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Fishing derby a Labour Day tradition at Wellesley Pond

Peter van der Maas at the Albert Erb Conservation Area on Wellelsey Pond, which will play host to the Wellesley and District Lions Club’s annual Labour Day Fishing Derby on Monday. [Ali Wilson / The Observer]

Back for another year, the Wellesley and District Lions are gearing up for their annual fishing derby on Labour Day, although it will be the only event the village sees on the holiday Monday.

Originally started by an individual who wanted an activity for his kids to do before going to school, the event has since been run by the Lions, with the annual derby signifying the end of the summer for the community.

Although it is open to all ages, the derby is really targeted towards the youth in the community. Since taking it over it has been steadily growing in popularity. 

It all happens day of, with setup at 8 a.m, registration at 9 a.m. and all lines in the water from then until noon.

“There is always people here as soon as they see any kind of activity so we try to accommodate them, although they are not allowed to do any kind of fishing until 9 o’clock,” said Peter van der Maas, organizer from the Wellesley and District Lions Club.

Participation comes at a cost of $7 per angler and $20 per family, with all proceeds going to community improvement projects.

For the registration fee kids get to fish the derby, play their hand at reeling in a tagged fish, have a hot dog, drink and a chance at one of the donated prizes.

“We have very good support from the merchants and business owners in town they always supply all of the prizes for the prize tables, but it is strictly a fun day. It is a catch-and-release and we are looking forward to a good turnout. We always have a lot of fun,” he said.

A week prior to the derby, the Lions drop 15 tagged fish in the pond. The first person to reel up one of the tagged fish will go home $150 richer – although all participating children are eligible to win additional prizes throughout the day.

“We have had up to 15 tagged fish and we throw them in the pond the week before. So far, oddly enough, in only two (years) has the tagged fish been caught, but the real goal of the derby is just to provide families with an activity to do together over Labour Day weekend,” he said. “The real attraction is in the family environment.”

And that it has, with  the latest derby seeing 264 registrants coming out to participate.

While the tagged fish don’t always come out, van der Maas sees many different fish in their wading pool.

“Cat fish, carp, some sunfish, a few bass, maybe a small trout,” he said, noting the largest trophy of the day goes towards the fisher who brings in the smallest fish.

“The fish that are caught here are tossed into the wading pool and the kids can look at them here.”

While van der Maas wouldn’t reveal the best spots to fish around the pond, he said some of the regulars swear by their locations, noting that the entire pond is fair game to find one of the tagged prize fish.

“I would be giving away trade secrets, you know,” he jokes. “People set up chairs all the way around some people go under the bridge some of them go on the other side of Queen’s Bush Road so there is lots of room for everybody.”

This year, anglers are able to set up wherever they please, except for the area directly beside the bridge, which is home to one of the preliminary projects in the ecological renovation of the pond.

“Some people might be a little disappointed by the excess growth around the edges, but we are in the middle of an ecological renovation of the pond. We are allowing the growth to continue to discourage geese, for one thing, and to solidify the shoreline,” he said, noting the addition of about 1,000 native species along the shoreline.

While the derby used to run alongside the Soap Box Classic, this year it will be going solo.

After a long standing run of the traditional soap box derby, organizers were unable to find people to take it over, so they have cancelled it all together. Van der Maas is sad to see the event go.

“Numbers might go down but the greater concern is the lack of volunteer participation that has lead to the cancellation of the Soap Box Classic,” he said. “I am afraid that this is a trend, a very worrisome trend because the very features that make the village a great place to live are the features that are driven by volunteer work.”

The fishing derby will also be looking for a new organizer next year as it is van der Maas’ final derby, although he says it is likely another fellow Lion will take up the torch.

Anglers can register for the fishing derby on the day of, September 4, at 9 a.m. at the Wellesley Pond. Tickets are $7, which includes entry in the derby, a drink and a hotdog.

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