Outdoor Notebook — Memorable Ducks Unlimited event; Bass tournament nears

By Lynn Burkhead
For the Herald Democrat

The 45th Texoma Ducks Unlimited fundraiser has come and gone, and there's little doubt that the 2020 version will be remembered for many years to come. After all, when's the last time you went to a quacker backer dinner with a mask, squirted hand sanitizer constantly, and kept your distance from those in attendance?

Or maybe, you didn't even go at all as the coronavirus continues to cause its serious and deadly problems across the state, the nation, and the world.

Conducted as state health mandates continue for the COVID-19 pandemic response in Texas, the local DU dinner was able to go on this year after weeks of wondering whether or not it would even be possible. And according to longtime DU man Jim Lillis, there were definitely some noticeable differences when the group met this past Tuesday evening at the Mayor Arena at Loy Lake Park in Denison.

"You'll have to check with chairman Kris Spiegel for the actual numbers, but I'd say that the crowd size was certainly down a bit, which is to be expected when you've got social distance measures and crowd size limitations in place," said Lillis, a longtime Sherman resident.

But despite the dozens of such DU dinners that Lillis helped put on before he retired from the organization a few years back, he never had to worry about pulling off a fundraising event during a pandemic, something that certainly made this year's effort a difficult one to say the least.

That became even more difficult last Sunday evening when the dinner's original location stopped all events for now as the coronavirus continues to plague Texas and Oklahoma. A quick venue change to the Mayor Arena in Denison resulted, and the local group was able to pull off the change in only two days time thanks to the hard work of committee members along with Dieter Brothers Barbecue in Lindsey bringing over some smoked brisket and sausage for the good cause.

When the crowd got there on Tuesday night, there were certainly noticeable differences according to Lillis, from the limited crowd size to the social distancing to the wearing of masks by some to the widespread appearance of hand sanitizer jugs and stations.

Such precautions weren't enough for some, as some regulars elected to stay at home this year, a position that is certainly understandable given the gravity of the worldwide health situation. But others made up for the difference as local companies stepped up with sponsor money and advertising dollars, while attendees reached deep in the wallet during the live auction, silent auction, raffles, and special games.

In the end, changes and precautions or not, the local DU group was able to raise some significant dollars for one of the nation's top conservation groups in a year when all such organizations are struggling mightily to keep the money flowing into the habitat that North American wildlife species depend on.

"I'd say that given everything that's been going on, we had a good turnout, although there were some reserved tables that went unused," said Lillis. "And despite the challenges, we kept some money flowing to the ducks, which has been a tough thing to do this year."

Bryan County DU Plans Dinner — While any type of event right now is a little bit like a high school football game — you aren't sure it's going to happen until the doors actually open up — the Bryan County Chapter of Ducks Unlimited is up next with a November fundraising dinner on the Texomaland calendar.

Scheduled for Thursday, Nov. 12 from 6-10 p.m., the southern Oklahoma DU fundraiser returns this year to its previous location at the Choctaw Event Center near Durant. Pre-event ticket prices for the Bryan County dinner are $50 for singles; $65 for couples; and $20 for youth. A Bronze Sponsorship level membership is also available for $300. Do note that ticket prices go up $10 at the door the night of the event.

In addition to the ticket pricing options noted above, several table options also exist with different ticket numbers attached. Those include a Reserved Table ($400); Bronze Sponsor Table ($650); Sponsor Table ($1,000); Teal Table ($1,250); Mallard Table ($1,500); and Pintail Table ($2,500).

To get advance tickets to the Bryan County DU Dinner via Ducks Unlimited’s online sales portal, visit www.ducks.org/oklahoma/events/64922/bryan-county-dinner. For in person ticket sales or information about the fundraiser itself, please contact Chris Dorman at -405-517-7187.

Bassmaster Elite Series Headed to Fork — The COVID-19 pandemic has forced a lot of changes to the calendar of sports leagues this year, including those on the professional bass fishing tournament trails.

That includes the Bassmaster Elite Series, which has seen most of its springtime and early summer derbies across the nation pushed to late summer and early fall this year. That includes the Toyota Bassmaster Texas Fest tournament on Lake Fork. Normally an event contested in either May or early June, this year's Texas Fest tournament — which is a fundraiser for the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department these days — is being bumped to early November, a unique timeframe on the state's most famous bass fishing water.

While the biggest of Fork's trophy bass are not likely to be caught by anglers in a couple of weeks when the Nov. 5-8 event is contested there, the fishing should still be really good as fall largemouths gorge themselves on the East Texas reservoir's prolific threadfin shad supply. In short, there should be no decline in fish catching and leaderboard movement should be constant when the Elite Series pros head for the renowned lunker factory near Emory early next month.

Look for a preview of the event next week. In the meantime, for info on the derby, please visit www.bassmaster.com.