Rob Rideout from Victoria has been coming to Port Alberni to fish in the annual Labour Day Salmon Festival and Derby for 15 years and caught a 15-pound Coho Sunday.
“It’s always a good time. The fish have obviously gotten a bit smaller, but it’s still a great time, and it’s been very well run every year,” said Rideout.
His fish was in third place by noon on Sunday, but he didn’t expect it to last as more fish came in.
Fishing boats dotted the Alberni Inlet as about 1,500 registered fishers trolled and jigged for the winning fish.
However, this year’s numbers are still a big decrease from the big years decades ago.
“Back in the day, there were 4,000 people signed up for it and we were in our hay days back then,” said Port Alberni Salmon Festival Society president Dan Washington.
The society previously ran the derby until the Alberni Valley Tyee Club took it over in 2021.
The derby’s biggest years also saw very popular beer tents and salmon dinners, but they ended during the pandemic.
Organizers say they would like to see them return in the coming years.
The biggest winning fish ever caught in the derby was 60 pounds, eight ounces, by Art Berlinski in 1982.
As of Sunday afternoon, this year’s leader was a 23-pound, four-ounce Chinook brought in by Dave Thibeau Friday night.
“The fish have been a little smaller this year, but a lot of fish are being weighed in,” said Carolyn Jasken, Tyee Club President. “But they’re all kind of cloned 15 to 20 pounds, so it’s interesting because there are lots of ties and it’s a close race.”
Some good news and a big relief was the full opening of Highway 4 at Cameron Lake on Thursday, making it easier for participants from as far away as the mainland and Washington State to get to Port Alberni.
“Oh absolutely, absolutely because that makes a huge difference because there are a lot of people who do come from the other side of the island or wherever,” said Assistant Weigh Master Don Parker.
The derby wraps up Monday afternoon with the person reeling in the biggest fish taking home $10,000.
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