Chirs Cuvelier winning fish
Chris Cuvelier poses with his prize-winning cod, caught on Sept. 5 during a fishing derby organized to benefit fire victims. Photo courtesy Tom McGuirk.

Earlier this month, dozens of Coastsiders grabbed their fishing poles and cast off on boats scattered from Pillar Point to Martins Beach. While this on its own may not be unusual, the event that day, a fishing derby hosted by Cowboy Fishing Co., was out of the ordinary.

Motivated by the devastating fires that burned tens of thousands of acres and displaced families along the South Coast, Tom McGuirk, the owner of Cowboy Fishing, decided to organize a fishing derby on Sept. 5 to raise money for victims of the fires.

McGuirk called several business owners from the El Granada and Princeton region, including Old Princeton Landing, Hop Dogma, Spangler’s Market and Whatta Catch Fisheries, to get participants and spread the word. McGuirk said he initially hoped to raise $5,000. But the derby far surpassed his early estimate. Last week, he reported the derby raised a total of $13,880, which was split between La Honda Fire Brigade, Markegard Family Ranch and the Last Chance Community Center.

With 12 boats full of participants and a weigh-off at 3 p.m. in Princeton after fishing, McGuirk and other organizers were conscious about hosting an event during a pandemic.

“It turned out to be a great way to raise some funds and not have a big gathering,” McGuirk said. “We all went out on separate boats. It was safe, and I think we did a pretty good thing.”

Each angler and boat was required to pay an entry fee and launch from Pillar Point Harbor on that Saturday morning. After a day of fishing on the water and escaping the heat wave on land, trophies were given to the three biggest fish, as well as the “top boat,” meaning the boat that snagged the heaviest catch among all the participants.

Chris Cuvelier took home the heaviest fish with an 18-pound lingcod. Jessie Henry grabbed a 17-pound halibut, good for second place, and Henry Sutter finished third with a 15-pound lingcod.

“It was great how all of our fishermen friends, and even their friends, rallied around this event,” said Michael McLaughlin, who helped with the weigh-off and fished from McGuirk’s boat, The Bull. “They showed up and not only gave money to enter the tournament, but we had a lot of people go above and beyond and donate more on top of their entry fee.”

After the weigh-off, it took three hours for McGuirk and others to clean and vacuum seal more than 100 fish, which were subsequently provided to local community members. McGuirk originally wanted to give the fish to fire victims, but he figured if they were displaced from their homes and had no kitchen or refrigeration, the nonperishable meat would go bad. Both McGuirk and McLaughlin hope to organize another fishing derby in the future and build off the success of this first one.

“It was a great turnout and event,” McGuirk said. “It was a ton of fun and we were able to do something good and pass it forward.” r

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