A participant from 2011’s Marc Desautels Memorial Blue Knuckle Derby shows off his catch of the day. The Prince Rupert Lions Club is readying for this year’s event — their sixth as organizers —and will be giving away cash and door prizes to winning contestants. Tickets are on sale now.

Twenty-two years of blue knuckles

Honouring the late Marc “Dezi” Desautels, the Lions Club readies for Blue Knuckle Derby

It’s the day after Boxing Day.

It’s cold, it’s frigid. It might be snowing, or perhaps raining (here in Rupert, that’s a bit up in the air) and there may be blustering winds.

But that hasn’t stopped thousands of avid fishermen and their crews from launching all types of boats on Dec. 27 of every year since 1992. And this year, over 300 of them will be doing it again.

Welcome to the 22nd Annual Marc Desautels Memorial Blue Knuckle Derby.

The only winter derby in British Columbia outside of another brave few who venture out for the Kootenay Lake B.C. Family Day Fishing Derby (who will have to wait until 2016 – a lack of fish stock forced organizers to cancel this upcoming February’s event), the Blue Knuckle is the only place where you’ll find fish big enough to match the size of their catchers’ hearts.

“Since 2009, the first year that the Prince Rupert Lions Club took [the derby over], we made a fundamental shift in the derby itself. Instead of just being for locals, and with cash and just being for fun [for a few friends], we decided to make it a charity event,” said Rodney Proskiw of the Lions Club, who are the chief organizers of the Blue Knuckle and have been for the past six years.

“When [former organizer] Marc (Dezi) passed, there was nobody stepping up to take it over,” explained Proskiw.

“So through contact with Dezi’s best friend and through his family, we got permission to take it over and make the derby a Lions’ signature event with their blessing.”

The derby has grown from approximately six friends in its first iteration to its current state of 350 participants. Originally an idea formed from that small group, Jim Robertson and Ken Hembling were the main organizers and gave out cash prizes from tickets sold to the top three winners through the first eight years of the derby’s existence.

Dezi proceeded Robertson and Hembling in handling the event and it grew in notoriety on his watch.

And blue knuckles aren’t the only thing these competitors have caught over the past few years. Chinook salmon and halibut make up the main haul from the derby.

“We’re only targeting chinook, but there is the odd halibut,” added fellow Lions member and organizer Jeff Carlson.

“It’s a beautiful time of year too because everyone’s travelling and taking in the festivities. Why not fish for some chinook?” he asked.

With Proskiw’s calculations, most of the salmon will be two or three years old with their breeding cycles, with the Prince Rupert area being the farthest north that they inhabit.

With prizing for the event, the Blue Knuckle is in a league of its own thanks to local sponsors – businesses and individuals.

“We sell tickets all the way up to Dec. 27 and even after it’s over,” said Proskiw.

“If there are any tickets left, we sell the last of them right at the awards ceremony. People buy it for the chance to win lots of door prizes.”

Cash prizes of $1,000, $500 and $300 will be awarded to the top three winners and a return trip for two is also up for grabs, donated by Hawkair. Harbour Machining, the Prince Rupert Port Authority and Northwest Fuels contributed to the cash prizes. Lots of door prizes will also be available.

Any revenues outside of expenses are wholly donated to the Salvation Army and the Loyal Order of the Moose.

Beef on a bun and more is served at the Moose Hall after the event as the weigh-in takes place and prizes are awarded from 5 to 7 p.m., and through Proskiw’s experience, the seafarers may have the wind at their backs, or some drizzle on their chilled faces.

“One year I was in a T-shirt [and it was] 12 degrees and sunny and the next year there was three inches of snow and you couldn’t launch boats or see more than 20 feet in front of you. There’s big fat snowflakes sometimes. Sometimes it’s howling wind and pouring rain, sometimes it’s absolutely beautiful. But the beauty is you don’t have to leave the confines of the harbour if you don’t want to,” said Proskiw.

Boats vary from “12-foot aluminums to 40-foot cruisers” and attendance has spiked due to participants from Terrace, Kitimat, Prince George, everywhere in between and even the Lower Mainland.

Tickets for the Dec. 27 Marc Desautels Memorial Blue Knuckle Derby can be purchased at the Northern View, J&E’s Tackle, Trayling’s Tackle, Sea Sport and from all Prince Rupert Lions Club Members.