It is not a stretch to infer that hundreds of fishing careers began on Saturday, July 30 at the 25th running of the Nautical Days Bullhead Derby. It is also true to suggest that similar numbers of fishing careers begin at the annual Family Fishing Weekend and at the Outdoor Show at the fish and game club. These are events where children can be stars by simply catching a fish – be it a small bullhead or a nice trout – and if they do not catch a fish it is no big thing.
I began my morning at the derby this year by having a cup of coffee at the little coffee shop on the corner of Beaufort and Church Street just below the stop sign on Comox Avenue It is an ideal location to watch the early arrivals for the coming events, the derby in particular.
One of the early arrivals was a young lad, riding his bike, with fishing rod in his pack on his back. Another was a grandmother walking down the hill to the grounds with her little granddaughter carrying her pink rod on their way to fish in the derby. When I entered the grounds just after 8:30 a.m. there was a good lineup waiting to be served at the registration desk operated by volunteers from First Insurance Agencies. From here I proceeded to the measuring and recording float which is manned by members of the Comox Valley Record staff and assisted by Gone Fishin’ and Canadian Tire. It was here I was given my official bullhead derby shirt which helped a lot as I roamed among the participants spread throughout the government wharf in the harbour.
The wharf is a romantic place where you can talk to mariners who are sailing the oceans of the world. You can also talk to first nation’s folks who fish throughout our coastal waters. When you add the mix of a variety of commercial boats to recreational types it is truly a place of romance.
On this day it is teeming with little people bent on catching an elusive bullhead for which they may win a prize and get a First Fish Award Certificate. I spent my time at the derby just walking along the fingers of the wharf taking pictures and visiting with old friends and new acquaintances.
There are hundreds of little people sprawled in the most inconceivable places doing their best to catch a fish. They are accompanied by helpful grandparents, parents, aunts, uncles and neighbours all doing their best to help the little people catch a fish. As I walked around I was reminded of a movie of an army of leaf ants moving along branches in search of leaves, only in this case it was little people crawling all over the fingers of the wharf in an endless search of places to catch a bullhead.
Memories are special caches in our brains that allow us to recall events from the past. I wonder how many of the mentors at this life-beginning career event recall some of their very early childhood adventures in fishing while assisting the children at the derby. I took a picture of Nick Strussi, one of our best-known Valley anglers sitting in a lawn chair helping a little angler catch a bullhead.
It is no accident that many of us begin life-long fishing careers that can be traced back to simple days of the past when we were allowed
to just go fishing. If you are a dedicated angler and happen to have a free morning during next year’s bullhead derby, I invite you to take a stroll among the sprawling, vibrant strings of little anglers fishing from the long fingers of the government wharf. I guarantee it will bring back memories of childhood that you have long forgotten.
In my case I clearly recalled some of my beginning fishing experiences from my grandfather’s wharf on Cold Lake, Alta. The rod was a small willow pole, the line was white string from the grocery store, and the hook was a bent pin fashioned by Grandpa Nadeau. The quarry was small shiners seeking shelter from pike in the shade of the wharf.
That was four generations ago and the career is still in continued engagement, although a trifle subdued in the past couple of seasons.
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.