The ‘Ultimate Fishing Town” is getting set to host the annual Port Alberni Salmon Derby over Labour Day Weekend.
The Alberni Valley Tyee Club has organized the last two derbies and is at the helm of the 2023 version that will take place Sept. 2–4. Spokesperson Carolyn Jasken said this year has been a banner year for fishing, and she expects no less heading into derby weekend.
“Despite having a commercial opening (Aug. 23), everywhere all over Barkley Sound is on fire right now,” she said. “Even in front of APD (Sawmill) guys are limiting out. So that’s huge.”
There are 2,000 derby tickets available for 2023. While they have been going fast, some still might be available at Gone Fishin’ in Port Alberni, Duncan and Nanaimo, Poett Nook, Alberni Power and Marine, Alberni Industrial Marine Supply or Breakers Marine in Port Alberni or Bamfield. “We sold more at this time than last year,” Jasken said.
Prizes will be awarded daily on Saturday, Sept. 2, Sunday, Sept. 3 and Monday, Sept. 4 as well as the overall prize of $10,000 for biggest fish. Alberni Valley Tyee Club will have its weigh station at Argyle Pier, located at Harbour Quay just above Centennial Pier. Hidden weigh stations will be located at China Creek Marina, Poett Nook and Upnit Lodge and Marina in Bamfield. Proceeds go back to salmon enhancement projects and infrastructure needs.
Last year’s winner, Justin McKay of Port Alberni, at 14 years old was the youngest-ever winner of the derby. His 27.1-pound salmon, caught on the second day of the derby, earned him the $10,000 top prize.
The Salvation Army is bringing back the kids’ bullhead derby on Saturday, Sept. 2. This is separate from the Alberni Valley Lions’ Club derby that happened the Aug. 26 weekend. “They can fish all over,” Jasken said. “They just have to bring their bullheads to the official weigh station at Argyle Pier; weigh-in is 10 a.m. to 12 p.m.”
The Salvation Army will be providing prizes, she added.
While there is no official festival to accompany the derby, Harbour Quay will still be busy with activity during the Labour Day weekend. The weekly Spirit Square Farmers Market is scheduled for 9 a.m. to noon on Saturday, and there will be a crafters’ market from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Sunday. Island Sound will provide pre-recorded music during the weekend.
Some Harbour Quay merchants will have salmon-related specials— like The Donut Shop, which will be selling fish doughnuts, or Starboard Grill, Grassroots and Broken Bow with their food specialties, Jasken said. The Rotary Club of Port Alberni and the Alberni District Fall Fair will both have tents, Alberni Valley Enhancement Society will offer demonstrations and fish painting and 93.3 the PEAK will provide live updates from the site. Fisheries Canada will be conducting a creel survey and taking fish samples, and will also have a table with information for the public.
There will not be fireworks this year due to the ongoing extreme fire hazard in the province, Jasken said.
This is the second year in a row that the community has rallied to bring activities to the Quay during derby weekend; the long-running Port Alberni Salmon Festival folded following two years of coronavirus pandemic closures. In 2022 the Sugar Shak and the late Bill Surry along with a lot of community supporters pulled together a three-day festival at the last minute.
“Basically, the seed has been planted for next year for those people who wish to build on (activities) and grow together,” Jasken added.