Despite the changes to this year’s Chinook fishery, there is still a great opportunity to fish in Port Alberni, a small town on the west coast of Vancouver Island, and to participate in a historic “ladder season” derby with a whole lot of heritage behind it. Not to be confused with the Campbell River Tyee Club, where you fish under strict traditional regulations, the Alberni Valley Tyee Club is open to all to buy a membership, and compete in the ladder season derby.
What is a Ladder Derby
A ladder season derby is held over the course of a whole season, much longer than a traditional derby. Fish in potential winning spots can be bumped out at any time up until the last minute of the derby. This gives anglers a much greater opportunity to participate in the fun over a much longer period of time than say, a weekend. The leader board can change frequently throughout the course of the season as contending fish weights climb up the ladder, setting an ever-increasing benchmark for all members to shoot for.
If you are coming to wet a line in the waters of Area 23, I encourage you to purchase a membership to the Alberni Valley Tyee Club and get in on the action of this year’s Ladder Season Derby (only fish caught in Area 23 qualify). It’s been a big part of Island culture, and this year is no different.
The Alberni Valley Tyee Club (AVTC) was founded back in 1932 by a small group of local businessmen who were also fisherman. Their goal was simple: to promote sport fishing in the local waters of the Alberni Inlet.
With a world-renowned fishery at their doorstep, the group eventually set up a clubhouse at the foot of Argyle Street along the old shoreline of what is now the Harbour Quay. The clubhouse displayed the top 50 fish caught during the season by members.
Every angler’s goal was to catch a fish during the regular season that qualified them to be eligible for the club’s main derby: a chance to win some prizes and clinch the bragging rights that come with capturing the top spot.
Other prizes were offered during the regular season, include most fish over 30 lbs and a weekly competition for the largest fish caught by both adults and juniors. During Tyee Week, the largest fish of each day was awarded a prize. Collectors pins were awarded for 30-, 40-, 50-, and even 60-lb catches.
Originally the club was just for adults. But that all changed when in 1949, 12-year-old Cliff McLean landed a 56-lb Chinook, a mere 6 lbs lighter than the boy himself. This fish ended up being the largest of the season, and thus a junior category was born.
After the Tsunami of 1964 devastated the inlet shoreline of the Alberni Inlet, the clubhouse was relocated along the Somas River at the mouth of Kitsuksis Creek. The clubhouse still resides there today on the grounds of Clutesi Haven Marina.
Fisheries up and down the coast have faced challenges, and the Alberni Inlet is no exception. On non-retention Chinook years (1996, 2000, and 2001) or when size restrictions where implemented (2014, 2015), the AVTC could not run a season. Club organizers wait nervously each year for DFO’s regulation statements and return predictions so they can decide if a season will be viable.
Challenges aside, the Tyee Club has been one of Port Alberni’s top attractions since the Great Depression, enticing locals and tourists alike to experience fishing at its finest. While people could barely scrape a couple of coins together, they still found a way to take part in this annual event that’s tradition continues today.
Today’s Ladder Season Derby
In 2017, after the past executive had run into constant issues with seasonal imposed regulations by DFO, the AVTC was re-invigorated with an executive sharing a new outlook for the club’s next generation. Collectively, we aim to increase membership and to continue to support local salmon enhancement and so the Ladders Season Derby was born.
The club’s goal is to honour the values of the past while putting modern spin on the fishing season. Here’s how it works:
Memberships—A yearly membership for the AVTC Ladder Season Derby costs $20 for adults and $10 for juniors (15 and under), and the season is all set to start June 15.
All members aim to fish the entire season with the goal of landing and entering as many qualifying fish as possible (at least 18 lb for adults and 10 lb for juniors) while following DFO regulations.
1st, 2nd and 3rd overall will be awarded to both adult and junior divisions at the end of the season on Sept 8 at 3 p.m.
All qualifying fish registered through the season will be entered for hidden weight draw prizes (rod/reel combos, tackle, coolers, gift cards, etc)
The largest fish caught by a member and weighed on the last day of the ladder season derby will win a bonus prize (Lowrance Hook 2 w/ Nav card) sponsored by Alberni Mobile Marine Service.
I hope to see you on the ladder board as a leader!
Curtis Leyenaar is a life long local of Port Alberni born and raised on the waters of the Alberni Inlet & mentored by father Jake Leyenaar in the art we call fishing. Now, Curtis is an active Sport fishing guide, and Vice President of the Alberni Valley Tyee Club. He is also an active member of the Alberni Valley Enhancement Association & Port Alberni’s Ducks Unlimited. @islandoutdoorsman