COOS COUNTY — Collyn Beck walked confidently over to the weigh station at the California Street boat ramp in North Bend Saturday carrying in hand a freshly-caught Chinook salmon.
The 9-year-old fisherman placed his catch on the scale and watched eagerly as volunteers recorded his entry. It was 9.32 pounds and placed in the running for the largest Chinook caught in the youth division for the 19th annual Coos Basin Salmon Derby.
The annual two-day event encouraged fishermen throughout the Coos Basin to compete in this year’s race to see who could catch the biggest salmon. The categories were divided into an open, youth and kids division. Also included were a halibut and largest two-day total category, which combined weights of fish that were caught over the weekend. The top three entries were awarded a cash prize, which ranged from $15 to $500, based on their division and ranking.
The event served as a fundraiser for the South Coast Angler’s STEP Association and the Eel-Tenmile STEP group, who help to restore salmon and steelhead populations to the Coos River basin. The Salmon and Trout Enhancement Program (STEP), is a volunteered-led group under the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife that is stationed around the state to help breed and raise fish and introduce them back into the waterways.
Donna Robinson, the treasurer for the Coos County STEP Commission, said the derby is the group’s only fundraiser for the year and relies heavily on its success to help fund its programs. The amount raised will be divided among its Morgan Creek Fish Hatchery and the Millicoma Interpretive Center.
“We want to raise funds, but we also want to promote fishing and develop people’s love of the outdoors,” said Robinson. “I also want to point out that as a community of volunteers who work together we can make a difference and we do.”
Robinson said she shares that sentiment to the students who visit the Millicoma Interpretive Center, which educates young children on the importance of fish hatcheries and show them through hands-on lessons the different stages of its salmon’s breeding process.
Salmon spawning for the program usually begins in late October and will likely conclude in late May or early June, depending on the water’s temperature and quality. Following state guidelines, the Morgan Creek Hatchery’s sets a goal to release about 700,000 fish into the Coos River Basin each year.
The derby also featured a kickoff barbecue and silent auction at the North Bend Community Center on Friday evening. Among its sponsors included The Coquille Indian Tribe and the Douglas Timber Operators.