Freeland Ace/Fishin’ Club Pink Salmon Derby celebrates community, fishing

Bonnie Nichols holds a pink salmon she just landed at Bush Point on Aug. 13 with her daughter

Bonnie Nichols likes her chances to claim a prize at the upcoming Freeland Ace Hardware/Fishin’ Club Pink Salmon Derby next Saturday.

The Greenbank resident and lifelong Whidbey Islander already has 20-plus pink salmon on her catch card, and reeled in her daily limit of four on a recent weekday. While the avid angler has yet to claim a prize from any of the past derbys on South Whidbey, she has her sights set a little lower than the top place.

“I want to take second because I want the smoker,” she said in between casts at Bush Point in Freeland.

The fourth pink salmon derby is anticipated to be another record setter. With some 6.8 million pink salmon, the smallest of the salmon species that return to Puget Sound, expected to return to the area this fall, the odds are good that plenty of people will hook into one during the derby Saturday, Aug. 22.

Held every odd year to coincide with the massive pink salmon return, 187 derby tickets were sold in 2013. The event raised $2,600 toward a scholarship for a Whidbey Island student interested in pursuing a marine biology or marine industry career.

“I’m hoping to have at least 200 entries,” said Kari Gerow, manager of Freeland Ace Hardware and one of the event organizers. “We’ve advertised more, the T-shirts have brought more people, and the guys wait until the last minute. They’ll all sell next week.”

This is a derby for anyone and everyone, organizers said. Pink salmon are renowned for being abundant and easily caught. One of their great perks is that they can be hooked into from shore, meaning all someone needs is a rod, reel, lure and some public beach access.

“Anybody can catch pinks — kids, people who haven’t fished before,” Gerow said.

Nichols is a testament to that. She only fishes from Bush Point, and she has done just fine. Reminding herself of the mantra that it is called fishing and not catching helps her deal with the days where nothing bites or when every fish jumps off the hook.

All of her patience and persistence was rewarded on a recent Thursday when she hit her four-fish limit within four hours.

“They’re jumping everywhere now,” she said, watching several salmon leap out of the water’s rippling surface.

Ben Watanabe / The Record | Fish on! Bush Point was a buzz with activity around 10 a.m. Thursday, Aug. 13, about an hour before the low tide that day, with several pink salmon being hooked and landed along the beach.

There was no trick, no secret, no special move. She cast as far as she could, letting the pink 2.5-inch Buzz Bomb plop into the water, then reeled in with a slight-but-swift jigging motion. That sentiment was echoed by Gerow and other anglers, who often say the only trick is to have a lure in the water.

“The secret is, you have to get your butt out there and fish,” Gerow said.

Getting set up to fish for pink salmon is relatively inexpensive. A rod and reel combination at Freeland Ace costs about $40, and the saltwater license costs another $30.05 for residents between 16-69 years old.

In addition to being a fundraiser for The Fishin’ Club and Freeland Ace scholarship, the event is a donation bin for unwanted pink salmon. Any salmon caught that day can be donated to the Good Cheer Food Bank.

Salmon are one of the few fresh sources of protein the bank receives, and it’s a popular item at the Bayview location that feeds a community in need.

“It always goes quickly, no matter how much we have,” said Shawn Nowlin, Good Cheer community outreach coordinator.

“It’s sort of like Christmas in August,” she added.

More than being able to offer people a fresh salmon fillet, she said a true delight is hearing some of the older customers’ stories about when they were able to fish and donate salmon to neighbors.

People can continue to donate salmon any time to the food bank. So long as it is already filleted and has not been frozen, Good Cheer is happy to accept it.

“This is a great way to keep it from going to waste,” Nowlin said.