Bullhead Derby brings kids and fishing together

A joy to watch youngsters having fun while learning valuable skill

JONAH AIKINS OF Comox found a secluded spot on the new wharf for some serious bullhead fishing during the annual Nautical Days derby.

JONAH AIKINS OF Comox found a secluded spot on the new wharf for some serious bullhead fishing during the annual Nautical Days derby.




For me, attending the annual 26th annual Bullhead Derby during Nautical Days is both an exciting and emotional event. This year was no exception, with about 500 eager would-be fishers swarming over the government wharf in the Comox Harbour.

Considering these numbers of participants, the derby is a major fishing tournament no matter how old you are. The prizes are not measured in thousands of dollars or fancy boats – rather they are attractive trophies, medals and certificates plus simple gifts for each child entering the tournament.

In truth, every child is a winner.

Over the years boys have dominated the winners’ ranks, but not so in 2012. This year the winner of the Bill Ross Memorial Bullhead Derby Trophy for the largest bullhead was Hailey Hessler with a 25cm giant specimen. The second prize was also won by a girl – Brianna Lacombe with a respectable 23cm trophy-class bullhead. Be careful guys, the girls are catching up.

It is not really very relevant who wins the derby. What I find fascinating about the whole affair is the amount of effort put in by the children, their parents and helpers to catch a fish.

This year I spent the three hours of the derby walking around the wharf watching the intense efforts by so many little people in their determination to catch a bullhead. There was always jubilation when a small, protesting, little fish was hauled from the waters. There was also fascination with the other fish and creatures that ended up on their hooks.

These children are experiencing first hand the various forms of life that live in the waters of Comox Harbour. They are also bending their minds in every way possible to be successful in a new, somewhat complicated process of getting a fish to bite and setting the hook.

More than a few children are quite willing to take their fish home and get mom to cook it, and express disappointment when they realize that the derby is catch and release, with considerable effort put into the well-being of the fish so they survive the rough experience of catch and release.

This leads to the question:  Why fish in the first place? Again the answer is neither straight forward nor simple. But I respectfully suggest the goal of the vast majority of recreational anglers is putting food on the table.

They rationalize to their family that the justification of the trip was to get fresh fish for canning and freezing. Children who fish are more likely to enjoy eating the fish they have provided than fish from the market. Fresh fish has no odour or fishy taste and they soon learn to relish this healthy food.

Time spent by adults in removing bones from trout and other fish is well spent if you wish the child to enjoy eating this important source of fresh, locally produced food.

A few days ago I stood on a small shoreline of a boat launch in the company of three other children of nature whose average age was about 75. We watched in quiet awe as a large crayfish about six inches long grubbed its way across the shallow, clear water. It was followed by two smallmouth bass about four inches long that were busy eating little bugs it had stirred up. What a marvelous illustration of the mysteries of the connection of life in nature that fisher folk witness throughout their lives.

The average age of children in the Bullhead Derby is about nine years old. They will be in their mid-30s in 2035. It is my contention that with the on-going intensity of climate change, those children who continue their fishing careers will be in a better position to adapt to the changing rules of life in 2035 than those who spend their lives in the cloistered seclusion of modern media.

Recreational fishing leads to lifelong contact with ecological systems and an inescapable knowledge of change over the periods of your personal lifetime. If you haven’t taken a child fishing this year you have just two weeks before they return to school – don’t delay.

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Mayor Baird of Cumberland is scheduled to make a special announcement on Monday, Aug. 20 at 11a.m. in the Cumberland Village Square. I suggest you may find it exciting.


Ralph Shaw is a master fly fisherman who was awarded the Order of Canada in 1984 for his conservation efforts. In 20 years of writing a column in the Comox Valley Record it has won several awards.