Fish for the Future event host Matt Dawson cheers alongside the tournament’s winner Mikayla Nikiforuk on Sept. 27. (Nora O’Malley photo)

Willie Mitchell’s Fish for the Future catch-and-release derby nets $60,000 for wild salmon

“I liked releasing the fish because I know there are not that many salmon left.”

Tofino local Mikayla Nikiforuk reeled and released a feisty 11.745 lb coho over the weekend to land the top spot on leaderboard for Willie Mitchell’s fourth annual Fish for the Future Catch and Release Tournament.

The 12-year-old angler said she caught and let go the trophy fish between 9 a.m. and noon on Saturday at a spot called ‘Happy Face’.

“I reeled it in. It was really difficult. It was fighting. I liked releasing the fish because I know there are not that many [salmon] left,” Nikiforuk told the Westerly after Sunday’s award ceremony at Tofino Resort + Marina (TRM). The youngster walked away with an Atleo floatplane experience for four plus gift cards to Shed and Shelter and a Jeremy Koreski photo print.

Master fisherman Florian Besson headed up the weigh boat throughout the catch and release tournament. When a participating boat caught a fish, they would radio the weigh boat over so the fish could be measured and released safely.

“We give every boat a special net. Instead of them giving us the fish, they give us the net. They don’t indulge the fish at any moment. We take the net, we put the fish in a tote full of water and after that we measure the fish slowly to make sure it is comfortable. Then we release it very slowly,” said Besson.

“Every fish we caught this weekend was released properly, slowly and always wet. It’s very important if you want to release the fish to keep the fish wet. They will not lose any mucus on the skin and they will live a very, very long life,” he continued.

He said 20 coho were caught and released successfully throughout the derby.

Tournament host Matt Dawson said he was thrilled to participate in his fourth Fish for the Future event.

“We want to bring wild salmon back to Clayoquot Sound, and that is first and foremost our objective,” said Dawson during Sunday’s closing ceremonies.

He said Fish for the Future and its partners Strawberry Isle Marine Research Society, Central Westcoast Forest Society, and Cedar Coast Field Station are all a big part of what the event is trying to accomplish.

Funds raised throughout the weekend long Fish for the Future tournament go into a Fish for the Future fund managed the Clayoquot Biosphere Trust (CBT), and as the Fund grows, disbursals will be made to support wild salmon protection and research projects in the following areas: shoreline protection and restoration, hatchery and salmon enhancement, land-based aquaculture developments, and catch and release initiatives.

Rebecca Hurwitz, executive director of the CBT, further explains how funds raised by the initiative support the “donor-advised” Fish for the Future Fund at CBT.

“A donor-advised fund is a type of endowment fund within the CBT’s community foundation portfolio. Donors make an initial gift to create the fund and can add to the capital any time. Each year, they advise the CBT on how they would like the endowment income to be directed based on their interests and priorities. The CBT then makes grants in the name of their fund to the charities of their choice,” said Hurwitz.

Willie Mitchell, co-owner of TRM, elaborates.

“Fish for the Future Fund has received over $60,000 to date and we are excited to grow the endowment this year. Catch and release is the direction we have to go in for our sport. We want to have fish for the future for our kids and our kids’ kids. This is a great way to achieve it,” said Mitchell.

“Each organization has a mandate and we sort of play that middle ground to help wild salmon. We all know this is less about the fish we are catching, but about the fish that are going back. As we get out of this crazy year of 2020, 2021 looks to be a year where we start implementing and start doing some stuff in the watershed and that’s what we want to do,” he said.

Anyone interested in supporting the Fish for the Future Fund is encouraged to visit and more information about the foundation can be found at

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READ: Minimal risk to wild salmon from viruses on farmed B.C. salmon: Fisheries Department

READ: Tofino’s Race for the Blue fishing derby casts philanthropic net

READ: Anti-salmon farm protesters rally outside DFO offices

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