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Wilson Derby crowns first-ever female champion
If Uncle Pete takes the time to pull off a prank at your expense, well, that’s when you know that you really are one of the boys.
Even if you are a girl.
“It feels like I’m a real fisher-man now, with Uncle Pete teasing me,” said San Jan Island’s Brenda Schmidt, winner of the 10th Annual Frank Wilson Memorial Blackmouth Derby. “That really is the biggest compliment of all.”
Though a veteran angler in her own right, Schmidt reeled her way into the annals of local fishing lore by becoming the first-ever woman to win the Wilson Derby. She landed what proved to be the derby’s biggest fish, a 21.33-pounder, in Week 3 of the 10-week competition, pocketed the weekly prize, a $75 gift certificate from Kings Marine, and had been on pins and needles ever since.
Second-place finisher Chuck Payne, who netted a 20.87 pounder one week ago, nearly knocked her from the lead in Week 9.
“I had seven weeks to sweat it out,” Schmidt said. “I’d have a panic attack every time a boat sped by me, and there’d be one of the guys yelling over at me, ‘I got a really big one in the boat with me here, Brenda.’ It’d been going on for weeks.”
In the company of fellow competitors, Schmidt was presented the derby’s top prize, a $1,000 check, at the competition’s award ceremony and raffle drawing, Sunday, at Kings Marine. But not before Shaw Island’s Pete Nelson took a cue from longtime derby organizer Sharon Beach and others and, with a dry erase felt-tip marker in hand, wrote in the weight of a fictitious fish and his own name right above Schmidt’s, as if he had just trumped her prize-winning catch on the derby’s final day.
“It wasn’t my idea,” Nelson, a three-time Wilson Derby winner and living legend among local anglers, protested, with a wink.
(Nelson would later get a good dose of good-naturing ribbing at his own expense when the special derby prize awarded to him, a portable recliner, collapsed on itself and fell to the floor, sandwiching him inside, momentarily, of course.)
Founded years ago under a different name, the annual wintertime fishing competition was renamed in honor of the late Frank Wilson, a fishing enthusiast and former chief of San Juan Island Emergency Medical Services. The Wilson Derby serves as a benefit for San Juan EMS, in part, with proceeds from this year’s competition contributing $2,500 to EMS.
Though its pot of prize money is by no way the largest, nor, as far as fishing derbies go, is it the biggest draw around, the Wilson Derby remains firmly entrenched in the hearts of local anglers.
“I love fishing this derby,” said Payne, who’s competed in the Wilson Derby every year since it began, and in the derbies that came before the name change. “It’s the third time I’ve finished in second place, but I did win it once.”
“This was his favorite derby,” Bob Wilson said of his father. “You get to pick your weather, it attracts locals and it’s all about camaraderie. People get bumped up and down on the leader board and everyone talks about it.”
A total of 44 anglers competed in this year’s derby. Together they reeled in about 60 fish worthy of being weighed. Only hatchery fish qualify as keepers.
Payne pocketed $500 as derby runner-up, Don Wilson earned $250 for third place, Carol Holman netted $250 for landing the top catch in the women’s division (winning the grand prize excluded Schmidt for the women’s award), Brock Warin landed $250 in the derby’s “mystery fish” drawing and Cameron Wilson was tops in the youth division.
Though delighted to be accepted as one of the guys, Schmidt carries a strong kinship with her fellow female anglers, who, knowing they may have something to prove, look out for each other and act a lot like a team out on the water. Still, when it comes to fishing competitions, she believes the Wilson Derby brings together the island’s avid anglers like no other, regardless of gender.
“This is different,” she said. “This is like a family.”