Forty drift boats will float away with fishing poles in hand on the morning of Feb. 1. But they aren’t fishing for lunch. The anglers will release all of the fish they catch in the annual Umpqua Fishery Enhancement Derby.
This is the 27th annual derby and will take place throughout Douglas County from Jan. 30 to Feb. 2. All funds raised go toward projects benefitting the Umpqua Basin.
The derby is sponsored by the Douglas Timber Operators and the Roseburg Area Chamber of Commerce. Derby Chair Paul Beck organizes the committee of business partners.
“The committee that does it is an environmental group,” Beck said. “Plain and simple, we do it because some of our habitats are in need of help and this is the method we use to raise money to fund projects in the Umpqua River. We’re trying to actively find ways to improve fish habitats.”
On Jan. 30, the Department of Fish and Wildlife and staff from the Rock Creek Fish Hatchery will use the event to teach high school students about spawning steelhead and other hatchery responsibilities.
“We want to give the high school kids the opportunity to work with professional fishery’s biologists and learn more about the life cycle of these fish and those sorts of things,” Beck said.
Jan. 31 is Kids’ Day where fifth-grade students from Eastwood Elementary School in Roseburg will fish with professional fishing guides from the Derby and do other boating activities on the Cooper Creek Reservoir.
The students will receive life jackets donated by the Joe Merchep Umpqua Rivers Foundation and be recognized for their enhancement project, the fish-rearing facility on Deer Creek.
“We use it as kind of a reward,” Beck said. “It’s been the same class ever since we started doing it. It’s the Eastwood fifth graders who actually run a fish hatchery program at the school. This is just our way of thanking them for learning about fish and contributing to the fishery out there.”
On Feb. 1, the derby will hold a dinner and auction at the Douglas County Fairgrounds. Tina Roy from the Douglas Timber Operators is the contact for information including questions about ticket sales.
Beck said all of the boats have been sold, but there are still tickets available for the banquet.
The derby has contributed more than $1.54 million plus matching funds for fish habitat restoration projects in the Umpqua Basin in the last 26 years.
“We solicit people to submit projects,” Beck said. “Part of that money would come from us, but we really like the idea of leveraging our money to increase its impact. A lot of times, people who are looking at funding this project look to see if we’ve given it our seal of approval.”
Beck estimated the derby’s funding could have contributed to $15 million worth of projects.