Anyone entering this year’s Bluewater Anglers Salmon Derby has a shot at landing a 500-pound bluefin tuna.
No, the club hasn’t found a way through its successful fish hatchery program to stock local waters with giant, saltwater game fish.
But to mark the derby’s 40th anniversary, a pair of chartered tuna fishing expeditions for two at Prince Edward Island resorts is being offered as grand prizes.
One package will go to the person entering the largest fish by weight; the other to the winner of a random draw for all anglers who enter a fish.
The 10-day derby starts Friday and runs to Sunday, May 8.
The impressive list of prizes also includes $5,000 for the biggest salmon, prizes for the next four biggest salmon, as well as largest rainbow trout, lake trout, shore-caught trout, largest walleye and an assortment of draw prizes.
After 40 years, the popularity of the Bluewater derby remains strong. In fact, last year saw a significant spike in interest, said derby co-chairman Paul Heckley.
“For the past five years we’d been averaging a little under 1,000” entrants per year, said Heckley. “Last year we had a big jump, up to 1,150.
“(It) usually depends a lot on the weather,” he added.
Sarnia’s southern location allows the Bluewater club to kick off the annual Lake Huron derby season. It’s followed a couple of weeks later by the Kincardine Salmon Derby.
“The water warms up here first,” said Heckley, a Bluewater Angler since 1980 and a derby committee member for more than two decades.
In fact, local waters are approaching 50 degrees Fahrenheit, the temperature at which the club releases juvenile fish from its hatchery.
Some time in the next week or so the Bluewater Anglers will stock area waters with 80,000 salmon, 35,000 rainbow trout and 15,000 brown trout.
Net proceeds from the salmon derby go to operate the club’s fish hatchery under the Blue Water Bridge.
Heckley has a message for novices who might wonder if they have a chance of winning against more experienced anglers.
“There’s a little skill involved, but luck means a lot more,” he said. “Over the years we’ve had very few repeat winners in the major categories … we usually have new faces every year.”
Because the water is warmer in shallow areas and still quite cold in deeper parts of the lake, “you don’t need to go miles and miles out into the lake to catch some big fish,” he added.
Trophies can be caught near shore fishing from a small aluminum boat.
Derby tickets are available at over a dozen locations in Sarnia-Lambton. Visit www.bluewateranglers.com for a list of sites and other information.