There are few things in life Camlachie’s Bill Gray has been doing longer than fishing.
As a youngster he used to saunter down with a few buddies to a creek in Bonnie Doon to search for rock bass.
“Once you land that first big one, you’re hooked,” he says.
The 56-year-old is the returning champion for the 39th annual Bluewater Anglers Salmon Derby. It’s a title he doesn’t plan to relinquish easily.
“Good luck to the field, because I plan on going back to back,” he said.
Among those he plans to best include his wife Betty (Bets) and son, Stephen, who were both aboard Gray’s 22′ Bayliner hardtop last year when he reeled in the 16-pound prized salmon.
There’s camaraderie among anglers, but it also gets competitive, Gray jokes, noting how the teasing and taunting can be especially strong among family.
“If your back is turned, someone if going to grab your rod,” he says with a laugh.
West Vancouver’s Pauline Hedberg has a great fish yarn she spins to friends about Sarnia.
The retired teacher took home top honours in the 2013 Derby, reeling in an 18.26-pound Chinook salmon in the first 20 minutes of the first day.
Her brother, Sarnia’s Dave Stewart, had been hounding his sister to join him in the annual rite of passage for local anglers. For the children of a PEI lobster fisherman, casting about in water has been a way of life.
“It was a bucket life type experience,” Hedberg says of her win.
The Salmon Derby provides many memorable moments, says Brad Armstrong, one of the group’s directors.
The ultimate goal is to raise money to fund the hatchery, which is operated entirely by volunteers, Armstrong says.
The Derby is their largest fundraiser of the year and generates about $19,000, which allows the group to release about 150,000 fish into local waterways each year.
About 1,000 derby participants are expected. Between boats, fishing gear, hotels, fuel, food, and more, the economic impact to the local area is significant, Armstrong says.
IF YOU GO:
WHAT: 39th Annual Bluewater Anglers Salmon Derby
WHERE: St. Clair River, south to the south end of Fawn Island, east to the Grand Bend harbour, north to the trailer park north of Lexington.
WHEN: May 1-10, weigh stations in Sarnia and Port Franks
OTHER: $35,000 in prizes, $5,000 top prize
FOR MORE: visit www.bluewateranglers.com