The bobbers are ready, the plane is fueled up and Sam Williams is raring to go.
A Grand Lake tradition - started by William's grandfather - returns to Grove and Grand Lake this Saturday.
The Eighth Annual Grand Lake Bobber Drop, sponsored by the Grand Lake Sports Center, gets underway at approximately 8 a.m. Saturday, July 22, when Williams drops the first bobber from a plane hovering over the Honey Creek area of Grand Lake.
The event, which Williams calls an "on the water Easter Egg" type scavenger hunt, will drop thousands of numbered bobbers along the Grand Lake waterway at Honey Creek Bridge, Sail Boat Bridge, Monkey Island, Elk River Bridge and Grand Lake State Park - Bernice - and all areas in between.
In all Williams will drop more than 6,000 bobbers - he's counted and bagged them all with the help of his wife, Patti, and daughter Krystal - from a specially-designed chute attached to a plane.
Williams said the plane will take off from the Grove Regional Airport shortly before 7:50 a.m., Saturday, so he can start dropping bobbers, beginning at 8 a.m. near Honey Creek Bridge.
He will then travel down the middle of the lake as he drops the bobbers. Bobbers will be released, 100 at a time, through the chute created especially for the event.
The path for the drop remains the same. Williams will start near Honey Creek Bridge, travel to Monkey Island, then go towards Bernice, before returning to Grove by Sailboat Bridge. He will end the drop near the Cowskin / Elk River bridge on Highway 10. He expects to run the "circle" through the drop zones twice by 9 a.m.
The chute’s tube is designed in such a way, that a suction is created, causing the bobbers to be sucked out of the plane. The wind generated by the propeller makes the bobbers “explode” through the sky.
“You can’t see them coming out of the plane, but it just starts raining bobbers,” Williams jokes.
Bobbers will be dropped constantly, as the plane flies between landmark locations. Boaters and jet skiers are encouraged to use small nets during the hunt for a bobber.
Safety issues - which led Williams to cancel the event in 2014 - remain his primary concern. Williams continues to ask boaters and jet skiers alike, to remember to have a spirit of courtesy and safety as people collect bobbers.
He asks all participants to remain in the boats and on the skis - rather than dive into the water to scoop up a bobber.
"I thought a lot about how to drop them," Williams said. "This year we're dropping the bobbers in a different manner. We've thought about how to distribute the bobbers to slow them down."
He also asks those on jet skis to refrain from “dashing in” and scooping up bobbers as people on nearby boats may be attempting to retrieve them.
“Be courteous of other,” Williams asks. “Share the bobbers. Be safe and wear a life jacket.
"Every captain of a boat needs to remember they are responsible for everyone in their boat. People need to remember to be responsible for their own safety and the safety of others around them."
Patti Williams encourages people to slow down and have fun searching for the bobbers and to think of this as a way to have "a fun day on the lake."
A Grand Tradition
This is the eighth year Williams has held the Great Grand Bobber Drop. It continues a tradition started in 1961, by his grandfather, Sam Williams II. The original bobber drop continued for 10 years, until 1971.
Williams said he is not sure why his grandfather stopped dropping bobbers, but he’s glad to have re-started the tradition. He said many people plan family reunions or trips to Grand Lake to take part in the drop.
"People live for this," Williams said. "We've had people call from all over the United States telling us they plan to come."
Ultimately for both Sam and Patti Williams, this event is designed to serve as a way the couple - and the staff at the Sports Center - can give back to the community that supports their business throughout the year.
"We love when people bring their kids here, and tell us how when they were little kids they bought their first [fishing] pole or [water] skies here," Patti Williams said. "We want to see this as a family time.
Thousands of Bobbers
Most of the bobbers are turned in each year. Typical up to 200 remain unfound or kept as souvenirs at the end of each drop.
In 2013, at the end of the last drop, approximately all but 100 of the 6,000 dropped were returned to Williams at the Sports Center.
As bobbers are “retired” (not found/turned in), other numbers are added to ensure more than 6,000 are dropped during the one hour period.
Bobbers may be turned in - up to two bobbers per person, per day - on Saturday, at the Grand Lake Sports Center and at Grand Lake Casino on Highway 10, north of Grove. A group of “bobber drop” regulars will be on hand at the sports center to help check in found bobbers.
After Saturday, bobbers can continue to be turned in at the Sport Center, until 4 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 30.
There will be lots of instant prizes donated by Grove area merchants. Williams said everyone who finds and turns in a bobber have the opportunity to be part of the grand prize drawing, set for noon, Monday, Aug. 17, at the Grand Lake Casino.
The grand prize, a $2,500 cash award, will be awarded courtesy of Grand Lake Casino - this year's main corporate sponsor.
Additionally, children 12 and under who turn in a bobber at either the Sports Center or casino will be awarded a certificate good for an ice cream cone at Dairy Queen.
"We've got all kinds of prizes - from merchandise to free play and money from the casino," Williams said, adding that merchants can still donate items for the event even through Saturday morning.
He said he continues to be amazed at how supportive area businesses and community leaders are of this annual tradition.
All prizes not claimed by Sunday, Aug. 30, will be awarded. Williams will draw names from the “hopper” until all prizes have been given away.
Sponsors for this year’s bobber drop include the Grand Lake Casino, Grove Area Merchants Association and Grove Sun.
The Grand Lake Sports Center is located at 301 South Main Street, in Grove. For more information, persons interested may contact Williams at 918-786-2300.