Lynn Burkhead — Despite pandemic, Denison preps for Howard Caylor Trout Derby

Herald Democrat
When the 14th annual Howard Caylor Adult Trout Derby is held this Saturday morning at Denison’s Waterloo Lake Park Pond, there will be more than 1,500 rainbow trout in the local water body for anglers to catch.

When last January’s successful Howard Caylor Trout Derby was held at Denison’s Waterloo Lake Park Pond, it would have been easy for Denison Parks and Rec recreation manager Andrew Means to think that when this year’s edition was held, it would be more of the same.

Let the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department stock another load of more than 1,500 catchable size rainbow trout in the small water body, let everyone know in advance that the derby was happening, and sit back and enjoy watching another successful day of fishing take place.

You know, simply an angling case, of wash, rinse, and repeat.

But that was B.C. — before coronavirus — and now everything is different, especially in this era of the COVID-19 pandemic when terms like masks, social distancing and vaccinations are all a part of the daily conversation.

While it wasn’t certain last year whether or not there would be any trout derbies in D-Town this winter, the City of Denison has been able to move forward with their annual wintertime fishing events.

That includes the 2021 version of the Howard Caylor Trout Derby, scheduled to run tomorrow morning on Jan. 9 from 9-11:30 a.m.

On the surface, much looks the same on the eve of another D-Town adult trout derby. The event, which will be held for the 26th time overall, will mark the 14th year since it was renamed for the late Howard Caylor, a Parks and Rec maintenance foreman who lost his life on the job earlier this century.

In addition to being a perfect way to remember a man who loved Denison's unique trout derbies, it’s also a chance for adults ages 17 years and older to find some wintertime fishing fun when little else is biting in the piscatorial world.

The cost to enter is $7 for Denison residents, $10 for non-residents. The first 50 registrants receive a free cap, lunch is included, door prizes will be given out, and all state and local fishing regulations apply.

There’s also the usual array of derby prizes, including awards for the winners of the casting contest as well as prizes for catching the special golden trout that have been stocked. And don’t forget the cash prizes for the biggest trout ($100), smallest trout ($50), and heaviest stringer of trout ($25).

But while there are plenty of similarities between this year’s event and previous derbies, there are also numerous differences, changes brought about by the ongoing pandemic response which has made the work of Means and other city staff a bit more challenging.

“Well, it can definitely be a challenge to try and pull off an event like this during the pandemic,” said Means. “Our task is to try and keep offering fun events for our citizens, while also making sure that we’re being safe and following the health guidelines that are in place.

Means said that because this is an outdoors event, some of the precautions and protocols are a little easier to put into place than they might have been for an indoor event.

Still, protecting the public is a key consideration, and anglers will be encouraged to social distance, there will a capped number of anglers allowed around the pond at any given time, hand washing stations will be in place, and there will be plenty of hand sanitizer used.

When asked whether all of this was having a positive or negative effect on sign-ups, the Denison Parks and Rec employee had a quick answer.

“A little of both, I’d say,” said Means. “Some people are excited to get out and about and to be able to participate in the derby and do something outdoors. On the other hand, there are plenty of people who are still very cautious with the virus and what’s going on in our city, county, and state. For those, there are a number who are choosing not to participate this year.”

Means said that so far, there is a noticeable impact on pre-event signups.

“I anticipate less of a crowd this year, for sure,” he said. “If you think back to last year, back in January and February before the pandemic broke out in Texas and we were shut down for a while, it was pretty much business as usual and we had a good crowd.

“But this year, a year later, we’re definitely seeing the effects of the pandemic in our registration numbers. Now we could have a decent number of walkups on Saturday morning and be close to where we were in 2020, but right now, at this point, our numbers are down.”

He noted that even if the derby’s angling field size is smaller than usual in 2021, there will certainly be plenty of good sized trout to catch. And in some cases, some BIG trout to catch.

“We had one huge rainbow stocked for this year’s event,” said Means. “Now it’s not a 10-pounder or anything like that, but the size of this rainbow will blow away whoever is fortunate enough to catch it.

“And then there’s the golden trout, or albinos, that are stocked for special prize catches,” he added. “On average, they seem bigger this year too.

“Normally, these rainbows that are stocked in the pond are 8- to 12-inches in length, but for this event, there are certainly a fair number of good sized fish. I’d even say that the average size might be up just a little from previous years.”

While a potential winter storm is lurking for late in the weekend (as of the time of this writing, at least), the weather should cooperate on Saturday morning when the event is held.

“Weather wise, it looks like it might be a little chilly when we begin, but as of now, it’s supposed to be dry,” said Means.

Meaning that obvious virus concerns aside, there should be little else that will negatively affect the annual adult trout derby when it is held in Denison this weekend.

And hopefully, whatever negative effects there are from the COVID-19 pandemic on this trout derby and the others that Denison has planned for this winter, those will all be long gone by this same time next year when the trout fishing season rolls around again at Waterloo Lake Park Pond.

With any luck, next year’s derby schedule will go right back to the same wash, rinse, and repeat routine of full-sized, enthusiastic crowds all looking for a little wintertime trout fishing fun deep in the heart of D-Town.