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Anglers club readying to hold first fishing derby since 2019

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Since the COVID-19 pandemic hit, the Bluewater Anglers club has become accustomed to cancelling events.

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Derbies, shoreline cleanups and other events typically normal fare for the 250-member club that rears 100,000 salmon and trout on average per year in its Point Edward hatchery – to restock Lake Huron – have been cancelled and cancelled again to help prevent the spread of the pandemic coronavirus.

That streak of cancellations comes to an end in August with the return of the club’s walleye derby, the first derby that’s been held in two years, said event organizer Ben McIntyre.

“We were going to run the ice derby in 2020 but there was no ice in the bay anyways,” he said, meaning the last event the club held was the walleye derby Aug. 16-17, 2019.

“It’s good,” McIntyre said about the event’s return, noting there seems to have already been an interest in tickets.

“Maybe there’s some pent-up demand,” he said.

“I know we’ve seen a lot of disappointment with the recent cancellations over the last two years.”

Hopefully that translates into good attendance at this year’s Aug. 6-7 overnight derby, McIntyre said. Anglers can fish starting at 6 p.m. and weigh-in is 9:30 a.m. at the hatchery by the Blue Water Bridge.

The record number of tickets sold for the event is 133, he said.

In 2019, there were 80 participants.

“If we could hit 150 ticket sales, wouldn’t that be great?” McIntyre asked.

The club has been trying to follow public health guidance, he said.

“Now that we’re in phase three, it seems like there’s a general feeling of people are more willing to go out and do things, and with the guidelines they’re able to.”

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Social distancing measures will be in place at the weigh-in station, he said.

“We’re going to have lines painted at the hatchery and encourage people to wear masks,” McIntyre said.

An inaugural virtual walleye competition was held in June, but not by the club, he said, though it did receive proceeds.

About 75 people took part in the Carpenters Local 1256 Blue Coast Walleye Tournament, anglers club officials said via Facebook.

Eight events, including five derbies, are typically held by the club.

The biggest is the annual salmon derby in the spring that was cancelled a second straight year in 2021 and its absence has “been a big hit to our income,” McIntyre said.

Typically the club raises $55,000 for its operations per year and about 30 per cent comes from the salmon derby, he said. The rest comes from donations and grants, vending machine sales, memberships and other sources.

Most of the other derbies are “community oriented” and raise little money or break even after prizes are paid out, McIntyre said.

The Village of Point Edward is sponsoring the $500 top prize for the walleye derby, he said.

Most sponsors, meanwhile, have donated back to the hatchery amid the ongoing event cancellations, McIntyre said. Others who bought tickets for events before they were cancelled didn’t ask for refunds.

“We’ve been very lucky that we have a supportive community.”

Fish feeders at the hatchery recently reopened to the public, McIntyre said. They’ve been closed amid the pandemic.

Membership has also dropped somewhat amid the pandemic, he said, and hopes are more people get involved soon.

A club annual general meeting is planned for Sept. 14, though the location is still being determined, McIntyre said.

Tickets for the derby are $15 and available from Buck’s Bait and The Outdoorsman until 5:30 p.m. Aug. 6.

Participants with valid fishing licences can fish from shore or boat and can weigh one fish.

The 10 heaviest walleye win prizes.

More details are available at bluewateranglers.com.

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