By Jennifer Henion
Triplicate staff writer
New legends of the Smith River fishing experience were created this past weekend with record catches and perfect conditions for the 21st Annual Cal-Ore Fishing Derby.
The twice-yearly derby also raised more money than ever for Rowdy Creek Fish Hatchery's troubled budget.
"People a lot of times think these derbies are to win something, but what I've worked to help people understand is that these are our fund-raising events for fish enhancement projects like Rowdy Creek Hatchery," said Val Early, coordinator of the Cal-Ore Fish Enhancement non-profit group's derbies and the area's only full-time female driftboat guide.
On Friday and Saturday, 96 fishermen and 48 guides floated the waters of the emerald Smith and Chetco Rivers.
Many of the invitation-only derbygoers were affluent out-of town businessmen, including Marc Mondavi of the Napa winemaking family and coach Rich Brooks of Oregon State University and University of Kentucky football fame.
A record total of 249 fish were caught. All of them were measured, then released. Calculations showed an average size of 31 inches.
Though more fish were caught in the Chetco, the four biggest fish one at 39 inches were caught in the Smith.
"There were more fish (139) caught on Friday, than any other single-day catch total for the 21-year history of the derby," said Early.
"The first-place team also shattered the old record of 14 fish caught by a team setting the new record at 30 fish," she added.
What made the fishing so great was not a record run of steelhead, but absolutely perfect weather and river conditions, according to Early and Rowdy Creek Hatchery Boardmember Chuck Blackburn.
Early said the rains a few days before the derby raised the water level and left the rivers just cloudy enough to make fish brave enough to come within catching distance.
And the warm, sunny days made conditions in the boats pleasant.
The great weather and record-breaking fish catches also made for good camaraderie and competition during the evening fund-raiser auction, Early said.
"Marc Mondavi was so elated from winning first place that he matched the $6,000 donations for the Rowdy Creek Hatchery," said Early.
That match meant $12,000 was added to the $40,000 raised by the event for the hatchery an important injection of funds for the Northcoast's only privately run hatchery.
Rowdy Creek, which needs about $145,000 to keep the operation going each year, used to get $100,000 from the state salmon stamp an amount which has dwindled to about $20,000.
The two Cal-Ore derbies each year are a main source of money for the hatcheries.
The next one is scheduled for March 6 and 7 and traditionally hosts alumni Oakland Raider team members and General Chuck Yeager.
"We're really encouraged by the donations. The next derby is full, too, with 24 teams of four fishermen and two guides.
"The most important thing is these people come into the community and have a great time. And the result is that money goes back into the fishery and the community," said Blackburn.
The final results of the February derby are as follows:
First place went to the Napa Valley team sponsored by Charles Krug Vineyards with team members Marc Mondavi, Jim Barbour, Jim Rizza and Nate George, with guides Val Early and Gary Early of Brookings. They caught a total of 30 fish.
Second place went to the Eureka team, sponsored by North Coast Auto, with team members Pam and Gary Barker, Zack Larson and Wayne Bunn, guided by Rich Mossholder and Marc Fenton. They caught a total of 16 fish.
Third place went to the Georgia Pacific team with team members Bill Locke, Rich Mantua, Jay Youngflesh and Alan Ornbaun, with guides Willie Plunkett and Todd Puett. They also caught a total of 16 fish.
The honor of biggest fish caught went to Kyle McKinsey of McKinsey and Associates with his guide Gary Farley. McKinsey caught the 39-inch steelhead mentioned earlier.