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Sports ᒫᑎᐧᐋᐧᐃᓐ

Despite restrictions, OJ walleye derby attracts a crowd

BY Dan Coyle Aug 14, 2020

There has been no shortage of restrictions placed on summer fun as the Covid-19 pandemic continues to rage around the world and across Quebec. But the novel coronavirus couldn’t keep the fish from jumping, or avid anglers from making their best efforts to land the big one at the 5th annual Ouje-Bougamou Walleye Fishing Derby July 25-26.

While pandemic restrictions limited participation in this year’s event to Cree anglers from Eeyou Istchee, the number of participants still outpaced last year’s total by a wide margin, with 91 teams battling it out for over $40,000 in cash and prizes.

According to event organizers, excluding Algonquins and non-Natives from this year’s derby “was a tough decision to make.”

In a published statement, organizers expressed their disappointment at having to limit participation, but plans are in the works to reopen the event to other regions once the health crisis has passed.

The two-day event on Opemiska Lake featured two categories, with the primary focus on walleye fishing, and over $9,000 in prize money set aside for the best of the best in pike fishing.

Consistency proved to be the key to success for Team Blacksmith, who cast their way to first place in the Walleye division and a $10,000 top prize. Brothers Sammy Salt-Blacksmith, Diom Blacksmith and Donovan Blacksmith proved that fishing skill runs in the family, finishing the opening day of the event in second place with a pair of catches weighing in at a combined 5.31 pounds.

The Blacksmiths upped their game on Day 2, landing one of just four walleyes topping four pounds. That proved to be good enough to lift them past Team Waswanipi, who claimed an early Day One lead on the strength of their first catch, an impressive 4.23 pounder. The trio of Marvin Trapper, Jacob Gull and Alex Cooper were unable to duplicate that success in Day Two action, with neither of their two registered catches topping 1.6 pounds, but still managed to edge out Team Rookies in the race for second place to take home a $7,500 cash prize.

The Team Rookies lineup of Aaron Blackned, Tyrone Blackned and Darryl Salt secured their third-place finish with the second biggest catch on Day Two, a 3.15-pound walleye that garnered the trio a solid 29.15 points, and gave them a big lift after finishing the opening day well back of the leaders in 12th place.

Team Habs paid a loyal tribute to their beloved Montreal Canadiens, finishing the weekend in fourth place, less than a point back of Team Rookies, and claimed a $2,500 prize for their efforts, while Team Beaver River remained steady all weekend, finishing both days in fifth place, and earning a $1,500 prize.

Team Relics got the weekend off to a fast start, hooking the biggest walleye of both the first day and the weekend with their first catch, a 4.39-pounder that measured 23.75 inches. While that earned the Chisasibi trio of Robbie Pepabano, John Chiskamish and Brian Chiskamish a $500 prize for biggest walleye of the day on Day One, and a $1,000 prize for biggest walleye of the weekend, the team struggled to match that first big catch, finishing the weekend in 10th place.

Team Lynn, made up of the duo of Lynn Nottaway and Claude Cooper, landed the biggest walleye of Day Two. Measuring 22.5 inches with a weight of 3.84 pounds, the catch earned them the $500 daily prize for biggest walleye and helped propel them to a sixth-place finish on the weekend, and an additional $1,000 in prize money.

Over in the Pike competition, Team Get the Net ran away with top spot, landing a massive 21.09-pound catch, and laying claim to the $5,000 first prize. Team Dream Team finished second, edging out Team Rod Squad with a 15.36-pound catch, while Team Walleye McLovin were the only other competitors to reel in a pike weighing more than 10 pounds, and locked up fourth place in the process.

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Dan Coyle is a sports writer living in Montreal.