What a weekend! Halibut fishing on the west coast is amazing, and peak season for halibut Is typically May and June. My good friend Jerry of Mills Landing Cottages and I decided to take advantage of this blessing and host a halibut derby. We have been fishing halibut on the ‘May Long’ since the dawn of time, or at least the queen’s birthday—considering how old she is, that may be one and the same. We have always had a friendly sense of competition.
The unofficial start of the derby was Friday night, with a short meeting of the captains, crews, and locals wanting a good excuse to sneak over to Mills for a beer and some fish talk. We laid out the ground rules: All fish had to be legal length (115 cm), no oversized fish, and no quota sport fishing; we also set the weigh-in time. Each boat was obligated to put $250 into a pot, and the winner would take the entire pot. Everyone who felt confident also entered a side bet of another $100, which the winner would also take. At this point, we had 17 boats entered in the derby, which meant the winning boat was destined to win $5,950 with the side bet included.
Day one started with high hopes. Everyone went off to their secret halibut hole, and it was radio silence. A few captains would chat among each other and it surfaced that we may already have a contester. I can only speak of what happened on my boat, but we went off to a place formidably called the Chicken Ranch and caught our legal daily possession, with the biggest fish being 114 cm. We were confident coming in that we may have had a derby winner on day one. But that was not the case, as our fish only weighed 38.7 lbs, and there were four heavier legal fish caught that day, with the biggest being brought in by Ken from Rocky Point Charters at 43.20 lbs and 113 cm. That night, Jerry and Diane of Mills Landing graciously hosted us all for a fish fry, where we ate a few of the halibut caught that day and told lies about fishing. Excited for the following days and anxious to knock Ken off the leader board, we sat around the Mills Landings fire and made a plan of attack for the days to come.
Day two started with a bit less hope, as a strong northwest wind blew up overnight and made the run offshore a bit less comfortable. The captains and the boats scurried off again to their secret spots and again rumours started to surface of a potential new leader. We went back to the Chicken Ranch and didn’t manage to hook anything over 100 cm. Blessed with a good day but cursed with no derby winners, we ran into Mills Landing to see the bounty of the day. Fewer fish were weighed in on day two due to the wind, but there was a new derby leader. Jeff of Lucky Sportfishing out of Eaglenook Resort took the lead with a 115-cm halibut weighing 47.80 lbs! That night most of us were tired from the fish fry and heavy winds, so we went back to our respective residences and rested for the following day.
The final day started, and off we went. Some people stayed inshore salmon fishing, and a fair number went back offshore to try and hopefully knock Jeff out of the lead and snag the winnings for themselves. We went south of Cape Beale to a spot I faithfully fish the Monday of every May Long weekend. The weather was amazing, with a light northwest wind and small groundswell spaced 12 seconds apart—the perfect fishing day. Again, it was radio silence as people anxiously awaited halibut bites and hopefully the unicorn 115 cm, 50-lb halibut. The day started and ended quickly, with lots of fish to the boat—two fish within legal length, and three oversized ones we released. We ran back in and weighed our two legal fish; one was 115 cm and 47.80 lbs!! We couldn’t believe we tied with Jeff from the day before! What are the chances? Other fish were weighed in, but none broke the formidable 47.80 lbs, so Jeff and I split the winnings. We’re both waiting for a tiebreaker next year.
Needless to say, the derby was a huge success and tonnes of fun. Mills Landing hosted the weigh in and fish fry, and had their cabins available for rent for the weekend. For anyone unfamiliar with the area, Jerry and Diane are kind and gracious, and their cabins and fish processing area are second to none. We’ll continue to have the derby in Bamfield every May Long weekend, but we’ll change a few things. We will be adding a second and third place prize, as well as potentially a hidden weight prize. If you’re thinking about joining, please do! Send an email to [email protected], and we will register you for next year’s derby. For those who don’t have a boat of your own or are looking for a charter, don’t hesitate—many guides in the area will be ready to take you out for the derby!
Hope to see you all next year, and enjoy the rest of your summer!