Saturday evening was rainy and cold. But spirits inside the Kalurah Shrine Center in Endicott were anything but damp. Optimism was in the air for an evening of fun, camaraderie, good food, and great prizes.
The 42nd Annual Al Hazzard TU Banquet started with a cash bar at 4:30 pm. The bar was busy as was the reception area. Old fishing acquaintances shook hands or hugged and talked about when they'd meet on the water again. Attendees milled about the raffle tables, picked up plates of appetizers, and some huddled around local fly tyer and angler Joe Cox as he tied up a variety of flies. By 6 pm, the ever comical Don Nash, M.D., Master of Ceremonies, brought the event to order and made introductions. Seated at tables that filled the main room, were over 200 participants from the very young to the very old.
Jennifer Kakusian, Chapter President, gave the event welcome and provided a presentation on what makes Al Hazzard TU a leading chapter in the state of New York. Among many points she made were the benefits of chapter membership: being able to participate in conservation activities that benefit our local fisheries and community, being able to attend informative monthly meetings, and learning from classes and instruction on fly tying, casting, and fly fishing.
After the blessing, dinner was served. And it did not disappoint! Besides freshly carved roast beef, the buffet featured chicken, potatoes, carrots, pasta, salad, rolls and cake for dessert. As always, coffee was served throughout the meal and the bar remained open for the entire night. While enjoying the feast, Dave Lemon, DEC Regional Fisheries Manager, gave a presentation on the chapter's conservation work, specifically on Genegantslet Creek. Dave showed several slides demonstrating the results of this cooperative project that involved NYS DEC, US Fish & Wildlife Service, and the Al Hazzard TU Chapter. Dave also previewed a project that will improve a section of Owego Creek. The project will begin this spring. Dave also talked about the health of our local fisheries. Owasco Inlet, he believes, is experiencing a better run of rainbows now that lake trout and walleye stocking in the lake has been stopped. Dave also mentioned that the rainbow run in Cayuga Inlet and Catherine Creek looks promising and that the cold winter should assure a later spawn that will give anglers a better shot at these big lake-run rainbows.
The auctions, raffles, and drawings were a great success. Drawings ranged from a $1,000 bamboo fly rod and Czech nymphing fly rod, to a wheel barrow of cheer and incredible camping package. A total of 28 boxes of locally tied flies were part of the bucket raffle as were fly fishing items from 26 individuals and 20 local businesses. As a first, this year's auctions included "lightly used" fly fishing items.
The Annual Al Hazzard TU Chapter Banquet is the chapter's primary conservation fund-raising event. It allows the chapter to, as Jennifer Kakusian said, "pay forward" to the local environment and community. It also brings anglers together, promotes camaraderie, and provides years of memories. One could tell by the smiles on attendees that this event will live on as the harbinger of spring for many years to come.