Brendan Morrison’s iconic and philanthropic fishing tournament filled the West Coast with competitive jubilation from July 5-7, as roughly 130 fishers tried to top each others’ catches while casting a windfall of funding into important local initiatives.
“It was a great weekend. We don’t have a tally yet as far as the dollars we raised, but I think that number’s going to be super high up there again, which is phenomenal because everything goes right back into the community here,” Morrison told the Westerly News after his 10th annual Tofino Saltwater Classic wrapped up on Sunday. “I’m kind of lost for words to be honest with you, with the amount of support that the community provides as far as getting behind us with sponsorships and also just all the volunteers that have come out and supported this event, donating their time and making sure everything runs smoothly.”
The ninth time was the charm for Morgan Ottridge and Shane Johnson who teamed up to reel the tourney’s top chinook and coho onto their vessel: Drag ‘N’ Fly.
“At 6:30 this morning, I put my trusty white hoochie to the bottom and, bang, fish-on and it was running and running,” an elated Ottridge told the Westerly News at the event’s awards ceremony outside Tofino Resort and Marina. “It was a good fight, woke me up for sure and burned the arms a little bit.”
The fight proved well worth it as the 11.8-pound coho he snagged topped the leaderboard and earned him the $1,500 prize. Johnson’s 31.2-pound chinook earned the event’s biggest prize pot at $6,000.
Ottridge said he and Johnson have travelled from Vancouver to compete in the Classic for the past nine years and this was their first time ending the weekend atop the board.
“The stars aligned. We got the coho yesterday and the spring this morning,” he said. “It feels fantastic. We’ve been here every year waiting for this moment and we’ll be back again next year to try to get’r again.”
He added each year’s experience serves as a tantalizing lure to return.
“The people are friendly, it’s well organized, Brendan Morrison and the gang do a tremendous job,” he said.
Jeff Vandenhoorn of Parksville was taking part in his fourth Classic experience and secured a $3,000 prize by catching the second biggest chinook at 28.53 pounds.
“This was the biggest fish I’ve caught in the last 10 years, so I was pretty excited,” he said. “When we hooked up, I didn’t think it was much at first and then it started taking some line and, once we got it up close to the boat, we noticed it was definitely a contender…It was a good fight. It had a couple really good runs, we almost thought we were going to get spooled so we stopped the boat and started backing up; it was a great day out on the water.”
Vandenhoorn cited the event’s charitable impact and the community’s laid back vibe as key reasons he loves it.
“I like the people and I like the area. This is a great event put on by Brendan with the charity that he does and we just love fishing the West Coast. We always have a good time fishing out here,” he said. “It’s great. It’s a slow pace, everyone’s relaxed and real nice. It’s just a good feeling being here.”
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Morrison himself enjoyed some time on the leaderboard after landing a 24.7-pound chinook on Saturday, but watched his name fall out of the prize money as Sunday’s clock ticked on.
“It was a great fight,” he said of his catch. “You can tell a big fish by the way it fights a lot of the times and this fish you could tell right away. He took a big run, he was head-shaking and just kind of bulldogging and staying down and when I saw him by the boat, I knew he was a contender.”
This year marked the first time the event has been catch and release and Morrison said there is a “very, very strong possibility” that next year’s event will follow suit.
“We feel, maybe, the fishery’s evolving a little bit and releasing larger fish is not a bad thing. These are kind of the broodstock, the stronger fish that might have a better chance of returning to their natal rivers and spawning and [releasing] can only be a good thing for stocks,” he said.
Morrison launched the Saltwater Classic as a way to both promote the tremendous fishing experiences that can be had on the West Coast and to fill the coffers of local initiatives, which the event has accomplished to the tune of more than $500,000 in its first nine years.
“I love this place and to be able to contribute to different causes is something that I think is special,” he said. “The event has a great vibe to it. Sure, we’re all competitive fishermen and everybody wants to do well on the water and everybody wants to have bragging rights, but that’s not the main focus or the main reason. The main reason is the cause behind it.”
The Classic released a statement following the tournament’s conclusion that stated this year’s funding tally was $75,000. The funds raised by the Classic go towards a wide array of local initiatives, but Morrison said the impacts those funds have on youth programs are what he feels best about.
One of the Classic’s consistent beneficiaries is the Wickaninnish Community School, particularly its lunch and snack programs as well as literacy programs. On the Friday morning before each annual derby, he hosts an annual ball hockey game for local kids at the school’s gym.
In an email to the Westerly News, Tofino mayor Josie Osborne expressed gratitude for Morrison’s impact on the community
“I offer my sincere thanks to Brendan, his family, the incredible crew of volunteers and all the businesses who’ve supported the derby and helped raise funds for so many deserving non-profit and community groups in our region.”