Ever since Sooke was Sooke, many flocked here for several reasons; perhaps it was the natural, wild beauty that provided an escape from the city, or the closeness of its tightly-knit community, though many would agree it was something else: fishing.
After the Sooke Saltwater Series fishing derby held its first event on Boxing Day last year, hundreds of tickets sold, attracting close to 40 participants, something that has never been seen before in this derby.
And it wasn’t just exciting to see people catch fish and win prizes, but a community coming together by itself in a time when everything’s cold and slow, said Coun. Kevin Pearson, an avid fisherman.
“It’s a bunch of fishermen that have put this together for very unselfish reasons. They are very motivating,” he said.
The event came as a positive sign for Sooke’s business community, as it managed to invite people to come here in the off season, a feat not easy to pull off in winter.
“This is true economic development, because they’re not looking for handouts or grants,” Pearson said, adding that the event’s organizers came to the District of Sooke only for sponsorship, not anything else.
No doubt, local sports fishing is a year-round economic driver that is hard to ignore, especially when it exposes visitors directly to Sooke’s natural setting on such a large scale. More importantly, it stimulates business in town as more faces show up for the fun.
“People are spending money locally on bait, on gas, on food, and accommodations. They’re being exposed to it, and they like it,” Pearson said, calling sports fishing the “single best economic enhancement” that Sooke can really push.
Pearson suggested that involving all areas of the local business community into a single charge is what could truly turn Sooke into a major fishing capital, stimulating other businesses in the process such as restaurants, hotels, and outdoor shops.
But that cooperation is already happening, as businesses in Sooke are working together a little more than they used to, said Ron Neitsch, a veteran operator of a local fishing charter and one of the central organizers behind the derbies.
Neitsch said derbies will attract more customers in the future, but working together with the district and the business community is what will help everybody with creating a healthy and positive local business environment.
“When businesses give us gift certificates and funding for this sort of thing and they get their names together on the posters, it’s kind of a joining together,” he said, adding that it’s this working-together that have helped in the past with prizes, such as first-place prizes.
So far, first-place prizes in derbies have varied between $1,500 and $2,000, but Neitsch hopes that those numbers will go further up, which is certain to attract more participants.
He suggested one way of upping the prizes is improving that relationship between the derbies and the local businesses, by simply recognizing their efforts and getting them involved as much as possible in events.
“People get pretty tired if they’re in small businesses and they’re giving and giving to events and the events are not giving back, and that’s gotta be a huge part of this,” Neitsch said, adding that in the past, sponsors were invited to come up and give away some of the prizes, even if it was a prize they didn’t necessarily donate themselves.
“It’s all about participation and putting a name to the face.”