The experiences of this year’s big winners at the Owen Sound Salmon Spectacular couldn’t have been much different.
While Mike Higginson of Meaford reeled in his big salmon on the second day of the 10-day event, Ty Moore of Owen Sound waited until the last morning to land his top trout.
“I am very excited,” Higginson said on Sunday. “It was nerve wracking, and still is, but it is pretty amazing.”
Higginson said he put his time in this week fishing to try to take his mind off of being in the lead. He admitted to watching the leaderboard all week long, and tried not to look Sunday morning as the noon-hour cutoff approached.
“I was surprised it held,” said Higginson. “There were a lot of close fish, but it is pretty special.”
Higginson said he caught his winning 23.15-lb. chinook off Meaford on Saturday evening. He said they knew it was a big fish as soon as they got it in the boat and made their way to the weigh station. He said the catch was the biggest fish he has ever caught in Georgian Bay.
He said they did most of their derby fishing in the Meaford area this year, which wouldn’t have been possible in previous years as this year marked an expansion of the event’s eastern boundaries from Vail’s Point in rural Meaford to Delphi Point near Craigleith Provincial Park.
“I grew up there so that is where I like to go fishing,” said Higginson. “It is the first year over there so it paid off for us.”
The 30-year-old Maple Leaf Power Corp. employee has been fishing since a young age growing up in Meaford. He has fished the Salmon Spectacular before, but hasn’t in five years after spending some time out west. He was with his fishing buddy Stephen Murray when he caught the big one, but he also got out fishing with his wife Jessica and one-and-a-half-year-old daughter Blake.
“I love fishing. I go whenever I can,” said Higginson. “It is my favourite thing to do.”
Higginson, who already owns a Starcraft Islander, was looking forward to checking out the brand new 16.4-foot G3 boat and trailer, 70-horsepower Yamaha motor, two Scotty electric downriggers and Lowrance graph he won for winning the derby.
“I don’t know. I like them both,” Higginson said of his two boats.
For Moore, the wait wasn’t nearly as long as Higginson in taking the grand prize in the trout category, but it was just as exciting. The 31-year-old millwright at Bruce Power weighed his winning 16.58-lb. lake trout in in the derby’s final hour on Sunday.
Moore’s fish was just .02 of a pound heavier than a fish caught Saturday by Grant Juniper of Georgian Bluffs.
“It feels great to be winning this,” Moore said Sunday afternoon after the scales had closed. “We fish hard, me and my buddies Bradey McDonald and Clark Green.
“We do a lot of tournament fishing down on Lake Ontario, so we spend a lot of time down there, a lot of time in the boat, and when you can pull something off like this it is great.”
Moore and his friends had been fishing all derby long, including some 15-hour days, and had some success during the event. Green actually took the top trout on opening day, a 13.5-lb laker.
But it wasn’t until the final day of the derby when their luck paid off with the big one. They were fishing in shallow in the bay around Owen Sound on Sunday, but followed their plan to head out to Vail’s Point at 8 a.m. to try their luck out there.
The big fish hit at about 10:30, and they had it in the boat about 15 minutes later. They knew right away it was a nice fish and they booked it back to derby headquarters at Georgian Shores Marina to get it weighed.
“It was a high for sure,” Moore said. “I was happy to be on top, because we put in a long week, we had been trying all week for it and to be on top was great.”
By winning the trout category, Moore takes home a 14-ft. G3 boat and trailer, a 15-hp Yamaha outboard motor, two downriggers and a graph. He has a Lund of his own, but was more than happy to now have two boats.
“It is not a bad problem to have,” Moore said.
While Juniper just missed out on the top trout prize, he didn’t go home empty-handed. He captured three top daily trout, resulting in three canoes and a whack of other prizes.
“It was a good go, unfortunately someone bettered the size of fish I had,” said Juniper. “I feel good about it. Everyone has the same opportunity to try and win. That is what it is all about. That is why it is called derby.”
Juniper has fished the derby off and on over the last 31 years and 2018 marked his most successful.
“I picked up a partner to fish with, we work very well together and our whole goal was to move forward and do the best we could,” said Juniper, whose fishing partner Mathew Thwaites of Owen Sound also placed 10th in the salmon category one day.
The 2018 Salmon Spectacular turned out to be the most successful in recent memory as a total of 2,845 fish were weighed in over the 10 days of the event, topping last year’s totals by almost 1,100.
“We had good weather this year and I think the fact we extended the border out to the Meaford area helped, because the winning fish came from that area, and the second-place fish in weight overall came from that area too,” said derby co-chair Mike Prevost. “We had a good number of anglers, everyone seemed to be happy with things, and I think when they know people are catching fish, they can see the numbers on the board, they know there is that opportunity.”
More than 4,000 anglers took part in this year’s derby, and more than $150,000 in prizes were handed out.
More than 50,000 people came through the big tent during the 10 days of events and entertainment. The two giant fish fries attracted 4,800 people and more than 2,300-lbs. of salmon and trout were served.
Prevost said they did a couple of new things this year, including closing down the entertainment at 11 p.m. out of respect for the community, which has had to deal with noise over the years. Organizers also charged a $5 admission for those who came after 8 p.m. to help offset some of their costs, which continue to rise.
“We have had rising costs for years and had to bite the bullet on it,” said Prevost. “We don’t make tonnes of money on this. If you ever broke it down and said what we made per day, people would say we are ridiculous.”
Prevost said they hold the event for the community.
“We have been doing it for so many years and people look forward to this sort of thing,” he said. “The people come out all the time, so we feel it is worth the work to give back to the community.”
All told, derby organizers make around $30,000 from the derby, which goes right back into the Sydenham Sportmen’s Association’s conservation programs, including stream rehabilitation and its hatchery stocking program.
They bring in another approximately $60,000 from sales of their annual boat draw tickets. This year, the winner of the boat draw, made at the conclusion of the derby, was Martin Koronkiewicz of Brampton.