Sports & Recreation / July 5, 2024

Fish On!: Fishing Derbies in Canada

Regardless of where you live in Canada, you probably know someone who has participated in a fishing tournament or derby! Fishing has always been an integral part of Canadian culture, particularly among Indigenous communities that have long traditions of fishing for sustenance and ceremony. The idea of competitive fishing likely took inspiration from these deep-rooted practices, blending them with European sport fishing traditions brought by settlers. The earliest fishing derbies in Canada likely began as informal gatherings where communities would come together for friendly competition. These events were often part of larger community celebrations, providing an opportunity for people to showcase their fishing skills and share their catch.

Early beginnings and historical context

Fishing derbies, have a rich history in Canada that reflects the country’s deep connection to its natural waterways and fishing traditions. The word “derby” originally comes from the famous horse race, the Derby, named after the 12th Earl of Derby, who inaugurated the event in England in 1780. The term has since been adopted for other types of competitive events beyond horse racing.
In North America, the term “derby” was borrowed to describe various competitive events that had a festive or communal aspect, including fishing tournaments. This usage became popular in the early to mid-20th century. Fishing derbies became popular in places like Ontario and the Maritimes, where fishing is both a recreational activity and a cultural tradition.

Evolution and growth of fishing tournaments

In the 1920s and 1930s, recreational fishing grew in popularity, leading outdoor organizations to host more formalized events with established rules, prizes, and categories. The rise of outdoor magazines and TV shows dedicated to fishing further popularized these events, embedding the tradition of derbies into Canadian culture.
Modern fishing derbies have increasingly incorporated conservation efforts. Many events now promote catch-and-release practices, sustainable fishing techniques, and environmental stewardship, reflecting a commitment to preserving natural resources while celebrating the sport.

Popularity of fishing tournaments

As community fishing events grew in popularity, organizers sought a term that conveyed both competition and celebration. “Derby” was chosen because it evoked a festive, communal gathering with a competitive edge.
These events were designed to be accessible and inclusive, encouraging broad participation, often focusing on children. Across Canada, there are various fishing tournaments open to everyone, from elite anglers to juniors, such as those held by Bassmaster. On the other end of the spectrum, there are tournaments that emphasize experience and skill, combined with a bit of luck. The popularity of fishing has grown so much that there are TV channels dedicated to it. The main channels broadcasting fishing tournaments are the Outdoor Channel and FOX Sports. Alongside major sports like NBA, NHL, and MLB, you can also watch Major League Fishing (MLF).

fishing derbyNotable Canadian fishing derbies

Most of the popular fishing derbies across Canada occurred in 2024. Now is the time to look at the winners for 2024 and throw your rod in the mix for 2025.

  1. Big Bass Mega Bucks Tournament (Big Rideau Lake, Ontario) – Known for its competitive bass fishing, this event is a highlight in the region.
  2. Kiwanis Walleye World (Bay of Quinte, Ontario) – A major event that kicks off the fishing season with a festive atmosphere, scheduled for early May.
  3. Orillia Perch Festival (Lake Simcoe, Ontario) – This festival attracts anglers aiming to catch the heaviest perch, with activities suitable for all ages.
  4. Lake Muskoka Pike Open (Lake Muskoka, Ontario) – Focused on pike fishing, this tournament offers a challenging experience in a beautiful setting.
  5. Just for the Halibut Fishing Derby (Victoria, BC) – This is hosted by Island Outfitters. Scheduled for early June, this derby is a must for halibut enthusiasts with substantial prizes.
  6. Tofino Saltwater Classic: Hosted July 5-6, 2024, in Tofino, BC. This is a community fundraiser hosted by Brendan Morrison and to date, it has raised over $800,000 for the community

Indigenous communities in Canada have a deep connection with the land and water, which includes sustainable fishing practices passed down through generations. These practices emphasize the importance of respecting natural resources and maintaining ecological balance, which align with the conservation goals of modern fishing derbies. Today, calling a fishing tournament a “derby” helps to convey a sense of fun, inclusivity, and community spirit. Fishing derbies in Canada continue to be a beloved tradition, blending competition, community, and conservation.

Resources for fishing and fishing derbies

Brendan Morrison Saltwater

ONT Fishing Network​​

Interlake Tourism

Angler’s Atlas

BC Fishing Derbies


Photo credits: Photo by Zab Consulting on Unsplash  by John Cameron on Unsplash


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