Feature Story Tuesday, December 30, 2014
The River Kings
71st Annual Boxing Day Steelhead Derby helps fund river enhancement projects
Richard Sheremeto won the derby last Friday with his 12.14 lb. steelhead. Below, Robert Ulm brings his 10.23 lb. trophy fish in to the scales.
here were so many participants in the 71st Annual Boxing Day Steelhead Derby on Friday that even the fish were smiling.
It was 1943. Unemployment was at 1.9%. Selman Waksman discovered streptomycin and coins the term "antibiotic." Duke Ellington played Carnegie Hall in New York City for the first time and Frank Sinatra made his debut on radio.
It was also then, seventy-one years ago, that the annual derby began. The first event was actually in 1938, but due to poor runs, it was cancelled for 5 years.
This year, despite having 247 fishers registered, only 11 does had been weighed in by 2 p.m., which had some at the Chilliwack Fish and Game Protection Association (CFGPA) clubhouse wondered if the top row of hooks on the display rack would even fill up.
But, it’s like this every year and participants know what the odds of catching a steelie are. Some have fished the derby for 10 or 15 years and have yet to catch a fish. To them, it's all about the sport.
An angler walks up the ramp at the back of the clubhouse and plops his fish onto the scale. It flaps a couple of times in the pan.
"Look at that," says one fisher who was watching the weigh ins. "It's still kicking!"
Ryan Hutchinson, the last lucky angler to weigh in, manages to get his prize doe on the scales just a couple of minutes before they were closed.
"That's 11.7lbs, not quite 12," announces Derby chairman and CFGPA president Melvin Dureen.
He tags it, carries it outside, and hangs it up on the now full rack.
Inside, fishers were eyeballing the prize tables and swapping yarns.
"His fish had breakfast, mine didn't," quipped one man whose fish was barely beaten in weight by another.
A derby contender tests the waters of the Chilliwack River on Friday. Below, Richard Sheremoto gives the thumbs up after getting the word he had the Kingfish.
Derby winner Richard Sheremeto, a roofer, who was born and raised in Chilliwack, said he started at around 8 a.m. on the river.
His fish weighed in at 12.144 lbs. – a mere quarter pound heavier then the nearest competition, William Reeke with his 11.89 lb. fish.
It’s not the first time Sheremeto won the derby. In 2010, he caught a 14.9 lb. beauty. In the 15 years that he’s been fishing the derby, he’s managed to land 4 steelhead.
Ian Wagner won a prize for the quickest catch when he weighed in at 7:45 a.m. with an 11.22 lb specimen.
Dureen says the normal turnout for the derby is for about 300 participants. Last year, there were 333 registered.
“We'll make about $1500 clear, after bills are paid,” he told The Voice.
Right now, the CFGPA has somewhere between 700-800 members. Dureen says he isn’t sure exactly how many of their members actually fish.
“A lot of our members are members because they need firearms and the firearms licence.”
The derby is the biggest fundraiser of the year for the CFGPA and the derby money is earmarked for river conservation and fish enhancement projects such fertilizing the river.
“Some of the first projects when I started were the actual rearing tanks at the hatchery," said Dureen. "So we paid for the tanks. We also helped out with a study they did recently about the effectiveness of the fertilizing project they did so they were actually adding fertilizer to the river for about five years then the government quit."
According to Dureen, the government stopped funding fertilization projects, so the CFGPA did their own study. He says the Fraser Valley Salmon Society was a huge help, as were the biologists who donated their time to assist with the study.
CFGPA President Melvin Dureen hangs up the final fish in the derby.
“We paid to help do a research project just to see how effective it was, because, what you're doing there by fertilizing, is you're trying to increase nutrients in the river. So, now you see, basically, the fish are much bigger than they were when they weren't fertilizing.”
The cost of the fertilization program is prohibitive to the CFGPA though.
“It’s more than the club can afford on a regular basis. Initially it was looking like we could do it for $7,000. Then that sort of went away and it was looking like it was going to cost $18,000. That's onerous on a club to come up with that,” he says.
He says they are looking at perhaps teaming up with the Wally Hall Tournament that runs to March, with hopes of generating enough funds to cover the river fertilization again.
"Then we go to the government and say we've got $15,000, and they might match it or come up with a little more," concluded Dureen.
Fast Derby Facts
The Chilliwack Fish and Game Protective Association is located at 48685 Chilliwack Lake Rd. Phone 604 858 4202 www.chilliwackfishandgame.com
See more photos below.
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