About the JR Fishing Rodeo:
The Ocean Springs Elks Junior Fishing Rodeo is our lodges largest philanthropic event. It originated in 1985 as a takeoff from the larger Adult Fishing Rodeo (Fishing Competition) held on the front beach. The concept was to get children male and female ages 3 – 13 involved not only in the competition but promote fishing as a healthy, clean, and physical recreation. It joined families for a day of fishing together, the ultimate objective sought. We had one family from northern Alabama that planned a trip to the coast every year so their daughter could fish in the competition until she aged out.
The rodeo itself started off fairly small and was held on the Ocean Springs public fishing bridge. It was a task intensive undertaking as part of the adult event had to be broke down and transported a couple miles to the bridge, set up, and returned. A small caravan of pickup trucks, many strong backs willing to help during event insured that is was successful and gratifying.
Originally slated over Memorial Day weekend the date was moved once the Adult Rodeo shut down and we didn’t want to compete with the many coastal events then. This, we hoped, would prevent a strain on families attempting to attend other events. The rodeo is now held on the 2nd Saturday in June and is heavily supported by the community and Elks Grand Lodge. We have been successful in acquiring a grant from Grand Lodge that assists us to have the means to put a prize (rod and reel) in every child’s hand, over the past 6 years has exceeded 230 registered fishermen.
In 2005 the rodeo was dealt what we all thought was a fatal blow, Hurricane Katrina. The storm destroyed the fishing bridge and many piers on the coast, we were devastated both personally and community wide from this blow. We didn’t have a rodeo in 2006 and that June we all just sat around and looked at each other feeling empty. Then it happened, we all began to talk and in typical elk form -We by each other were aided in our part and caught inspiration for a high resolve-. A member who really didn’t talk much but worked very hard (Donnie Gum) piped up, “why not let the children fish where they can fresh or salt water and bring us the fish”? We then put in place a 3 fish limit and we haven’t looked back since.
We have many meals to make money for the event along with a raffle and donations from businesses to be put on our sponsor banner. The event itself is very costly monetarily, time, and work wise but is a labor of love. All the smiling faces that are attending that day makes are heart swell, a truly satisfying event. This event does not have a problem with volunteerism and support.
The event is totally free to families, much to their pleasant surprise. Free food, drinks, snow cones, bait, and of course prizes are provided. Along with Grand Lodge, our Lodge, and our Ladies Auxiliary, and local businesses pitch in helping us provide all the above mentioned. Our members and Ladies provide the much-needed manpower and expertise. The volunteers help with registration, weighing and measuring the catches, cooking and providing the food, tabulating the results, and many little nagging details behind the scene.
We are now proud to be a Unified event! Originally with the guidance of Ocean Springs student services we are open to special needs. At their request the special needs children compete side by side with all the participants, another truly gratifying sight. Suffice it to say “Elks Care, Elks Share” is best proven by this event.