For Jeremy Jolly, winning the $20,000 walleye competition in the Waswanipi fishing derby on August 10 was a moment charged with emotions, as the date also happens to be his late mother’s birthday.
“Winning it on my mom’s birthday is something,” Jolly said with emotion. “The parade in my community to my house and my dad standing there waiting for me, was something unbelievable.”
The Waswanipi local also netted the title for biggest walleye of the competition with a catch of just over eight pounds. For Jolly – at 36 already a veteran of the local derbies – winning at home was a lifelong goal.
“This one means a lot,” said Jolly, who first competed in the Waswanipi derby 22 years ago at the age of 14. “It’s a dream come true. I always wanted to win since I was a kid. I came in second place twice, a couple of pounds or points short of winning. It took 22 years to win.”
Waswanipi and Mistissini both held fishing derbies in early August, all while respecting social distancing and isolation measures put in place to contain the spread of Covid-19.
The Mistissini Family Fishing Derby was presented by the Home of Peace and Endurance (HOPE) of Mistissini on August 1-2 and was open only to residents of Mistissini. Top prizes in the pike and walleye category were $1,000 each, and other prizes included a two-night stay at Camp Osprey and fishing equipment.
Elizabeth Ashamock and Simon P. Metabie of the Health and Wellness office in the Mistissini Health and Social Development Department were responsible for organizing the event.
“It was our first time, but we had help from a colleague, Mary Matoush, who had experience in organizing a derby,” said Ashamock. “The motivation was to promote some quality family time, to do a family activity together.”
The free event hosted 106 teams of up to four people, for a total of 385 attendees.
In Waswanipi, the Old Post Fishing Derby has taken place for nearly 25 years – first as a local fishing derby held during the Chiiwetau Event every summer, then in 2009, with permission from Chief and Council, as an open competition for both Crees and non-Crees.
This year, only those living or self-isolating within the nine Cree communities were allowed to participate, and they must not have traveled outside Eeyou Istchee to any high-risk locations identified by the Cree Board of Health and Social Services of James Bay for 14 days prior to the competition.
“These are unprecedented times in the world,” organizers posted on their Facebook page. “We apologize for those that cannot attend but the precautions taken are for your safety and the safety of our community members and your communities so as not to spread the virus.
“We thank you for your understanding and we will see others again as the pandemic subsides and we hope that we will be able to host a full-size derby in 2021.”
Waswanipi Director Steven Blacksmith was part of the team that organized the event and considers it a success despite the preventive measures in place.
“We decided to install more measuring stations – three at Chiiwetau Boat Landing, two at Old Post, and one at Middle weight station. That meant hiring more staff. We encouraged people to wear masks and wash their hands, and to obey social distancing,” said Blacksmith.
“In the end, there was little to no line-ups and everyone seemed to have a safe and fun derby. We were satisfied how well the event went.”
Over $120,000 in cash and prizes was distributed among winners in the walleye and pike categories, as well as for the biggest fish of the day. Winners in the walleye category were determined by the cumulative weight of four fish caught over the two days of competition, while the pike category was judged on the weight of the single biggest fish.
Norman Neeposh took first place in the pike category with a massive 22-pounder.
Terry Tanoush and Nigel Gull Chum rounded out the top 3 in the walleye category, and Paul Salt and Darwin Shecapio took second and third in the pike category.
As for Jeremy Jolly, he almost didn’t make it to the competition this year, because his brother and boating partner was required to stay in isolation because he works in a mine. After posting on Facebook that he needed a partner, Jolly ended up pairing with his boss, Michael Ratté.
“This derby is really big nowadays,” Jolly observed. “A lot of fishermen know the spot. They’re all good fishermen in Cree nations, so I had to get a partner with a fast boat to get there before everyone catches all the fish.”
Then he added, “I was a very lucky man.”
With this latest win under his belt, Jolly is enthusiastic about his chances in future derbies, and is quick to emphasize the benefits of fishing, on a personal level as well as a communal one.
“I would like to thank the community of Waswanipi for keeping our traditional fishing activities at Giiwautau. That’s where I was born to be a fisherman. And to all parents, keep taking your kids out on water and find peace and keep them out of trouble. It will be worth it in the future.”