There will be lots of fishing and fundraising in Montreal Lake on March 22 as the eighth annual Montreal Lake Fishing Derby kicks off north of Prince Albert.
Around 1,500 anglers are expected to show up for the competition, and raise some money for Montreal Lake’s minor sports program.
“The band always struggled with coming up with funds to send their children off to hockey games and stuff like that,” derby co-organizer Clarice Roberts says. “They figured they needed to find a way to raise money to help offset those costs.”
The funds go toward everything from paying for travelling hockey and soccer teams, to holding tournaments, to staging tryouts for competitions like the upcoming First Nations Winter Games. The band receives some funds from other areas of government, but the amount doesn’t cover what’s needed.
Roger Bird, who co-organizes the event with Roberts, has been around since the very first derby. He says finding those funds before they started was often difficult.
“We were always scrambling. We were always going to leadership, you know, the chief and counsel, to get money for minor hockey, for minor soccer, anything to do with kids programming. It gets a little bit tiring when you have to keep asking the government here in Montreal Lake for handouts.”
It’s been eight years since the inaugural derby, and in that time the number of participants has only grown. They had a record turnout of more than 1,000 anglers last year, and they’re hoping to beat that number this year.
“We had 1,150 last year and we’re anticipating a little more this year. We have good weather, we can get anywhere from 1,500 to 1,600 anglers,” Bird says.
It’s not just successful in term of attendance either. With more than 1,000 fishermen paying upwards of $100 for a ticket, the derby can generate some serious cash.
“It’s been very very successful,” Bird says. “Out of the proceeds from the derby we’re probably going to come out with about $75,000 to $80,000 profit.”
The derby organizers are now entering their busiest time of year. Roberts says things were slow as anglers entered other derbies, but this week they have the calendar to themselves.
“We’re getting phone calls like crazy,” she says. “My phone’s ringing off the hook and it’s after hours for ticket sales.”
Now it seems the only thing they have to worry about is weather and fishing licences. Bird says that bad conditions can cause problems with the event, but he’s not worried. The licences are more of a concern.
Previous derbies didn’t require any angler to have a fishing licence, but the provincial government changed that this year.
“If you’re a First Nations person you don’t require a fishing license,” Bird says. “We have a lot of non-First Nations people that do fish and they require a license.”
“That’s kind of one of the bad things about this year, because it was so easy to accommodate (non-treaty anglers),” Roberts says. “Now they have the process of having to do this online and we have nothing available for them down here at the site.”
Bird says the change was made because it’s a catch and release tournament. They advise people to get a three-day licence before they make the trip up to Montreal Lake.
“You have to be prepared,” he says. “You have to buy it ahead of time.”
Organizers will be in Prince Albert the day before the derby selling tickets at the Prince Albert Inn. Tickets cost $100 if purchased before the day of the event. Until then, organizers will focus on running a smooth ship and organizing the volunteers.
“We’ve got committee members of all shapes and sizes and it’s a good committee,” Bird says with a chuckle. “And without the volunteers I don’t think any of our events would be successful.”