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Long-standing Orleans County Fishing Derby makes some changes

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 13 May 2015 at 12:00 am

Photos by Tom Rivers – Ashley Ward, left, served as a leader of Orleans County Fishing Derby, an event run by the Albion Rotary Club, for three decades. Bill Downey is the event’s new volunteer director. Ward will remain a key advisor for the derby.

ALBION – In 1982, three local Rotary clubs decided to help lure more fishermen to the area with an annual derby, with prizes awarded for anglers who catch the biggest Chinook salmon, brown trout, rainbow trout, and lake trout.

In 30-plus years the derby has grown to about 700 annual entrants who receive nearly $10,000 annually in cash and other prizes, including the $4,000 grand prize for biggest fish.

The Albion Rotary Club has been running the derby since 1984. The event generates about $4,000 in profits and that money is directed to community projects. (Some of that money paid for the big welcome sign at Point Breeze.)

Ashley Ward has been helping to run the derby for three decades. He and his late wife Bonnie owned a bed and breakfast in Carlton from 1980 to 1999. They saw how the influx of fishermen gave the economy a boost with anglers going to restaurants, bait and tackle shops, gas stations, and local lodging establishments.

A fishing derby draws more of those fishermen, Ward said, and gets them to stay longer.

“That’s one reason why we’ve kept at it,” Ward said. “It brings a lot of people here.”

This year’s derby will run from Aug. 1 to Aug. 16. It includes weigh stations in Orleans, Niagara and Monroe counties.

Debbie Murphy of Pennsylvania keeps up an Orleans County Fishing Derby tradition by kissing the winning fish in the derby. Murphy won the $4,000 grand prize with the heaviest fish, a 27-pound, 7-ounce Chinook salmon, during the 2014 Orleans County Fishing Derby.

The derby has made some changes for this year. Ward remains a key advisor for the derby, but he has passed the chairman duties to Bill Downey, who has volunteered with the derby for 12 years.

The derby committee has been selling ads and lining up sponsors for the annual 16-day contest. The committee has changed from a printed journal to a website with a list of rules, advertisers and other derby information. Click here to see the Orleans County Fishing Derby.

Downey believes the website format will be more useful to the fishermen in the contest. They can check the website for daily updates on the fishing leaderboard and get other relevant information with a touch of their smartphone.

The derby committee created a smaller rack card with the derby date and other registration information. That card was taken to eight fishing shows and also will be mailed to anglers who make inquiries with the Orleans County Tourism Department about local fishing resources.

Mike Waterhouse is the county’s sportsfishing coordinator. He said he appreciates the work of the Rotary Club in organizing the annual derby. He said the derbies draw anglers who seek the prize money and the thrill of landing a big fish. He knows many fishermen will stay in the community longer, trying to catch a winning fish.

“They like the prizes and the competition,” Waterhouse said about the derby competitors. “There are people who want to fish in derbies.”

Ward said bringing in more fishermen gives the local economy a boost. That has been his biggest motivation in volunteering with the derby for so many years.

“I realize how important it is because it ties in with our tourism,” he said.