2009 Annual Conference in Lake Charles

LOWA took its 2009 Annual Conference to wonderful Lake Charles, Louisiana, in mid-October. You never know what weather to expect in Southern Louisiana—no matter what the time of year.  But Tico Soto, Eric Zartler and Tara Johnson with the Lake Charles CVB and the staff at the Best Western Richmond Suites ordered up just the right weather–mild days and cool nights which made for a very comfortable conference.

Starting with a pre-conference fishing trip on Thursday, October 15 and culminating with the Awards Banquet on Saturday night, the conference was a great mix of education, schmoozing with Supporting Members, fun at the shooting range and, of course, awards and accolades

The Lake Charles CVB arranged for several guides to take our members on a pre-conference fishing day on Thursday.  Gary Rispone and his cameraman Gary “Number Two” Krause fished with Captain Kirk Stansel. LOWA Chairman of the Board, Chris Holmes, and LOWA Executive Director, Vicki Holmes, fished with Captain Tom Adams. LOWA president, Lyle Johnson, fished with friends, Donnie Courtney with Team Skeeter and David Peddy of V&M lures, and they tagged along with Captain Tom. The fishing was hot, with plenty of trout, redfish, flounder and others landed.

Later on Thursday evening the members who arrived on Thursday gathered at a local Lake Charles Restaurant, Steamboat Bills, for a delicious seafood dinner. The portions at Steamboat Bills are amazing and several members went back to the hotel with go-boxes for the mini-friges!

Friday morning brought registration and the first seminar of the day with Gerald Gaspard of Pure Fishing.  Gerald displayed a full table of his products and gave a great presentation about all aspects of Pure Fishing’s products such as the different kinds and properties of line, the Berkley GULP, and the various new rod, reel and lure products which Pure Fishing offers.

With the weather so mild and beautiful, lunch was served by the pool. Gary Rispone was able to obtain some of the Southern Belle recipe chicken and tuna salad—it was a great hit!  While everyone relaxed and caught up with old friends, Chris Holmes got out his Hobie kayak for a lap or two around the pool….yes, he demo-ed the kayak in the Best Western’s pool! New LOWA member, Gino Kalkanaglu, jumped right in…literally!

After lunch, four representatives from the Louisiana Department of Wildlife offered seminars on varying topics. Wildlife Division Reorganization and Private Lands Program was the topic offered by John Robinette of the LDWF Office of Wildlife.  Next up was Larry Reynolds, LDWF Office of Wildlife, who spoke about the Waterfowl Program Status and Overview.  Mandy Tumlin took her turn after Larry and spoke about the Louisiana Cooperative Marine Sport Fish Tagging Program. Last, but certainly not least, was Mark McElroy, LDWF Office of Fisheries, who spoke on the topic of Invasive Species Update: Tilapia Rapid Response in Port Sulphur and Giant Salvinia on Lake Bistineau.

Once the seminars were over, there wasn’t much time to rest before the Trade Show sponsored by the Lake Charles CVB.  The Best Western catered the affair and let’s just say the meat pies and fresh baked cookies were a big hit! The Lake Charles CVB arranged for a Cajun band—Lesa Cormier and the Sundown Playboys—to provide Cajun music which was a great backdrop to our Trade Show. But when Gumbo the Gator sashayed in, the crowd went wild!   The Trade Show was a great success and, as always, we owe a lot to our Supporting Members who participated in this great event.

We capped the night off in the hospitality suite (Chris and Vicki’s room) which was sponsored by Mockler Beverage. Check out the photos and see where Chris’ kayak “slept” at night!

Saturday started off early with a complimentary breakfast at the hotel.  The spouses met Tico Soto and Tara Johnson with the CVB for their guided tour of Lake Charles while the members paired up and carpooled to the Lake Charles Gun Club for a day of five-stand shooting.  The Board Members took their turns first so that they could hold the Board Meeting.  Gary Rispone was quite disappointed to have his WORST day ever of shooting–that was until he realized he was shooting with Chris Holmes’ gun!  Leave it to Gary to liven things up.  Lunch was jambalaya provided by Louisiana Fish Fry.  How good is that LFF Jambalaya? The pot was completely ignored except for a few stirs every now and stil the end result was delicious!

After the Board Meeting several members were still shooting when new LOWA member, Gino Kalklanaglo, and Eric Zartler of the Lake Charles CVB, stepped into the stand.  Both were first-time shooters.  Mike Lane helped Gino and Gordon Hutchinson assisted Eric.  After a little instruction, both Gino and Eric did a great job shooting and impressed everyone at the shooting event.

No time to rest as we hightailed it back to the Best Western for the annual general membership meeting.

Finally on Saturday night, the moment we all were waiting for, the Annual Conference Awards banquet.  The banquet started with a welcoming speech from Lake Charles Mayor, Randy Roach.  What a great honor for LOWA to have the mayor visit and come speak to us.  Next up was Pete Landry who delivered his informative presentation on Ethanol Gas and why it is harmful to marine engines.

After Mr. Landry, the Fish Records committee presented the Fish of the Year award to Mr. William “Ricky” Ruffin. Ricki recounted the tale of how he landed his 30.60 pound Marbled Grouper in February of 2008.

Next up was Dave Moreland who presented the Youth Hunter Awards. Alyson Hetzel nabbed the Female Youth Hunter award and Brandon Soileau was awarded the Male Youth Hunter award.  Both youngsters recounted the stories of their hunts as their proud parents and LOWA members looked on.

The Youth Hunter Awards were a great lead in to the Youth Journalism Awards which were presented by Gordon Hutchinson and YJC sponsor Jackie Bartels of Safari Club International, Louisiana Chapter.  Once again parents, families and LOWA members applauded and photographed the award recipients.  It’s a wonder the children didn’t sustain eye damage from all the camera flashes going off-what a great feeling it must have been for our young journalists!

Next up was LOWA’s Excellence in Craft awards.  Our various award sponsors presented the EIC awards in nine categories. It definitely was the best of the best!

Our final award of the night was our prestigious VanPelt Award.  This year’s deserving recipient was Joe Herring.  LOWA President Lyle Johnson recounted several of Joe’s accomplishments while a slideshow of photos from Joe’s life played.  It’s always great to revisit the accomplishments of one of our members and LOWA takes pride in congratulating Joe Herring on his well-deserved VanPelt Award.

All during the banquet, Rafflemaster Andy Crawford (substituting for our usual Rafflemaster, Todd Masson) circulated and sold tickets for all of our awesome raffle items.  We had two guns (thanks to Remington and CVA), lots of Pure Fishing rods, reels, Gulp and other Pure Fishing items donated by Gerald Gaspard.  We also had a handheld GPS system courtesy of Delmore and great gift baskets donated by Louisiana FishFry, beautiful posters donated by CCA, and tons of other great prizes donated by Supporting Members, and Active Members.

Jerald Horst snagged the Delorme GPS unit, Cheryl Macaluso won the CVA Muzzleloader (maybe she’ll let Joe use it sometime!) and Butch Thurmond scored the big prize—he won the Marlin rifle.

With all the conference festivities out of the way, several conference attendees retired to the hospitality suite to visit and say their goodbyes to the fellow LOWA members.

Thanks from LOWA to Tico Soto, Eric Zartler, Tara Johnson, Janie Montgomery and Katie Harrington with the Lake Charles CVB.  Dawn Reeves and her staff at the Best Western did a great job making us feel like we were right at home at their hotel.  Thanks to our Supporting Members for their usual support and in particular Gerald Gaspard with Pure Fishing for going above and beyond—as usual!

LOWA would also like to thank Pete Landry for taking time out of his busy schedule to come speak to our members and banquet attendees.

Special thanks to our Youth Journalism Contest sponsor, Ron and Jackie Bartels and the Safari Club International, Louisiana Chapter.

We also wish to thank our Youth Hunter Award sponsors, Bayou State Bow Hunters, Delta Waterfoul, the Louisiana Wildlife Federation, the Harrison Law Firm, The National Wild Turkey Federation and QMDA.

And last, but certainly not least, we wish to thank our generous Excellence in Craft Sponsors.

  • Houma Area Convention and Visitors Bureau
  • Lake Charles-Southwest Louisiana Convention and Visitors Bureau
  • Louisiana Agricultural Center
  • Louisiana Association of Professional Biologists
  • Louisiana Charter Boat Association
  • Louisiana Forestry Association
  • Louisiana Sea Grant College Program
  • Louisiana Wildlife & Fisheries Foundation
  • The Coastal Conservation Association of Louisiana

The Coastal Wetlands Planning, Protection and Restoration Act Outreach Committee (CWPPRA)

In addition to those recognized above, the Annual Conference Committee would like to thank Joe and Cheryl Macaluso, Gary Rispone, Rex Caffey and Mike Lane for all they did to make the conference a great success.