The Bamfield Tuna Shootout holds the distinction of being the first, and the longest running tuna derby, in BC. It began as a casual event in 2011 when 3 boats and 10 anglers showed up. Once the word got out and the derby began to promote itself the participation peaked with 40 boats and nearly 200 anglers. The 2020 event had 19 teams and over 90 anglers.
Mills Landing, located on the west side of Bamfield Inlet, is Shootout headquarters. It offers fully appointed seaside cabins, as well as charter fishing adventures. This year the Landing’s Jerry Gassner and Bamfield charter operator Matt Harmeson coordinated the Derby’s activities.
From mid-August to mid-September Albacore tuna migrate north from California to the offshore waters adjacent to the west coast of Vancouver Island. They remain there as long as the water temperature holds between 60 and 65 degrees F, but immediately follow the warm water south as soon as the temperature begins to drop. According to Matt, “The big schools of fish can turn on a dime and disappear in an instant and this often coincides with the first serious October storm. So there is an intense but relative short offshore tuna fishing window. Fishing for tuna is a much different game than chasing salmon. Bigger boats are the rule, traveling significant distances offshore and dealing with wind and fog are common obstacles to overcome. For safety reasons boats often use the buddy system by running in pairs. Trips often involve staying overnight on the fishing grounds”.
This year the Shootout ran from September 11th to the 19th and according to Matt it started slowly. Even though there was warm water close to shore the tuna avoided it during the first half of the event. The competitors had to travel much further offshore to find them. This also forced anglers to disperse over a much larger area in search of fish which meant that some anglers hit fish, while others missed out. The weather was also a bit sketchy in the early going, but during the second half of the derby it improved significantly. The wind was calm and the fish moved inshore prompting Matt to proclaim, “The event was a solid ten out of ten with some teams tagging into 60 fish or more, while providing opportunities for teams that missed out earlier to finally get into the action”.
Nanaimo resident Danny Bishop led his Bish & Son team to first place with a four tuna aggregate total weight of 90.75 pounds. For their efforts they pocketed $7,500 plus a 16 inch chartplotter from Alberni Power and Marine for one of the biggest fish of the day prizes.
Second place, worth $2,500, went to Dave Kondick’s Calgary based DAK team with 81.65 pounds. About half of the competitors came from Vancouver Island, with the remainder traveling from the lower mainland, and some as far away as Calgary.
Typical tuna tactics were used with many anglers opting to run hand lines which tend to get fish to the boat quicker than rod and reel combos, according to Matt. Zuker’s hoochies with thicker durable plastic skirts rigged behind splashers worked well, while Clayoquot and Loudon Canyons gave up lots of fish.
The Shootout provides Bamfield with an annual economic boost after the salmon fishery ends. In fact, Matt remarked that the gas dock needed to refuel three times during the nine day event. The organizers want to thank the nearly 20 sponsors who made the derby a success. and also want to give next year’s contestants a heads up, because they are making some changes for the 2021 event. First, because of demand they are capping the number of teams to between 25 and 30. Second, this year’s participants will be grandfathered into the derby as long as they commit to attending before April 1st 2021.