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Mark Taylor | The Roanoke Times
Crappies fin in a holding tank while awaiting to be claimed by their anglers after the Smith Mountain Lake fishing tournament.
Monday, May 6, 2013
A number of changes were evident Sunday at the awards ceremony for the annual Smith Mountain Lake fishing derby known to most as the Optimist Tournament.
Obvious to most observers were major renovations to the longtime host facility, Gills Creek Marina.
Since coming under new ownership a couple of years ago the marina - previously known as Foxport Marina and/or Foxsport Marina - has undergone a number of upgrades, including new docks and boat slips, and renovated guest rooms.
The tournament itself is also in a state of evolution.
While the changes may not have been obvious to casual observers, it seems likely they will pay dividends in future years.
Most notable is the addition of the Challenger Little League Baseball Chapter 12 organization as a co-promoter of the event, joining the tournament's longtime sponsor, the Roanoke Valley Optimist Club (formerly the Optimist Club of Cave Spring).
Challenger Little League Baseball is an offshoot of the national Little League organization.
The Roanoke Valley-based Chapter 12 group provides baseball opportunities to kids with special needs. The local league features 10 teams, not only in Roanoke, but reaching out to Alleghany, Montgomery and Franklin counties.
The organization's Sid Witt said it made sense for CLLB to get involved with the tournament because the Optimists have been a primary financial supporter since the league's inception in 1989.
Like so many civic organizations, the Optimists have been struggling with declining membership. So, Witt said, partnering on the tournament and providing volunteers to man the event will help to ensure the tournament's continuation.
Participants in this year's tournament may have noticed that the flier for the event included something not available until this year - a phone number.
Witt said tournament organizers bought an inexpensive cellphone to make it easier for fishermen to reach out with questions both during the tournament and leading up to the event.
The move will also take some of the pressure off the host marina for having to serve as a primary information provider.
This year's tournament drew about 450 participants, which is in line with numbers from the past few years.
Witt said his hope is to build participation back above 500.
The anglers who fished this year faced fairly difficult weather conditions, particularly a brisk wind.
Striped bass winner Jake Flournoy said the hefty breeze made boat control difficult.
"The hardest part was trying to fight the wind," Flournoy said of working his boat along the shoreline while casting plugs after dark. "It was terrible."
Smith Mountain Lake triathlon
As usual, the big tournament fell on the same weekend as the Appalachian Power Smith Mountain Lake sprint triathlon.
Saturday's race featured 324 individual finishers, and about 60 racers on relay teams.
Like the fishermen, they faced less-than-comfortable conditions.
In fact, race organizers decided to shorten the swim from its planned 750 meters due to colder-than-usual, sub-60 degree water temperatures.
The decision was based on safety concerns, particularly since the race typically draws some novices who don't wear wetsuits.
The swim was supposed to be 400 meters long, but time splits indicate it was probably closer to 500 meters.
My co-worker David Oalmann worked as a safety observer in a kayak during the swim, as he has for several years.
"I've never seen so many people struggle on the swim," he said.
There were no reported injuries or emergency situations during the swim, but Oalmann said he personally paddled alongside several struggling swimmers to ensure they reached the shore.
The brisk wind also made for a challenging 20K bike leg, and some athletes said their feet never warmed up during the 5K run.
Sean Gardner, 19, of Mechanicsville was the overall winner in 1:03:01, 32 seconds ahead of 23-year-old Gregory Pfister of Blacksburg. Hardy resident David Church, 46, was third.
In the women's race 27-year-old Kyra Wiens of Alexandria won in 1:07:58, just 18 seconds ahead of 41-year-old Roanoker Shannon Summerlin. Blacksburg's Cortney Martin, 46, was third.
With Church and Martin both earning overall awards, the top Masters awards for athletes 40 and older rolled down - but not much - to Trey Smith and Betsy Henderson, both of Roanoke.
Smith, 48, finished fifth overall in 1:04:54.
Henderson, who is 60, finished in 1:16:15, which was also was good for fifth overall.
Cold water won't be a problem at the region's next swim-bike-run triathlon. The Salem Sprint on June 2 features a 300-yard pool swim.
Weather JournalEarly mix, then ice storm Sunday