When retired logger Don Deforest started the first Winter-Spring Derby 29 years ago, he had about 40 coworkers and friends attend. The following year it grew to 70 registrants and news quickly spread. Today, the annual fishing derby attracts more than 450 people from as far away as California.
Held each year during the first weekend in March, at Poett Nook Marina, down the Alberni Inlet, the Sproat Lake Loggers’ Winter-Spring Derby was launched so avid fishermen could take advantage of the salmon run in local waters.
“At the time, Sarita logging camp held a derby in June and I went to that,” Deforest said. “I wanted to do one for winter-spring. That’s when the herring come in and the salmon follow them so the fishing is good. I figured I’d put a little derby on.”
Poett Nook Marina owner at the time, Greg Salmon, took home the inaugural first prize of $300 and told Deforest the derby was a successful kickoff to the fishing season.
“It really jump starts the year there,” Deforest said. “It’s the first thing of the year so everyone gets their boats ready to get into the swing of fishing.”
With the majority of registrants from the Island or nearby, there are also many who travel from Alberta and beyond.
“There used to be a guy who drove night and day from California, fished all weekend, and drove back,” Deforest said.
The derby has turned from a handful of guys into a large family event. Originally attracting only a group of men, families started camping there for the weekend and bringing their children on the boats. Deforest said he has seen many local kids grow up over the years. The late Jake Leyenaar, who helped him with organizing the derby, was one of those fathers who introduced his sons to the waters.
“His boys were just little wee guys running around,” Deforest said. “They grew up there and have been coming back to fish.”
This year Curtis Leyenaar will be continuing the tradition by taking out his father’s boat.
“This derby is more sought after than the Salmon Derby,” Leyenaar said. “I go almost every year and have so many good memories.”
The memory of Jake will be honoured with a special award this year.
“It will be given to somebody who participates every year to help out with the derby,” Deforest said.
There are only 500 tickets printed and once sold out, there will be no more printed.
The registration fee is turned over to fund all of the numerous prizes. The top prize is a Yamaha Washer PW 3028 donated by Port Boat House. More information and tickets can be found there, at Gone Fishin’, Breaker’s Marine, and Poett Nook Marina.
It all takes place on March 4 and 5.