Placer Sportsmen prepare for 65th youth fishing derby

By: Todd Mordhorst Journal Sports Editor
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Howard Staats won’t just miss seeing the smiles and hearing the shouts of joy later this month at the Placer Sportsmen’s Fishing Derby at Regional Park. He’ll miss his annual campout at the park. For dozens of years, Staats dutifully kept watch over the thousands of fish that are trucked in for the popular derby two days before the event. He would camp out at the park, making sure no one got to the fish before the kids got their lines wet. This year, Placer Sportsmen president John DeMello will serve as security. “Someone has to be there around the clock after the fish go in the water,” DeMello said. “Howard has done it ever since I’ve been there. This is one of the first years he won’t be up there with me on guard duty.” Staats will turn 100 on April 21 – one week before the fishing derby celebrates its 65th year. Staats has been involved since the derby was held along Auburn Ravine. Harry Rosenberry was one of the founders of the event, along with the Yue family, which owned the historic Shanghai Restaurant in Old Town Auburn. “We bought fish from the hatchery and we had people carrying buckets and running as fast as they could to scatter the fish up and down the creek,” Staats explained. The derby took place all along the ravine within the city limits and prizes were awarded for the biggest catch. The event moved to the The Placer Sportsmen raise funds throughout the year to keep the fishing derby tradition going. “Everything we do is to raise money for this one day,” DeMello said. “It’s almost $4,000 for the trout alone. Everything is free that day. The CHP barbecues hot dogs, we have hot chocolate and hot dogs and sodas. We spend over $1,000 on prizes to give away. This year the grand prize is a fishing trip for two to Lake Tahoe.” DeMello, got involved in the club nearly 30 years ago after taking his son to the fishing derby. Staats, who served several terms as club president, mentored DeMello and passed along his fundraising knowledge. For years, Staats would make his rounds up and down Highway 49 seeking donations from businesses to help support the fishing derby. The Placer Sportsmen also host a buck stew dinner each winter and welcome donations from the community to cover the costs. “Without the community support, we wouldn’t be able to do this,” DeMello said. “The community of Auburn has been so generous.” Staats considers the fishing derby’s legacy one of his greatest accomplishments in life. He lost both of his parents at age 12 and was orphaned. After serving in World War II, he returned home to Grass Valley, where he worked selling Jeeps for many years. He later worked at the Ford dealership in town after moving to Auburn in 1950. He is unable to be actively involved this spring, but Staats is proud of the tradition that the Placer Sportsmen have developed. “It’s gotten bigger and bigger,” Staats said of the fishing derby. “I can brag about helping with that.”