse, but due to the last round of floodwaters, Stillhouse is not able to accommodate the 61 team field.

Smith says Lakeview Park (Frank’s near the dam) and Arrowhead are two ramps open for prefishing. Also, since Jan. 21 is a federal holiday, prefishing will be permitted until midnight that Monday.

Among the competitors will be 22 high school teams that qualified during the season who will be vying for a $500 scholarship. The pro division winners will pocket $10,000, with the next 4 finishers splitting another 10K.

For more information, visit the TuffMan Facebook page or visit tuffmantournaments.com.

School control

The fish in the middle of a school control the school. The fish on the outside follow those in the middle.

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