derby reels 
in multitude


Before catching the biggest fish of the 47th annual Bolinas Rod and Boat Club Fishing Derby, Peter Smith played a game of golf. “I finished the game and then ran down to the dock, jumped in the boat, and only went fishing for about 20 minutes,” Mr. Smith, who is active in the Bolinas Fire Department and is a longtime Rod and Boat Club member, said. “I guess I was lucky.” He fished from his boat the Dana Sea, named after his wife.

As the catches were gutted and weighed, participants, friends and family gathered on the club’s upper deck to eat grilled salmon steaks and burgers. Mr. Smith’s salmon—weighing more than 28 pounds—filled a large cooler nearby. On a table inside lay more than $3,600 of prize loot, all of it fishing-related.

The three-day derby, which ended Sunday with sunny skies and calm waters, brought in more fish this year than in recent memory. The more than 125 participants caught about 150 fish, mostly salmon, but also halibut, rock cod and ling cod, weighing more than one and a half tons in total.

Begun in 1965, the derby originated as a contest for catching sharks in the lagoon. But that changed as the lagoon grew shallower. Fishing for sharks and rays was banned a couple decades ago,  and for many years now, contestants have moved out of the lagoon in search of salmon in the Pacific’s coastal waters.

Bolinas was once a bustling social hub with the daily comings and goings of steamers. Resorts set along the lagoon attracted visitors from across the state who came to bathe, fish and enjoy the nightlife. But the 1906 earthquake sent hotels like the Flagstaff Inn toppling into the water. Most were never resurrected, and Bolinas slowly transformed into the “hidden gem” it’s sometimes known as today, where locals are still rumored to take down signs that could point the way for tourists.

The derby itself has kept its simple character, drawing mostly Bolinas and Stinson Beach residents and club members. “It’s retained its spirit over the years,” said member and club vice president Scott Finney. “Of course, when the fish are really biting, like this year, and it’s totally extraordinary, there is a lot more excitement. We haven’t seen a year like this in a long, long time. Two weeks ago we were going, ‘Oh my god, I hope the fish come in!’ And this [contest] really hit at the first time [the salmon] came in in any numbers at all.”

Many fishermen participating in the derby take kids out with them. Charlie and Marina McPhail, 10-year-old twin sisters who are students at Wade Thomas Elementary School in San Anselmo, used to live in Bolinas but have since moved to East Marin. They made the trip out with their dad to try their hand on the derby’s last day.

“It was really fun,” Charlie said. “The water was mellow. It was really glassy.”

The girls and their father fished for six hours on Sunday. Charlie managed to reel in a salmon weighing almost seven pounds, which lay cleaned and glistening near a cooler at her feet.

“I caught two fish,” Marina said, “but they were small and I threw them back.”

How will the girls enjoy Charlie’s salmon?

“Grilled!” they agreed.

Derby contestants must abide by sport fishing rules. And while some may be commercial fisherman, they must follow sport guidelines for the contest. There’s a men’s division, a women’s division, a unisex teen category for fishers aged 12 to 18 and a children’s division. Most clean their own fish, and the wood of the club’s lower back deck was slick with fish blood as the results were being tallied.

“Over the last eight years or so the catch has been horrible,” club member and Bolinas resident Ralph Camiccia said. “People have been talking about how great this year was supposed to be, but up until a few weeks ago we weren’t seeing it. So it’s really nice that it has showed up for the derby.”

At the day’s end, Mr. Finney called everyone inside to announce the winners, who were presented with a host of prizes—from lures to rods and tackle boxes. Brothers Jonas and Benny Salk, ages 8 and 10, were given a special prize for their teamwork pulling in a big fish together. Three-year-old Atticus Seedman, the youngest participant, received an award for his rock cod. Mr. Finney presented him with a child’s fishing rod.

“Oh, it’s heavy!” he said as he accepted his prize.

Onlookers applauded as Enzo Buckenmeyer, age 10, won first prize for his 18.25-pound salmon in the children’s division. Jake Cortes, 13, caught the biggest fish, at 27.25 pounds, of those aged 12 to 18.

Kate Tehaney nabbed first place in the women’s division for her 21-pound salmon, and Jim Marcus placed first in men’s with a 25-pound salmon. Second and third prizes were also given in each category.

Additional nominations were then called out from the crowd, at Mr. Finney’s prompting, in recognition for contributions to the contest. The remaining prizes—of which there were many—were given away by raffle.

“It was like a feeding frenzy,” Mr. Finney said. “Almost everyone got a thing or two, and virtually every contestant was able to take something off the raffle.”

Mr. Finney, who recalled once hooking a 48-pound ray that pulled him and his kids in their canoe along the Seadrift spit before it was reeled in, weighed and released, said the best part of the derby was getting kids out on the water.

“Hopefully everyone got to enjoy the gifts of nature and the ocean’s incredible abundance,” he said. “Now, how many think this has been a fabulous derby?”

The crowd cheered.