Ladies-only catch-release derby a whopping success

<I>KEVIN HEIMBIGNER photo</I><BR>Derby founder "Bud" Austad with this year's derby winners.

113 feet of fish brought in Saturday

ILWACO - Prior to Saturday, Diane Applebee of Jamestown, Calif. had never seen a sturgeon before. Next year she will have a sturgeon derby named in her honor.

The Californian entered the first annual "Bud's Ladies Only Columbia River Sturgeon Derby" and caught six of the prehistoric fish that measured a combined 247-inches to win Arnie "Bud" Austad's fishing tournament. Austad decided to rename the fishing event each year after the winner, so next September it will be "Diane's LOCRSD."

Derby Winners and total length of catch:1. Dianne Applebee, Jamestown, Calif. - 247 inches

2. Sherry Johnson, Naselle - 208

3. Joy Headland, Lake Stevens-200

4. Paula Norman, Seattle - 177

5. Lois Craig, Seaview - 171

6. Joyce Tate, Kent - 166

7. Sharon Wolfe, Edmonds - 164"I have fished for bass and trout with my family since I was young," Applebee said, "but this was really cool. The biggest fish I ever caught before today was a barracuda off Catalina Island."

The strictly catch-and-release tournament was Austad's idea after he successfully conducted the "Columbia River Challenge" each June for the past several seasons.

"The last two years women have won the big sturgeon fishing tournament, so I decided to have a 20-lady derby in the fall. I got some strong encouragement from the ladies at Chautauqua Lodge," he joked.

Applebee was not alone in catching large fish. Audrey Norman of Mount Lake Terrace reeled in the largest sturgeon of the day, a 56-incher.

"I'm going to be sore tomorrow," Norman related with a knowing laugh. "I can already feel the place on my stomach where I set the pole when I got my biggest fish."

The ladies brought a total of 56 sturgeon aboard either Pacific Salmon Charter's Katie Marie or Stardust that stretched to a combined length of 1,356 inches - that's exactly 113 feet.

The fish, after quickly being measured, were all safely released back to the Columbia. Steve Wolfe of the Katie Marie said, "It was something to watch the ladies smile when they brought their first sturgeon in. Anyone who doesn't think a catch-and-release fishery can't be a blast should have been on board today."

Austad's son Justin and Larry Malone also assisted the fishers.

The tournament will be an "invitation-only" event in the future and those who competed this year must invite one other lady next year to get in, thus doubling the size of the derby each year. Should anyone not be able to return, Austad said he will accept calls at (206) 364-7002 to fill any vacancies in either of his derbies.

The participants paid $200 each for the charter sturgeon trip, breakfast and a sumptuous steak and salmon lunch at Don's Portside Cafe, and competed for $1,500 in cash and prizes. This year's initial slate of lady anglers was filled strictly from "word of mouth" according to Austad.

Women from 11 states (including Pennsylvania, Alaska, Texas, Idaho, South Dakota, Montana, California, and Utah) left the Port of Ilwaco at 6 a.m. Saturday to enjoy the camaraderie and competition aboard the two charters.

Applebee, who flew home Monday, spoke like a true Californian, "I will definitely be back. I enjoyed this derby because of the good people, good fun, and great area. I just might move here some day."

At the close of the awards ceremony, Austad asked if the fishers would come back next year. Every lady shouted in unison, "Yes!" Many doffed the pink fishing hats they had been given in a salute to derby organizer Austad.

Probably the happiest creatures though were the 56 sturgeon that had been carefully returned to their place of residence at the bottom of the Columbia.

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