Howard Delo

With Father’s Day fast approaching, I remembered a stunt my father pulled nearly 50 years ago. Back in the early 70’s, my dad worked for a poultry processing plant in Georgia as their quality control supervisor and salesman. He also supervised the raw boning and cooked product sections of the plant. I was working as the assistant hatchery manager at the largest cold water fish facility the Georgia Department of Natural Resources, Game and Fish Division, operated. We reared large numbers of rainbow, brown and brook trout to catchable size and stocked them in the cool/cold water streams of north Georgia.

My father’s company regularly bought truckload quantities of shipping boxes from a large, national box manufacturer. This box manufacturer sold boxes to many other companies in the Southeast as well. Every year, the box company invited the top executives from all their southeastern clients to enjoy a long weekend at Hilton Head Island Resort, located off the South Carolina coast.

This annual weekend involved competition between the various companies in golf, tennis, fishing, and other activities. While the competition was friendly, it was also serious. The winner’s bragging rights were a coveted prize. Cheating was expected and was accomplished under an unwritten “gentlemen’s agreement” that all the companies were aware of and most took advantage of. Virtually every company hired either a local golf professional or tennis pro – a “ringer” — for a week or two around this time, usually with the “official” title of vice-president of company health and morale or something similar.

Fishing was the one area nobody had figured out how to gain an advantage in. That year, my dad and the company purchasing executive, Charlie, had agreed to represent the company in the fishing competition. My dad called me at the hatchery about a week before the tournament and asked if we had any large catchable-size trout on hand. I told him we had both large rainbows and browns available. He asked if he could get four or five of each species. I said no problem.

He then asked me if I could insert a few lead sinkers into each fish; place all the uncleaned fish on a fish stringer; and freeze the fish and stringer. He said he’d be by in a couple of days to pick up the fish. I was curious but didn’t ask what was up.

A week or two after he returned from the Hilton Head Island weekend, I called my father at home and asked why on earth he wanted those fish. Here’s the story he told me.

The major competitions of golf and tennis occupied the most interest and effort among the various companies’ executives. The fishing tournament was considered important, but not in the same class as the other two events. As a result, no professionals were involved, just the “regular guys” participated. The piscatorial species everyone sought were largemouth bass, bream, crappie, and the occasional catfish.

My dad and Charlie loaded their cooler filled with lunch and soft drinks in their boat and left along with the other competitors when the fishing tournament officials fired the starting pistol. Dad and Charlie found a quiet little deserted cove and promptly took the frozen stringer of trout out of the cooler and hung it overboard to thaw. They fished too and over the course of the day managed to land a couple of small bass and a catfish. They returned to the marina in time for the official tournament weigh-in later that afternoon.

The second-place team had a total fish weight less than half of Dad and Charlie’s combined total. Everyone was excited about the trout and asked the victorious team where they had caught them. Charlie told one story to some of the guys and my father had his own version for the others who asked. The next day, folks were all over the lake trying to catch some trout. They had no luck.

The tournament staff from the resort got as much enjoyment out of this stunt as Dad and Charlie did. The lake had been stocked with fish for the resort’s clients, but trout of any species were not among the planted species. None of the other competitors ever figured that out and the resort staff kept mum. The trophy Dad and Charlie won was the only trophy the company brought home that year. Dad and Charlie never entered the fishing tournament again. They figured it was best to “retire” while they were on the top of their game.

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