Fish for the Future event host and ambassador Matt Dawson cheers alongside the tournament’s winner Cohen Ingalls on Sept. 22. (Photo - Andrew Bailey)

Young Tofino angler nets top prize at Willie Mitchell’s Fish for the Future event

“I thank the Tofino Resort and Marina for putting on such an awesome event.”

Ten-year-old Tofino local Cohen Ingalls is heading to his first Vancouver Canucks game after landing the largest coho at Willie Mitchell’s third annual catch and release Fish for the Future tournament over the weekend of Sept. 20.

Ingalls reeled in a 10.31 lb coho on Saturday that stayed atop the tournament’s overall leaderboard through to Sunday’s closing ceremonies where he was crowned champion.

“I had an idea it was big. It was flopping all over the place,” Ingalls recounted to the Westerly News after receiving his prize. “When I was reeling it in, the fish was jumping up in the air and just giving me a hard time to catch him. But, I eventually got him onto the net and that was really cool. I knew I caught a huge fish.”

It was the first time the young Tofitian had participated in a fishing tournament and he said he had an “awesome” time.

“It was really fun,” he said.

His first place finish netted Ingall first pick of an impressive list of 10 available prizes, including a signed Carey Price jersey, an Atleo Air Rainforest River Package and a yoga and lunch experience for four at Clayoquot Wilderness Resort.

Ingalls picked a Vancouver Canucks package that included four tickets to a game, access to the fan zone and dinner for four at Vancouver’s Nightingale Restaurant.

Rhea Reimer took top place in the women’s division with a 10.11 lb coho and Shaun Ingalls took the top prize in the men’s division with a 9.55 lb coho.

The event celebrated an infusion of young fishers this year reaching out to the next generation of stewardship-minded anglers by making participation free for anyone 12 and under.

The kids’ division had a strong showing with Cohen taking the tournament’s overall top spot and Mila Besson reeling in a 10.11 lb second place winner.

Six-year-old Eno Renna caught his first fish ever, a 9.06 lb coho that placed him fourth on the kids’ leader board.

“It was definitely an exciting weekend and I thank the Tofino Resort and Marina for putting on such an awesome event,” Eno’s dad Rob Renna told the Westerly.

He added that, along with a Sturgeon Fishing prize package that includes a one-night stay at The Burrard and two round-trip flights from Tofino to Vancouver, his son gained an exciting experience and a better understanding of salmon populations and habitats.

“It’s amazing that the kids were included. It’s for the watershed and we’re protecting it for them and they get that connection to the water and to the natural beauty out here. I think it’s a great thing that they’re getting stoked on what it is to fish out here and to experience that,” he said adding the tournament’s catch and release angle and philanthropic cause created valuable opportunities to teach local kids like Eno about sustainability and respect.

“We talked about how catch and release is important because it leaves the fish in there to spawn back up the rivers and the money we raised to fix the watersheds and do the restoration work directly correlates to salmon coming back so they’ll actually be able to fish in the future.”

The Fish for the Future tournament was launched by Tofino Resort and Marina owner and former Vancouver Canuck defenceman Willie Mitchell in 2017 and, from its inception, all money raised has gone directly to local salmon restoration and enhancement efforts.

“Thank you for doing the right thing for the salmon today. On behalf of everyone, thank you for being super respectful of that process,” Mitchell told a jubilant crowd at Sunday’s closing ceremonies. “We can all feel proud.”

READ MORE: VIDEO: Willie Mitchell’s Fish for the Future derby nets $14K for salmon restoration efforts in Tofino

To supplement the event’s fundraising reach, Mitchell launched a Fish for the Future Foundation earlier this year and announced that, with the weekend’s tourney proceeds, the Foundation is up to $52,000 raised, promising the dollars would “grow our bandwidth in the sense that we start to actually make tangible changes.”

The Foundation is being managed in partnership with the Clayoquot Biosphere Trust and the Tofino Resort and Marina’s ownership team—Mitchell, Andrew Purdy and Daniel Hamhuis—kicked it off by donating $20,000.

“Someone needs to fight for wild salmon,” Mitchell told the Westerly News after Sunday’s celebration. “The ocean has given me, in my life, so much. It’s been my healing grounds; my therapeutic place. So, for me, it’s engaging people into that marine ecosystem, having respect for it and, hopefully, they walk away with the same balance that the ocean has given me.”

Mitchell has quickly established himself as a consistent and passionate salmon advocate on the West Coast since purchasing the Tofino Resort and Marina in 2016.

“It’s one of the most cool spots on the planet, but it’s also, after living here and learning, actually in trouble. I don’t want to be doom-and-gloom, but the reality is there’s not a lot of Chinook salmon in Clayoquot Sound when it [historically] supported tens of thousands,” he said. “At the end of the day, we want to educate people that it’s okay to let them swim away once in a while and not keep every one. So, we do that and raise money and support other great organizations in the Sound, whether it’s outmigration research, restoration work or salmon enhancement on specific systems. That’s what it’s about. It’s important. That’s why we’re doing this.”

READ MORE: Salmon populations “drastically declining” around Tofino and Ucluelet

He said it was great to see the family-friendly vibe created by allowing kids to compete for free and added he hopes to build partnerships with local schools to get more youth involved and engaged.

“This is who it’s about. It’s about our children and the next generation,” he said, adding he was ecstatic to see Eno Renna land his first fish.

“That just made me feel so warm,” he said.

He also cherished a moment with his own son Paxton who was able to hook a fish before learning a valuable lesson.

“My son, today, who’s two and a half learned the definition of a knucklebuster,” he said.

“At two and a half, obviously, you’re holding the rod for him, but he can wind a single action reel. The coho went the other way and wrapped his knuckles pretty hard. It was an awesome moment that certainly I will never forget and I tend to think he’ll remember that as well.”

He hopes to see all fisheries investigate and embrace methods to reduce their impacts.

“All of us have to look at what we’re doing. It’s easy to point fingers the other way, but I think what we need to do is look at what our impacts are and try to limit those,” he said.

“Sport fishing isn’t going away. It’s a beautiful comradery as you can see here with the families…We’re just trying to teach about better practices and respect.”

Anyone interested in supporting the Fish for the Future Foundation is encouraged to visit clayoquotbiosphere.org/ways-to-give/current-campaigns and more information about the foundation can be found at tofinoresortandmarina.com/fish-for-the-future.



andrew.bailey@westerlynews.ca

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READ MORE: Willie Mitchell launches first annual Fishing for the Future tournament in Tofino

READ MORE: Tofino Hatchery wraps up successful season

READ MORE: VIDEO: Ex-Canuck Willie Mitchell spots rare salmon shark off Tofino

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