Sarah Holm beamed a bright smile while holding up her mighty, first-place winning fish at the Freeland Ace/Fishin’ Club Pink Salmon Derby on Saturday.
A total of 145 adults took part in the derby, with 33 fish weighed. In the youth division, 31 children 12 and younger competed with 10 fish weighed.
Holm’s prize-winning salmon weighed in at 4.40 pounds, representing a shift to smaller fish at the fourth Freeland salmon derby.
Previous years saw first-place fish at 7 and 8 pounds, but the top three weighed in 2015 were all less than 4.5 pounds.
Holm was casting from a boat at Bush Point, using the tried-and-true 2.5-inch, pink Buzz Bomb lure. Having climbed atop the pilothouse, she said she enjoyed being out for most of the day on the water, a hazy, overcast and at times chilly outing.
Her shipmates said she was dancing up there, doing her “fish dance” and swaying her hips, perhaps a better lure than any bait or rotator.
“We were fishing all day. It was all about the tunes,” she said, adding that her preferred music while fishing was Mumford & Sons.
“It was all about fun,” she added.
Their boat set out around 9 a.m., returning at 3 p.m. when she brought in her fish for the weigh-in deadline at 4 p.m., narrowly edging out the previous first-place weight.
Chris Brooks, an avid angler and owner of his own lure company Bigfishin’ Custom Tackle, had previously brought in the heaviest pink. Seeing the leader board, he knew his fish was the new first place, knocking off Monica Vierra’s 4.22-pound pink.
“It ain’t huge, but I got that beat,” Brooks said.
Fishing from a boat that day, he opted to use a downrigger with a flasher and a Coho Killer lure after not seeing enough fish jump to make casting worth his while. If the fish weren’t coming to him, he would go to them.
He weighed in his salmon at 4.39 pounds, and momentarily had the top prize in hand.
Brooks laughed off jeers and jokes from fellow anglers that they should check to make sure he hadn’t stuffed lead or water in the fish.
“Cut it open, that stuff’s expensive,” he said of the lead.
Later, after finishing in second place and claiming a smoker and vacuum sealer, Brooks joined in the jokes, wishing he had added weight.
“If I only shoved three more ice cubes in it first,” he laughed.
The general take by shore anglers at Bush Point and at the Freeland derby weigh-in was that the pink salmon were not caught in droves Saturday. The ones that were hooked and landed were smaller than in previous pink salmon run years, which happen on odd years in massive numbers. Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife estimated a return of 6.8 million to Puget Sound, many of which were running down the west side of Whidbey Island.
One woman walked by the derby and scoffed at the leader board.
“They’re that small?” she asked. “Ya’ll are catchin’ [expletive], I’m coming back.”
Holm, who had taken part in the previous pink salmon derbies in 2013 and 2011, said she was discouraged after losing one “big” fish just before hooking up with her eventual title winner. It ran under the boat and jumped away from the net three times, she said. But she brought it on board, claiming the biggest pink among her crew of five anglers.
“The second biggest fish was also mine,” she said, cracking a wide smile.
In the children’s division, Lila Kalstrom won first place with 4.12 pounds, followed by Karmell Grimm’s 3.81 and Maxx Petry’s 3.65.
Several fish that were weighed were donated to the Good Cheer Food Bank. Any salmon donated was filleted by a handful of volunteers at Trinity Lutheran Church, who vacuum-sealed the meat, put it on ice and delivered the fillets to the Bayview food bank.
A raffle kept the throng of at least 100 people at the parking lot, hoping to win one of the fishing rod and reel combos or the Silver Horde tackle packs, worth $170.