Andre Lemieux started the Silva Bay Fishing Derby in 1990, mostly focusing on the many members of the Silva Bay Yacht Club who liked to fish. It was sparsely attended, but did feature a first prize of a 9.9 Mercury outboard for the largest Chinook. Lemieux ran the derby again in 1991, and then lost interest in continuing.
I took over organizing the derby in 1992, at a time when the salmon fishery had become very politicized. First Nations, commercial fishermen, and sport fishermen each wanted to preserve their perceived “share” of the fish. The Sport Fishing Institute was becoming the voice of the sport fishing community, and I felt it very important to help fundraise to support their efforts, so all proceeds from The Silva Bay Derby were then donated to The Sport Fishing Institute.
In the 1990s, most of the prizes were donated locally from Gabriola businesses, including art from local painters, carvers, and craftsmen. Our biggest supporter has always been The Harbour Chandler, who not only sold the bulk of the tickets, but provided the highest-value prize. We would generally have a top prize of $500 cash for the largest Chinook, along with 30 to 50 other prizes.
In 2006, Nanaimo sport fisherman Clyde Wicks became involved in organizing the derby, and the whole game changed. Wicks knows a lot of people in Nanaimo, and the merchants were very responsive to his prize requests. Attendance rose dramatically, along with the quality and quantity of the prize prizes. In 2003, Gabriola fisherman Bob Rooks donated $7,500, and we had three derbies—one in May, one in June, and one in July. Each derby had a largest Chinook prize of $1,500, and the person who had the largest cumulative weight of six Chinook won an additional $3,500. Clyde won the grand prize that year, coming from Vancouver to do so.
In recent years, we have sold 250 to 300 tickets for this event. First prize was a 9.9 Yamaha outboard donated by Parker Marine, and the draw prize was a $4,000 Lowrance structure finder donated by The Harbour Chandler. All of the proceeds over the past 12 years have been donated to the Nanaimo River Hatchery, as they do fabulous work and are constantly underfunded.
We have had five Tyee winners in the derby. Steve Clevette with a 32.2-lb fish in 2001, Jack Beaudin with a 36.9-lb fish in 2009, Rich Erickson at 33.48 pounds in 2011, Alfredo Moon at 32.67 pounds in 2013, and John Chen at 31.4 pounds in 2014. (Jack weighed his fish in at about 5 hours into the derby, and I was thinking, “What are the odds? The largest Chinook I’ve ever caught in 34 years of chartering was 34 pounds.”)
There have been four female winners of the Silva Bay Fishing Derby: Paula Sandland in 2000, Carroll Goehringer in 2002, Barb Meyer in 2003, and Linda Hardy in 2006. I love it when the ladies win!
The Silva Bay Derby has always felt like “old friends” weekend to me! It just has a different vibe to it than other derbies. I get to see my buds from Vancouver, Nanaimo, and Gabriola and laugh and tell fish tales. People lounge around the docks, just very happy to see one another.
Silva Bay Marina has always hosted the annual event, and a huge thanks goes out to them and all our sponsors, ticket vendors, our superb weigh crew, cooks, organizers, and advertisers. Bless you!
Unfortunately, due to COVID, we have had to scale back the derby to 48 entrants this year. We are doing a cash prize-only derby on August 8, so as not to create crowds around the prize table. Harbour Chandler has again graciously donated a $4,500 Lowrance Structure finder, and monies raised from the sale of this will be donated to The Nanaimo River Hatchery.
We’re calling this year’s event the 2020 Gabriola Pandemic Pro Am, and it will run from dawn until 5 p.m. on August 8. The entry fee is $50. Cash only prizes. Tickets are available at Silva Bay.
Next year, we’ll be back at Silva Bay Marina, hopefully bigger and better than ever!