Successive weekends in July saw dozens of angling teams chasing prize walleye and pike in Lake Mistissini and Opekimiska Lake. Organizers were delighted by the level of entries, which returned to pre-pandemic levels. Plans are in the works to grow both derbies next year.
Mistissini’s Big Rock Derby returns to former glory
Seventy-nine boats poured into the waters of Lake Mistissini July 15-17 for the annual Big Rock Fishing Derby, each hoping to land the biggest walleye and pike to take home up to $25,000 in prizes.
Each boat was allowed five walleye weighed and measured throughout the derby, with the winners of the $20,000 prize chosen from the top three fish brought in.
Each boat was also allowed to bring in one pike per day, to get a chance at winning the $5,000 biggest pike prize. To protect the ecology of the lake, each fish had to be able to swim away from the weigh-in station within a minute of being released or the catch was considered invalid.
Event organizer Peterson Brien was pleased with the event this year: “It was very successful. A lot of outsiders from the community too,” he said, which was a change from last year, where pandemic restrictions kept out people from other communities. “People here and from other communities were excited to come back to Lake Mistissini. It’s a fun lake to fish, one of the biggest natural lakes in Quebec – it’s a fishing paradise for fishermen.”
The three-day event started off on a warm, sunny Friday with no wind. But a large hailstorm hit on Saturday, with winds nearly blowing away the organizer’s tent, before returning to a pleasant day on Sunday.
Besides the weather, Brien says the fish and people getting together were the other highlights: “Seeing people, how happy they were to come back and fish in Mistissini Lake. Seeing the big walleyes – I saw 6-, 7-pounders.”
Brien was also proud that this year they managed to lose a lot fewer fish than in previous years, with only 15 fish lost in the catch-and-release event: “We’ve been doing a very good job on that.”
The teams were formed of two to four people per boat, with each paying a $750 registration fee. Teams came from Waskaganish, Nemaska, Chisasibi, Waswanipi, Oujé-Bougoumou, Chapais, and Chibougamau, with one from Saguenay Lac-St-Jean.
In the end, Team BMW from Chibougamau took home first place and a $20,000 cheque in the walleye category. Brien said they had previously won two or three years before. Team M-16 took home the $5,000 prize in the pike category.
The event was “almost a last-minute thing,” Brien noted. “I only had a month to prepare, to advertise the event. For next year I already have a plan for the 10th annual – my community and I are planning to make it a big event. We’ll have more time to start working on it and start advertising.”
The organizers are looking at holding the 2023 derby in mid-July but are waiting to consult a regional event coordinator to ensure there’s no overlaps with other competitions. Participation was back to pre-pandemic levels, though not as big as in record years: “I remember one time we had 400 boats – it’s something I’d like to see as coordinator.”
He said the event is also important for Mistissini’s tourism and economic development. However, Brien noted high gas prices was a discouraging factor for many potential participants.
Brien said he got a lot of advice from an organizer of one of the bigger national fishing derbies, including lowering inscription fees to accommodate the higher gas prices. Asked if he’d like to see the Big Rock fishing derby become a regional or national-level event, Brien said he would, “but it would take a lot of work to get there.”
Ouje’s Kaa Pimiskaanuuch Derby hooks fishers
Over 100 participants across 66 teams crowded the shores of Opemiska Lake at Ouje-Bougoumou to compete in the 2022 Kaa Pimiskaanuuch Fishing Derby July 22-24.
The catch-and-release event featured a $20,000 prize for the biggest walleyes, as well as a $5,000 prize for the largest pikes. There were additional rewards of $500 for the biggest walleye caught each day, and a $1,000 prize for the largest walleye caught throughout the weekend.
Team Martin Tour Terrain took home first place in the pike category, while Team Advantage Chrysler/Abitibi Angler hooked the main prize in the walleye category.
David Grad, a member of Advantage Chrysler/Abitibi Angler, said it was his first time participating in the event, which he described as “very nice, and well organized.” He said the team met lots of welcoming people and had the chance to visit Ouje-Bougoumou as well.
While the weather was windy, Grad said he was ready for the conditions, having practiced on the lake during the previous month.
The first day for the team started off well. According to Grad, “The fish were where we thought they would be. But on the second day, all the fish moved out of our spot, so we had to adjust our strategy and find the fish again.”
While the team struggled to find two good walleyes to register for the second day, Grad said the fish moved again on the third day, so they returned to their starting location and found the fish waiting for them. “We caught two nice fish very quick, which was good for us because we needed bonus points to stay first,” he explained.
“The highlight for our tournament was Day Two when we saw a large mark on our sonar. We knew it was a big walleye, so we worked for that fish for a while and finally caught him! It was a 29-inch walleye,” Grad enthused. “We were very happy and knew it will be good on the score sheet!”
After what he described as a lot of stress, self-pressure to perform, hard work and planning, the team found out they had managed to maintain their lead and came in first place. “When we found out we came in first place, all the stress disappeared, finally able to breathe normally – we jumped and celebrated our second win in two tournaments!” said Grad.
Event organizers announced that the 2023 derby would be held July 21-23.
Benjamin Powless, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Nation