To promote physical activity and cultural connection over the months of pandemic restrictions, Wemindji’s local women’s association organized snowshoe and walking challenges this year. Then association president Angela Stewart had an idea for a woman-only fishing derby.
“People were excited to go out,” Stewart told the Nation. “They were having fun, making friends, getting out on the land. It was perfect weather. It was a good turnout for our first fishing derby for women only.”
July’s warm weather and diminished restrictions after a long winter of pandemic isolation helped prompt the celebrations of an always-popular summer event – fishing derbies.
In Wemindji, the derby generated significant buzz in the community, with 47 women registering in the adult category. Many expanded their social networks, sharing boats with other participants, while other community members came to watch the weigh station and share in the harvest.
To appease the men, there were also prizes for best guide and total boat weight.
“I like to joke that Wemindji is small enough that everybody knows everyone, but just big enough that we don’t get sick of each other,” said Stewart’s husband Bradley Georgekish, who helped organize the event with Leon Asquabaneskum.
“The idea was to allow a new group of people to experience James Bay and fishing out there,” Georgekish added. “It brought a new element for a lot of couples – it’s a new way to date.”
Shania Georgekish won the $4,000 grand prize, while Kayla Visitor and Tara Matches placed second and third, respectively. Tiffany Mark won the 15-and-under category as the only girl to catch a fish. Best guide award went to Melvin Kakabat.
“They were coming back really tired but full of smiles and, at the end of the day, some with sunburns,” said Georgekish. “There were a lot of first-time derby participants, women who had fished before but casually. They had such a good time, now they’re going fishing on evenings and weekends.”
Stewart thanked the sponsors and everyone who helped make the event so successful, suggesting it should become an annual event, possibly a family derby. Since the Wemindji sports and recreation department has begun hosting derbies, Georgekish has observe more community members buying boats and spending more time on the land.
“It’s a fishing derby but we have measurable social impacts, and the results are all positive,” Georgekish said. “From an organizing point of view, it’s never been about prizes but about teaching the younger generation the navigation routes, traditional names of places and fish location – it’s about the land and actively knowing the territory.”
Meanwhile, at Nemaska’s Lac Jolliet team fishing derby July 2-4, the Awehsha team of Michael Mianscum and Norman Matoush won the $12,000 first prize, followed by Team Blacksmith and Purple Jello. Awehsha, Purple Jello and 2 Bear each won a prize for biggest walleye of the day.
For biggest pike, the winner was KM 568, comprised of Mark and Frederick Chiskamish and Kevin Sealhunter, followed by King Fisher and Hooker.
At Waskaganish’s fishing July 17-18, Mark Pepabano took home the $13,875 jackpot in the walleye derby, followed by Anson Weistche, Bradley Iserhoff, Cathy Stevens and Jacqueline Salt. Salt won biggest fish on both days, while Dylan Erless and Weistche also won prizes. Gabriel Blackned caught the biggest pike.
Ouje-Bougoumou’s fishing derby the same weekend saw Donovan, Dion and Sammy of Team Blacksmith take the first prize of $15,000, followed by Miquelon and Rapala. The Walleye Stalkers comprised of Nick Bosum and Sherry Dixon won the biggest pike competition, followed by Nemaska and Legends.
Ouje Economic Development Director Ron Simard said he had never seen so many people come out for a fishing derby.