The bobbers are almost ready and the prizes are arriving, as Sam Williams prepares for this year's "grand" bobber drop.
The tradition - started by William's grandfather - returns to Grove and Grand Lake on Saturday, July 21.
This year mark's the Ninth Annual Grand Lake Bobber Drop, sponsored by the Grand Lake Sports Center. It will get underway at approximately 8 a.m. on Saturday, July 21, 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" scavenger hunt, involves the dropping of 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.
"I'll be dropping bobbers all the way," Williams said. "People often bunch up at the bridges, because they think that's where we'll drop most of them. But we also drop in open water, so they don't have to cluster to get the bobbers.
"If we see boats and jet skis, we're going to be dropping bobbers."
Williams said the plane, flown by Brad Hayes, will take off from the Grove Regional Airport shortly before 7:50 a.m., on the day of the event, so he can start dropping bobbers, on time near Honey Creek Bridge.
He will then travel down the middle of the lake, between his landmark points, dropping 100 bobbers at a time.
To accomplish the task, Williams designed a chute that's attached to the plane in such a way, that a suction-like force is created causing the bobbers to be pulled out of the plane.
The wind generated by the plane's propeller makes the bobbers “explode” or rain down on boaters and jet skiers on the water.
"I feel like a momma bird feeding all of her babies and their starving," Williams said.
In all, Williams will drop more than 6,300 bobbers - he's counted and bagged them in groups of 100 with the help of his family and friends.
He estimates he has replaced 1,800 bobbers not found during the 2017 hunt. Some bobbers get broken during the drop, while others become childhood souvenirs.
"We had one kid last year that wouldn't give up his bobber," Williams said with a grin. "[The bobber] was his prize. He didn't even know if he won something. He was just happy to have the 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.
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."
A Grand Tradition
This is the ninth 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 Williams and his family, this event is designed to serve as a way to 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."
Her husband agreed.
"Last year one kid came in to get his bobbers checked, and the volunteer asked him if he had a good time," Williams said. "He said [the bobber drop is] one of the times his family does something together."
Ultimately, Williams said, the event means more to him than giving out prizes.
"To see the joy on people's faces when they bring in bobbers, and to hear how it brings families together," Williams said. "I have so much fun hearing about their experiences during the bobber drop."
Williams said he also enjoys seeing the signs and banners people often make for their boats, for him to see as he flies over.
Some say "Hi Sam" while others, he jokes, are marked like targets.
Thousands of Bobbers
Most of the bobbers are turned in each year. Typically up to 200 remain unfound or kept as souvenirs at the end of each drop. Last year's total, which exceeded 1,500 was unusual.
As bobbers are “retired” (not found/turned in), other numbers are added to ensure more than 6,000, uniquely numbered bobbers are dropped during the one hour period.
Bobbers may be turned in - up to two bobbers per person, per day - on Saturday, July 21, at the Grand Lake Sports Center and at Grand Lake Casino on Highway 10, north of Grove.
A group of “bobber drop” regulars, primarily Grove Rotary Club members, will be on hand at the sports center to help check in found bobbers.
After the day of the event, bobbers can continue to be turned in at the Sport Center, two per day, until 4 p.m. Sunday, July. 29.
There will be lots of instant prizes donated by Grand Lake area merchants.
Williams said everyone who finds and turns in a bobber has the opportunity to be part of the grand prize drawing, set for noon, Monday, July 30, 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, all 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 in Grove.
This is the second year Dairy Queen officials have provided treats for the children.
"Last year, they said it was one of their busiest weekends," Williams said, adding he continues to be amazed at how supportive area businesses and community leaders are for this annual tradition.
"This is all about putting people into the businesses, and helping them out," Williams said. "Maybe while they are there, they will buy more.
"It's all about giving back to the community, and how the community is so generous - that proves the event is a success."
All prizes not claimed by Sunday, July 29, will be awarded. Williams will draw names from the “hopper” until all prizes have been given away.
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.
If You Go
The path for the drop remains the same. Sam 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.
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.
Did You Know?
It takes a team of more than 30 volunteers, ranging from Williams family members, Grand Lake Sports Center employees, to the Grove Rotary Club members, to make the bobber drop possible.
Sponsor a prize
While a plethora of prizes have been donated to date for the event, Sam Williams said business owners wanting to participate may still donate prizes by contacting him at 918-786-2300.