A local fisherman shows off his grand catch of the day.

Sooke Saltwater Series fishes for a good cause

The Saltwater Series are back in Sooke for the annual fishing derbies.

Grab your fishing lines and ready the bait because it’s that time of the year again when the sun’s shining and the open water is calling — so if you’ve been itching to get out there and catch the biggest prize in the ocean, well good news; the Sooke Saltwater Series is back.

Like previous years, the series is divided into three derbies: the Halibut Derby on May 23/24, the coho derby on Oct 10, and Boxing Day Derby on Dec 26.

This year though, it’s a little bit different; those who participate and donate some of their catch will be eligible to some big prizes — and to a big thanks from some key local charities: Sooke Food Bank, Charters Creek Interpretive Centre, and the Sooke Salmon Enhancement Society.

All of it is organized by a core group of passionate local fishing guides, such as Ron Neitsch and Elden Smith, who’ve been actively running the Saltwater Series for the last four years in Sooke.

“We do the derbies off season to try to bring in more business to Sooke and provide something to charities here in town,” Neitsch said, adding that keeping the sport of fishing and the culture of fishing alive in Sooke is a key factor in the Series. And the more fish and more participants donate, the better for everyone.

“We offer extra prizes to fishers who donate, and fishers who donate a filet or a couple of filets will get a ticket for even bigger prizes,” he said. Neitsch added that any fish fillets that get donated are automatically prepared, bagged and sent to the Sooke Food Bank.

“They get a lot of fish out of it, and it’s up to the point now where people are waiting for it, they know the fresh fish are coming up,” he said. “When we did our first halibut derby, there wasn’t much interest, but when we did our second one, it was all gone.”

Smith noted that those who take part are encouraged to bring cans of food down as well.

The way it works? Participants can either purchase a $150 ticket for all three series, or $50 a ticket for a single derby (such as the upcoming Halibut Derby in May, also known as the Jack Homer Memorial Halibut Derby) – contestants will compete based on points they earn per every pound of fish they catch. According to Neitsch, for halibut the limit is 1 lb, though for coho and chinooks, you get 4 lb as the limit.

Though it varies on weather and how many people join in, Neitsch and Smith say around 100 – 130 fishermen take part in the event, and they hope to bring in even more.

“If we sell 100 tickets for the halibut derby this year, we’d be pretty happy,” Neitsch said, pointing out that the number of sponsors and prizes has grown significantly this year.

“This year we’ve gotten some good sponsors; everyone’s been very generous,” he said. “Our $500 sponsors, which is our highest level, we’ve gotten eight so far, one whom even donated $1,000 in gift certificates.”

And you don’t need to check in at the beginning of a derby either; you just go straight out fishing — Smith noted that the only timeline is you have to come in and weigh your fish around a certain time. Not all derby’s are the same, either; the halibut derby extends to two days (you can only fish until a certain time in the halibut derby) while others can be completed in one day.

“Whoever has the most points after Boxing Day is the winner,” Smith said. What we’re offering for that is a cash first, second and third prize, and first place also gets a unique jacket with all the sponsors’ logos similar to a racing jacket.”

Those who want to join the fun can purchase tickets in advance at the Crab Shack and Eagle Eye Outfitters here in Sooke. All of the derbies take place at the Crab Shack at Jock’s Dock at 6947 West Coast Road.

For more info, visit www.sookesaltwaterseries.ca, or go check out the Sooke Saltwater Series page on Facebook