The winner of the 42nd Annual Salmon Festival and Derby had no idea his fish would be the winner when he caught it.
Angler Sterling Robinson won the $10,000 first prize for the 17-pound coho he caught on Saturday near Assits Island in Barkley Sound.
Jim Freeman collected the prize in place of Robinson, whose job as a paper maker took him to Gibsons on Monday. It’s the first time in the event’s history that a winner wasn’t present to collect, event organizer Dan Washington said.
But in a telephone interview with the News, Robinson said he felt ecstatic about winning. “I feel pretty happy – no, I feel very happy that I’m the winner,” said Robinson.
“I wasn’t expecting this. I thought maybe fish of the day on Saturday.”
Robinson grew up in Sooke, B.C. but participated in Port Alberni’s salmon derby with his father while growing up. This derby is the 23rd one he’s entered since becoming an adult, he said.
Robinson said the fish starting hitting right away as soon as he put his line in the water on Saturday morning. He was using a ‘Spring King’ fishing lure with no bait when he reeled in the big one, he said.
“I didn’t think it was the winner right away. We kept fishing for a few hours, stopped and fuelled up then brought it in to be weighed.
“It wasn’t big but it was fat. I was pleasantly surprised at the weight.”
Robinson said he and his friends checked the weigh station and listened to the radio daily to keep tabs on other fish being brought in. “The wait was pretty stressful but it was fun. I mean, this is the salmon derby and you can’t beat the salmon derby.”
Robinson said he has plans for his $10,000 windfall. “I’m going to upgrade my boat. Maybe buy a new gun. We’ll see,” he said.
Contestant Rick West, whose 15-pound coho was second heaviest behind Robinson’s, engaged in a friendly debate with Freeman about the winning fish by the cooler holding the goods.
“Look at them. Look at the difference. I rest my case,” said West, who held up the two fish. “I’m going not to argue the guy about it,” Freeman said.
The derby was a success as far as organization, volunteers and fun, Washington said.
But attendance was down this year as evidenced by more lulls than usual at event venues.
Washington wondered aloud whether there will be an event next year or not.
“Our fixed costs like insurance, flagging and security remain the same each year. We have to crunch the numbers yet but it’s going to be a close call.”
Re-vamping the kids’ corner and adjusting the stage so it faced toward venues instead of at water worked well, Washington said. “The bands did a great job too. I think there were more people watching them than in the beer garden.”
There was a hiccup during the beginning of the fireworks on Friday. “I have to check into that. The finale sure made up for it though,” he said.
More than 1,000 fishermen participated in the derby and caught approximately 1,348 fish, Washington said.
A volunteer at the Kinsmen food booth estimated that there were 50 breakfasts sold Saturday, 75 sold Sunday and 35 on Monday. The volunteer didn’t have an estimate on how many fish dinners were sold.
Rick West reeled in the second heaviest fish at 15.4 pounds, and Adam Dockendorf caught a 13-pound coho for third place.
Note: Edited to reflect Freeman ‘not’ wanting to argue point with West.