Guy Desbiens will never forget the first time he caught a tyee. He reeled the 35.9-pounder in within 10 minutes of hooking it in the Alberni Inlet, across from the old Boy Scout hall, and finished his weekend at the Port Alberni Salmon Festival $10,000 richer because of it.
"I'm 55 years old and I set my line to 55 feet; and bada boom, bada boom," an elated Desbiens said at the conclusion of the 40th annual salmon festival and derby.
Desbiens spent about 30 hours on the water throughout the weekend as he and his brother-in-law, Gerald Samson, tried to catch an even bigger fish. "I love to fish," said Desbiens, who because of work commitments in the past has only entered one or two other derbies.
He caught his winner using a purple hoochie at 7 a.m. Saturday. While they reeled in a 25-pound spring that evening, neither man caught anything else worth noting, he said.
It was a nervous three-day wait to see if his tyee won. "I've got no nails left," Desbiens joked.
"I didn't give up, even after I caught it."
Isaac McDonald, 10, won $1,000 for his third-place salmon on Saturday. McDonald brought in a 31.8-pounder with a plug at Diplock in Barkey Sound almost as soon as he put his rod in the water.
"We didn't even have the two other rods down," he said. "We were still getting the anchovies out and 'wham!'.
"It took about three or four runs. Everybody took a share," McDonald said, adding that while he landed the fish "it's a team effort."
McDonald, who was fishing with his father, John, will be splitting his winnings with his other two fishing partners, Braeden Reynolds and his father, James.
Daily winners were:
Saturday — 1 Guy Desbiens (35.9 lbs.), 2 Sahreef Sattar (33.1 lbs.), 3 Isaac McDonald (31.8 lbs.).
Sunday — 1 Al Lambert (31.1 lbs.), 2 Kevin Ericson (31.1 lbs.), 3 Matt Pomgratz (30.6 lbs.).
Monday — 1 Angela Vanbuskirk (33.8 lbs.), 2 Joe Kadar (28 lbs.), 3 Mike Ballard (26.2 lbs.)
*Results and spellings unofficial
Derby tickets were up significantly over last year, festival organizer Dan Washington said. Between 2,000 and 2,500 fishermen and women answered the challenge this year. Last year the event drew 1,600 entrants.
The festival was a success in its 40th year, Washington said. "I think the crowds were back. The entertainment was better. Sunday night this place was just jam-packed."
Security was increased in the beer garden and the festival paid overtime to have RCMP officers on patrol in the evening. The city opened up the parking lot at the last minute between Solda's Restaurant and the Beaver Creek Co-op, which helped, and Ace Flagging kept traffic running consistently throughout the weekend, Washington said.
"Very smooth this year," he added.
While there were several hundred pounds of salmon left over, Washington said people bought more than 2,500 dinners at the Kiwanis' popular barbecue. Profits will go towards charitable organizations in the next year.
Whether or not there will be a 41st Salmon Festival depends on what is going to happen with the property at the marina site, he said.
"As long as Clutesi (Haven Marina) is here, we'll be back next year. That question I can't get an answer to, right now."