Written by Janelle Wicks/Photos by FOMR

It was a cool clear Malheur morning as vehicles began to roll into the Refuge parking lot around 6:30 AM. Two and three at a time, the vehicles would pull in and unload a couple of adults, a handful of youth and a good bit of gear which sometimes included boxes of donuts and lots of coffee. It was finally the day of the Annual Carp Derby and everyone was excited for the possibility of landing the biggest catch of the day or at least enjoying the idea of it. 

Seventy-five people came out to participate this year, a marked increase from approximately 40 in 2018. Attendance broke down to Adults – 38, 14-17 yrs. – 8, 10-13 yrs. – 18 and 3-9 yrs. – 11. The Derby is set up with largest fish caught in each age group, and a Grand Prize for the largest (heaviest) catch of the day. Boomer’s Place Restaurant and Fly Shop in Hines, OR provided the generous prize, including nearly $300 in fly fishing gear. The age category prizes included a suite of fishing gear purchased at Sportsman’s Warehouse and Confluence Fly Shop in Bend, given at a discount for our event. REI in Bend along with Safeway in Burns, Subway in Burns and McDonald’s in Hines, donated free prizes for our anglers of all ages. 

The Friends of the Refuge has been heavily involved in this event every year for a over decade and is the principle organizer. We are grateful to have the support and engagement of Refuge staff along with Audubon Society of Portland whose Eastern Oregon Field Coordinator, Teresa Wicks, managed the Educational Activities area. Staff and interns from the Bureau of Land Management, Burns Interagency Fire Prevention, National Wild Turkey Federation and the High Desert Partnership also contributed, directing activities or lending support wherever it was needed throughout the day. 

Activities included a kiddie pool model of Malheur Lake, water quality testing, scoping carp scales and otolith bones, making buttons and fish printing t-shirts! Smokey the Bear paid us a visit and even did some fishing of his own. We were also fortunate to borrow the Oregon Department of Fish & Wildlife’s Angling Education Trailer. This allowed us to lend out rods and tackle to visitors who may not have had their own. There was so much to do that Refuge Wildlife Biologist running a drone demonstration was a bonus. With so much fun to be had, some of us even forgot about the fishing!

But how could we neglect that for the first time in the history of this event, every single participant walked away without catching a single fish! Prizes could not be distributed by pounds caught, so instead we drew age category raffles and a final Grand Prize raffle for all participants involved. It was shocking that with our highest attendance on record not a single fish was caught. Refuge Fisheries Biologist, James Pearson, explained that with the combination of high water in Malheur Lake and cooler water temperatures the carp are not moving from the Lake into the Blitzen River in the high numbers we have come to expect. James also described the Refuge’s efforts to remove carp biomass from the system which includes fish traps at critical tributaries and routine electrofishing. These efforts had had some positive impact on removing large carp, but he pointed out that this year’s young fish (currently 2-6 inches) will be big before we know it. This means that we can all expect there to be a lot of fish to catch at next year’s Carp Derby!

Activities included a kiddie pool model of Malheur Lake, water quality testing, scoping carp scales and otolith bones, making buttons and fish printing t-shirts! Smokey the Bear paid us a visit and even did some fishing of his own. We were also fortunate to borrow the Oregon Department of Fish & Wildlife’s Angling Education Trailer. This allowed us to lend out rods and tackle to visitors who may not have had their own. There was so much to do that Refuge Wildlife Biologist running a drone demonstration was a bonus. With so much fun to be had, some of us even forgot about the fishing!

But how could we neglect that for the first time in the history of this event, every single participant walked away without catching a single fish! Prizes could not be distributed by pounds caught, so instead we drew age category raffles and a final Grand Prize raffle for all participants involved. It was shocking that with our highest attendance on record not a single fish was caught. Refuge Fisheries Biologist, James Pearson, explained that with the combination of high water in Malheur Lake and cooler water temperatures the carp are not moving from the Lake into the Blitzen River in the high numbers we have come to expect. James also described the Refuge’s efforts to remove carp biomass from the system which includes fish traps at critical tributaries and routine electrofishing. These efforts had had some positive impact on removing large carp, but he pointed out that this year’s young fish (currently 2-6 inches) will be big before we know it. This means that we can all expect there to be a lot of fish to catch at next year’s Carp Derby!