Kevin Bown had entered the Royal LePage Campbell River Salmon Derby the first two years, but neither time did he crack the top 10.
About 8:30 a.m. on Saturday though, his luck changed. He had set out with friends about 6 a.m. in this year’s third installment and got a bite at Francisco Point a couple of hours later, though he did not expect much to be on the other end.
“It actually struck pretty soft, and we thought it was just a small fish,” Bown said. “Then it started running and we thought this might be a good one. Turns out it won the derby.”
When he reeled it in, he had something a little bigger—in fact, the biggest fish of all 630 competitors on Saturday, weighing in at 26.2 pounds, more than two and a half pounds ahead of second place.
“It was a big surprise,” he said. “It was a fun fight and we got ‘er done.”
When the winners were announced, Bown’s friends stood in tow and joined him on the stage to receive a medal and his first prize, a boat and motor from Campbell River Boatland.
After Bown, there was a close race between the second to fourth spots. Doug DeHart took second (23.5 first in) and Glenn Woodhead (23.5) were a close second and third, Cody Johnstone was right behind in fourth (23.4) and Charles Eldred was fifth (23). Rounding out the top 10 were Jeff Peachey (22.3), Gordon May (21.6), Nick Rowbotham (21.5), Richard Chellew (21.3) and Jason Jeffery (21.2). The prizes included fishing gear, fishing trips and cash for the top finishers.
In all, organizer said many people were having good luck out on the water.
“The reports show the fishing’s been really, really good out there today,” said Mark Ranniger, one of the organizers. “Everybody seems to be saying they’re catching lots of fish.”
Organizers figured some contestants were waiting to sign up to see what the weather would bring. While there was some drizzle later in the afternoon, for the most part, the weather was calm.
“The weather cooperated really well for us this year,” said Deanna Collins, another of the organizational team. “It’s flat calm out on the water, so that was good for the fisherman.”
Organizers were pleased with the registration, as well as with the turnout for activities near the weigh-in station at Robert Ostler Park. There were sport fishers big and small out on the waters Saturday. Toward the end of the day, youngter Westley Lim, who turns five later this week and was already in his second derby, reeled in a 14-pounder.
This year, the derby is also assisting scientific research. Jessica Qualley, who works as a lab manager at the University of Victoria, and Lauren Portner, who is a research assistant at UBC, were on hand to remove the guts and clean the fish. The remains, specifically the stomach contents and the earbones, in turn provided them with some source material for their research.
“We have different projects, but we have the same goal,” said Qualley, who is examining what salmon eat. “Our hope is that it will turn into a long-term project.”
Portner has been studying the habitat for southern resident killer whales as well as the state of chinook stocks in the Salish Sea. She is examining the otoliths, or ear bones, which develop in salmon in a similar way as trees develop rings each year. Each researcher had worked at derbies before, but this was the first time they had taken part in Campbell River, and they expect to stay in touch about their work.
“We’re sharing data,” Portner said. “From now on, we’re collaborating.”
They also plan to provide information about the salmon population to the derby organizers.
Of course, one of the main reasons for the derby, beyond the fishing, is to raise money for charity. In each of the first two years, the derby raised about $47,000—split between the Campbell River Salmon Foundation for salmon habitat enhancement and the Ann Elmore House and the Campbell River and North Island Transition Society that provides a safe house for women. Organizers were tallying proceeds and money raised through a silent auction at the end of the event, but they were hopeful they would raise even more than in the first two years.
“It never ceases to amaze me how good and how generous people are,” Ranniger said.