NO MEN ALLOWED

3 Jul

 

Painter’s Lodge, sitting at the mouth of the Campbell River.


Every year since 1992, Painter’s Lodge in Campbell River, B.C., has hosted a women’s only fishing derby. As a rookie guide on the dock, I didn’t get the chance to fish the first one, but I did guide the next 14. Since I was the only female guide on the dock, I was a favourite with the contestants, so much so that when I announced my retirement in 2006, the ladies were horrified.

 

At the award ceremonies that year, I was called up to the front of the room and stood there perplexed. None of the 3 sets of ladies I had guided over the tournament had caught a winner with me, so I couldn’t figure out why I was standing there. The next thing I knew, another senior guide came up to the front and announced that the ladies would not hear of me not being there and since I wasn’t going to guide anymore, I should come as a contestant! My seat was paid for courtesy of all the ladies attending that year. They had all chipped in and paid my way!

 

Since that day, I have attended all but one, and that only because I was dealing with torn muscles in both shoulders. (Don’t ask!) This year was no different.

 

Travelling Highway 97C

I now live in Penticton, and the journey is a fairly long one, so off we set, my daughter Alena and I, early in the morning of June 21st. The derby didn’t actually start officially, until 10 AM June 22nd, but since we had to drive to Vancouver, take a ferry across to Nanaimo, then drive the rest of the way to Campbell River, we figured getting there a day early was a good idea.

 

We drove north to access Highway 97C, more casually known as the Connector, bypassed Merritt to hit the Coquihalla Pass, then down the Trans Canada Highway through Hope and down the Fraser Valley into Vancouver.

Going across the Port Mann Bridge
There isn’t supposed to be water behind the front group of trees.

 

The Fraser was running extremely high and all week before we left, we had been watching the news hoping we wouldn’t be forced to cancel our plans because of mudslide or flooding. It doesn’t matter which route you take, to get from Penticton to Vancouver, requires you to eventually drive down all or part of the Fraser River Valley. Though there had been a few small slides and flooding in some very low-lying areas, we were lucky and the highway remained open.

One of many rocks and islets that dot the Straights of Georgia.

 

A sister ferry heading back to the mainland.

I know that sounds like a short trip but it takes 4 hours of steady driving to get to Vancouver, then another 45 minutes to get through to the North Shore and into Horseshoe Bay to catch the ferry for Nanaimo. The ferry trip across, to me, is usually uneventful and rather boring because I’ve been travelling it since I was a little girl, but when I look at it with the eyes of a tourist, it makes me realize just how beautiful this area actually is. I know that sounds trite and it is, but there really isn’t anything else one could say without having to resort to a thesaurus. As the ferry pulled away from the dock, the background of highways, marinas, tall buildings and homes faded slowly away and was replaced by the multihued, verdant greens and disparate browns of the shorelines of the mainland, Vancouver Island and the various smaller islands and islets that the ferry passes on the way to it’s destination, the Port of Nanaimo. Upon arrival it was off north, heading for Campbell River, where we spent the night with some old friends.

Our welcome!

 

Since Campbell River was our home for 20 years, we took our time in the morning, picking up the odd necessity for our 3-night stay and our favourite types of boat food, arriving in good time, which gave me the chance to say hello to a few old friends, who still work at the lodge.

 

The other guests started arriving and eventually we were in full swing. First, there is the registration, licensing, and gift bag give out, then lunch, guide assignments, room assignments, unpacking and then dressing for the first fishing, which takes place from 4PM to 8PM.

The first night out, calm, and very wet!

 

The called for rain had finally arrived with a vengeance and it was going to be a very wet evening. Off we went, every boat out to win!

 

I have the unique experience of being the only contestant who has both guided the derby and been an entrant; so a little background would be in order.

 

The original derby had a maximum of 100 women, all 50 boats on our dock would be used for the derby and every Guide took this one more seriously than all the others, since this one carried a prize for the Guide who guided the biggest fish, a 3 day trip to the Queen Charlotte islands. It was the only time that women outnumbered men in the lodge and it used to scare the crap out of all of the boys. There would be frantic preparation on the dock and unusually, no information sharing was taking place amongst the Guides! Special lures were cleaned, hooks sharpened, rods and reels run through their paces and secret spots closely guarded.

 

Fishing partners, out for a good time, and a few fish!

Each boat was always trying it’s best to win, but even in the pouring rain, as uncomfortable as only sitting in rubber in a downpour can make you didn’t mean that there wasn’t fun! Every time a fish was hit all the other boats cheered them on and clapped when a fish was finally netted. Jokes were told from boat to boat and good natured jibes filled the air. Most of these women, including myself are friends, though many of us only get the chance to see each other at the derby and we look forward to it all year. Sure there is intense rivalry, but it’s all done with great good humour.

Alena’s first fish, a nice 12 pound Chinook.

 

At 8 we all arrived back on the dock, where the few fish taken that night were weighed in. Then it was off to dinner, a couple of drinks, door prizes, then to bed because 5AM came damned early. Yep, I said 5AM! If you wanted to eat before going fishing that is. The boats left the dock at 6 and the rain that had been pouring all night continued unabated until moments before we arrived on the fishing grounds. The rain might have stopped and the sun came out, but the wind came up and it got lumpy. More than a few ladies complained of feeling a wee bit queasy by the time we were done!

 

We fished until 10AM, with the possible winner arriving on the dock, a 34-pound Chinook. My daughter caught a nice 12 pound Chinook, not in the running for the top 3 prizes but certainly capable of taking one of 3 hidden weight prizes. The rest of the day was given over to whatever the guests wanted to do, at least until 4PM.

 

Every year the derby has a theme and since this was the 20th Annual derby the theme was, quite naturally, the Roaring 20’s. The wine and cheese takes place in the gardens at 4PM and costumes are expected. Every year, though there are no prizes, great effort and thought is put into the costumes. We drink a little wine, eat a few appetizers, take a lot of pictures and head in to the dining room for dinner, and then we party!

I came as Auntie Mame. Kind of fits doesn’t it?

 

There is always some sort of live entertainment, more door prizes, music, dancing and drinking. Sadly, there are few who have the fortitude to last very long, what with the late night before and the very early morning, but we try to soldier on as long as we can.

 

In the public parts of the lodge hang many photos of guests taken during the 20’s. These ladies came dressed as the women in one of the photos.

The final day started slowly as always, and in ones and twos, the ladies gradually appeared, to enjoy a lovely buffet breakfast, sitting on the balcony in the blazing sun. The weather was finally cooperating and at 11AM we all hit the water for one last chance to win it all! Back in by 3PM, it was apparent that a couple of big fish had come in, so there was a competition for 2nd and 3rd, but nothing came close to knocking the 34lber out of first!

Alena’s second fish

 

Alena again came home with a small 10 pound Chinook this time and I took in a respectable Ling Cod. It may not have been a valid entry but hey, they taste great and salmon is NOT my first choice in fish cuisine.

 

Richard, my friend and our intrepid guide for the last 4 hours of fishing on Sunday.

We had time for a shower and drink then down for dinner and the awards. At this meal it’s customary for the guides to attend if they wish and certainly the winning guide comes, to be wined and dined by the guest who took the top prize. Dinner is always steak and being the meat eater that I am, I enjoy this meal over all. Damn, but Painter’s cooks a mean steak!

 

The First Place trophy

After desert are the official prize presentations, with 1st prize being a choice between a paid trip back to the derby next year, or a trip to the Queen Charlottes. Then we wandered off to the pub for a riotous night of live entertainment, and a little more drinking and dancing.

 

Eventually the night came to an end and all of us headed to bed. The next morning, those who caught nothing the previous 3 days and were determined to give it one last shot were out on the water again at 6 AM, but Alena and I were just packing up and heading home, retracing our steps and planning the trip back next year.

 

The prize for 3rd place.

The Painter’s Lodge Ladies Derby is 3 days of nothing but women fishing, laughing, dancing, talking, singing and having a really good time, with no men allowed! If this sounds like a something you’d like to do then contact Oak Bay Marine Group and get on the list. You might want to hurry though; the ladies who were there this year are mostly all going back next year including Alena and me, baring unforeseen circumstances, that doesn’t leave many vacant spots!

 

 

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3 Responses to “NO MEN ALLOWED”

  1. Klaus Kommoss July 4, 2012 at 8:17 am #

    Such a great story! We love you too!

  2. silver price July 9, 2012 at 6:48 am #

    Annual Women’s Derby . These ladies return year after year for the camaraderie that comes along with participating in this festive weekend. 12 hours of guided fishing, 3 nights accomodation, entertainment and prizes are included in the derby package and from what I’ve heard there is never a dull moment.

    • Alexis Thuillier July 23, 2012 at 8:21 am #

      You bet! There is a group of about 12 that haven’t missed a derby since it’s inception and the camaraderie and friendships they have created over the years with many of the other participants has produced almost a reunion atmosphere. We certainly have a lot of fun and more often then not, we get to take a few salmon home too!

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