World’s Biggest Fish Fry Is Paris’ Biggest Party
In chatting with several residents of Paris, Tennessee, this week, I’ve learned something: Tradition in this town isn’t merely deep. It’s deep-fried.
Paris will host The World’s Biggest Fish Fry later this month, just as it has for 60 years – with an all-volunteer staff (the Jaycees), a flurry of events and a ton (actually, five tons) of fish. No one in town misses it, and it calls like a homecoming to those who’ve moved away. Add those numbers to the masses who come just to see what the fuss is about, and you get some 100,000 attendees.
Here’s a tip: It’s already tough to get a hotel room in town, but I’ve been told that Paris Landing State Park has some availability (and all guestrooms at the park inn feature balconies overlooking Kentucky Lake – sweet).
Here’s the good news: The festival spreads out over several days (April 18-28), so you have piles of chances to get in on it, including:
2013 Collegiate Bass Fishing Open (April 18-20): Anglers launch each day at safe light from Paris Landing State Park. Catch weigh-in Fri., April 19 and Sat., April 20 at 3 p.m. near the state park marina.
Fish Tales (April 20, 2-4 p.m.): Get your ticket to hear stories and live music in the town garden.
Kick-off Street Dance (April 22, 7 p.m.): A free event set to the country, blues and classic rock stylings of local Ray Lewis Band on downtown Paris’ Court Square.
Carnival: Opens April 23 at 5 p.m. with all the anticipated amusements on the Henry County Fairgrounds (through April 28).
These and other events (view the full schedule here) are but a prelude to Weds., April 24, when the fish tent opens. (These days, it’s actually a building at the Henry County Fairgrounds, but the event used to occupy a tent before it grew so popular, explained Jennifer Wheatley, Executive Director of the Paris-Henry County Chamber of Commerce.) Jennifer, who’s been attending the Fish Fry since she was a little girl, also told me that one of her favorite festival moments happens in the fish tent, when, on opening night, “…the [festival] princess tosses out the first hush puppy to her daddy.”
Witness the moment Weds., April 24 around 5 p.m. (The tent will remain open Wednesday night until 9 and open again Thurs., April 25 from 5-9 p.m. You can also pop in Fri., April 26 and Sat., April 27, 11 a.m.-9 p.m.) What’s inside? For $12, community volunteers will pile your plate with all-you-can-eat catfish, hush puppies, French fries, coleslaw and white beans. The price includes a drink. (Want to hear an authentic Southern “bless your heart”? Ask for your catfish grilled; then politely take the breaded wonder.)
Thursday through Saturday, a patchwork of events accompanies the food. Browse the arts and crafts show; watch nightly rodeos presented by the International Professional Rodeo Association; and get to these signature events:
Grand Parade (April 26, 10 a.m.): Groups will march and floats will, well, float from Wood Street to the fairgrounds. You’re welcome to watch just about anywhere along the parade route, but you should know that Parisians are serious about spectating – Fish Fry General Manager Andrea Lamb told me people start reserving spots by parking vehicles – including flatbeds supporting sofas – Thursday night. Andrea, by the way, lined up Verne Troyer as the parade’s grand marshal – turns out he’s a repeat visitor to Paris.
Small Fry Parade (April 27, 10 a.m.): This non-motorized children’s parade brings out a bunch of costumed kiddos and more oh-isn’t-that-so-cutes than a baby shower. The mini-event laps Court Square in downtown Paris.
Catfish Races (April 27, 10:30 a.m.): Registration is required to compete, but don’t get caught up in that – just get to downtown Paris’ Courthouse Lawn to watch as contestants show up with their own catfish in aerated coolers, line them up in the 15-foot-long raceway (made of acrylic chutes), and let them go.
If you’re headed to the festival, note this address for the Henry County Fairgrounds: 517 Royal Oak. Note too that many events require admission – find ticket and pricing details here. Then, tell me what you can’t wait to taste, see or experience at this year’s World’s Biggest Fish Fry in the comments section below.