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Sanibel event season kicks off in Old-Florida style with Cracker Fest and the Cast Net Rodeo

By Staff | Nov 4, 2015

Bait Box manager Ron Taverna and Cracker Fest organizer Ben Biery, hold this year’s banner for the Seventh Annual Cracker Fest, which is Friday, Nov. 6, starting at 6 p.m. at the Bait Box on Sanibel. BRIAN WIERIMA

The Sanibel event season is revving up and it will be starting with a heavy dose of an Old-Florida taste with Cracker Fest kicking off its seventh year Friday, Nov. 6, at the Bait Box, located at 1041 Periwinkle Way.

The 22nd Cast Net Rodeo will be held in conjunction with Cracker Fest the following day, Nov. 7, which is also at the Bait Box.

All proceeds will go to help projects focused on stemming red tide in the Sanibel waters, as well as other environmental causes such as Clear Your Gear, Coastal Classroom, Seafood Savvy and the undertaking of reducing plastic bags on the islands.

“Cracker Fest originated as an organization focused only on red tide and how to reduce the affects of it,” said Cracker Fest organizer Ben Biery. “But we are also now helping fund other environmental projects, as well.”

Red tide is caused by an algae bloom, which when it dies, puts out deadly toxins in the water, which affects marine wildlife, such as turtles and shorebirds.

Funds from Cracker Fest will keep going to red tide monitoring and to the Clinic for the Rehabilitation of Wildlife and their research of red tide affects on shorebirds.

Cracker Fest’s name originates from the Florida cowboys, who were called Crackers, because of their bullwhips and the cracking noise it caused when herding in cattle.

The first committee which started Cracker Fest had a handful of past Crackers on it, and they wanted to portray the event as an old-time Florida feel, all arranged with old-Florida food and music.

“We have a fun time, with a laid back environment,” Biery said. “I personally love the name of it, but my guess, not many people know what it is. But this isn’t only a fundraiser, it’s a celebration of our cultural heritage.”

That celebration of heritage will get an extra musical boost by the Apple Butter Band, which will be playing their bluesy music, while the food will be like that of what the Crackers ate – bar-b-que.

“I love the food, that’s what I like the best,” Biery added.

Tickets for Cracker Fest is $100 per person, which includes admission, dinner, beer and wine, live music, a 50/50 raffle, a silent and live auction.

Big ticket items on the live auction include a Rheem air conditioning unit from Sanibel Air and Electric (includes fitting, installation and permitting), two Charlie McCullough photos of life on “Old Sanibel”, a fishing guided tour by Captain Ray on board of The Miss Britt and a 16-foot Dusky Marine V-hull, with an Evinrude 50 horsepower E-Tec Trim and Tilt motor with a four-year factory warranty.

“There will be many other items included to bid on in the silent auction, as well,” Biery said.

For tickets or for more information, contact Biery at 239-472-8585 or email at START@sanibelseaschool.org.

But the good ole’ times are not done Friday evening after Cracker Fest wraps up. The 22nd Esperanza Woodring Memorial Cast Net Rodeo will be held Saturday, Nov. 7, at the Bait Box, starting at 9:30 a.m.

There will be free lessons and demonstrations prior to the competition, starting at 8:30 a.m.

The Cast Net Rodeo is for youths under the age of 16 years old, and no registration fee is required. Divisions are determined by age and size, with every contestant being awarded prizes.

“Pre-registration is encouraged, but not required,” said Bait Box manager and Cast Net organizer Ron Taverna. “We are carrying on the tradition of giving cast net lessons and promoting the use of them. We want to get the kids interested in coming out and being together.”

Esperanza Woodring, who was one of the island’s first commercial fishing women, was famously known as one of the best cast netters on the island, so the rodeo is named after her.

The cast net is commonly used to catch bait fish off the beaches of Florida. It also can be used for commercial quantity fishing, as well.

“Basically, it’s the nets you see people throwing on the beach,” Taverna said. “It covers a large area and traps a decent amount of fish.”

On average, the Cast Net Rodeo has attracted between 50-75 participants.

All proceeds from both events will benefit the Sanibel Captiva Chapter of START (Solutions to Avoid Red Tide), which is a non-profit organization which improved the quality of water through research, public education and programs which restore marine habitats, preserve marine species and promote healthy beaches and waterways.

For more information on either event, or to pre-register for the Cast Net Rodeo, visit www.baitbox.com.