On the lakes|Swimmers plunge in at Eagle; anglers hit Chotard

Published 12:00 am Sunday, August 30, 2009

Mother Nature cooperated with plans for a busy day on Eagle and Chotard lakes Saturday, providing mostly sunny skies and boosting participation at separate swimming and fishing events.

Click here for more photos from the lake

Ranging in age from 7 to 69, a total of 36 swimmers dove into Eagle Lake in the early morning for the state’s first and only Open Water Swim Meet. Seven miles north on Mississippi 465, more than 100 anglers in 53 boats were casting into Chotard Lake in hopes of landing a bass big enough to take home a share of the $6,750 awarded in cash and prizes at the 13th Annual Area 10 Special Olympics Large Bass Tournament.

Email newsletter signup

Sign up for The Vicksburg Post's free newsletters

Check which newsletters you would like to receive
  • Vicksburg News: Sent daily at 5 am
  • Vicksburg Sports: Sent daily at 10 am
  • Vicksburg Living: Sent on 15th of each month

“It’s great. The weather’s good, it’s for a good cause and it’s a lot of fun,” said Joel Hall of Vicksburg after taking second place in the noon hour weigh-in with a 3-pound, 14-ounce bass — which was only an ounce off the top catch for the hour. “Now we gotta go out and catch another one.”   

The bass tournament, held at Chotard Landing Resort, is the lone fundraiser for the Area 10 Special Olympics Team each year. The money helps pay for the athletes’ travel and equipment throughout the year, and organizers had hoped to net between $5,000 and $10,000 this year. They exceeded that goal, landing $12,400 for Area 10 Special Olympics — which encompasses Warren, Claiborne and Issaquena counties.

“That’s outstanding,” said Ronnie McGowan a member of the Grand Gulf Bass Club, which sponsors the tournament. “We’re very satisfied. It was a total success all the way around.”

Over at Messina Landing on Eagle Lake, the water was nearly as calm as any indoor pool and the swimmers didn’t seem to mind the seaweed or bugs. The biggest challenge of swimming in an open water event, said many participants, was staying on course.

“It’s a big difference. It’s not like a pool, where you can see the bottom and keep in line. All you can see is this brown, and you have to keep looking up to know where you’re at,” said 17-year-old Matthew Shoenberger, a senior on the Warren Central swim team who finished first in his age category in the mile swim. “I liked it more than swimming a mile in the pool. It wasn’t just mindlessly swimming back and forth.” 

The Vicksburg Swim Association organized the meet, which was sanctioned by USA Swimming and USA Masters Swimming. Head coach Mathew Mixon said 15 of his team members ages 7 to 18 participated in the meet, which featured a 400-meter event for children younger than 12 and a one-mile event for others. 

“Of course, these days extreme sports are very popular. This is the swim version of the X-Games,” Mixon said. “Being in the water with the critters is kind of scary.” Likely due to the number of kayaks, personal watercraft and boats idling on the lake to aid the swimmers, there were no reported encounters with any snakes or snapping turtles. The only alligator in sight was made of foil, inflated with helium and tethered safely to the dock by a strand of ribbon.

A 69-year-old woman from Jackson completed the mile, as did 60-year-old Doug Kopp of Baton Rouge, who is training to compete with Team USA next month at the 2009 ITU Aquathlon World Championships in Australia.

“The conditions were great, we had perfect weather and this looks like a good turnout,” said Kopp of the about 100 people who showed up to swim or cheer on those who took the plunge.

Heather Butler, who helped run the meet and whose 12-year-old daughter swam in it, said the open water swim meet at Eagle Lake hopefully will be even bigger next year.

“This year we wanted to keep it smaller just so we could get a feel for organizing and running it. We want to get a date on the calendar for next year now, really promote it more and shoot for getting 100 to 200 swimmers,” she said, noting organizers want to schedule the meet on the weekend before the Labor Day weekend each year if possible.


Contact Steve Sanoski at ssanoski@vicksburgpost.com