‘In-person’ Sand Crab Classic Perch Derby a go in March

Monterey Bay

Grandmaster Joe Gomez is the man to beat in the 2022 “In Person” Sand Crab Classic Perch Derby, an annual benefit event for the Monterey Bay Salmon and Trout Project.

by Allen Bushnell

Nearly 20 years ago, I was fortunate enough to share hosting duties on a local fishing radio show here in Santa Cruz. It was called The Let’s Go Fishing Radio Show, with founder and co-host Mike Baxter. We took a few months “Winter Break” every year between the end of rockfish season and the salmon opener in Spring. Wintertime felt long and grey. Grizzled harbor veterans became more irritable, and a downer mentality was prevalent. In a moment of inspiration Baxter came up with a question “What can we do when there’s nothing to do?” Always community minded and both of us deeply involved with The Monterey Bay Salmon and Trout Project, we decided to hold a fishing derby. For surf perch. A benefit for MBSTP that might raise a few hundred bucks for the project. We envisioned the biggest derby in town for the smallest game fish.

Ironic as the idea might have been, the hard-core locals took to it immediately. Serious commercial fishermen, rabid sport salmon chasers and a coterie of accomplished surfcasters bought into the idea. They began to trade challenges and good-natured insults and charged into pre-fishing weeks prior to the contest. Thus the Sand Crab Classic Perch Derby was born. Our first derby was quite the learning experience. We measured the biggest limit of barred surf perch (at the time five fish), and fried up all the donated perch for a taco feast (Imagine fileting hundreds of surf perch for filets…No thank you). Our celebration was further complicated by horrible rainy weather including gale force winds blowing up to 60 knots for the outdoor awards ceremony. We hosted about 90 anglers that year, brought a lot of smiles to the community and raised a few bucks for our precious steelhead hatchery. A few years later the Derby was held one day after a tsunami hit Santa Cruz, destroying dozens of boats and docks in the Harbor.

We’ve learned a lot since then. Now it’s the biggest single fish that wins (why kill all those little perch?) WE have multiple categories with over twenty trophies to bestow each year. By year 10, we settled into a new indoor venue and limited the entry list to “only” the first 300 entrants. The Sand Crab Classic had become insanely popular, with registrants traveling from as far as Arizona and Nevada for the annual benefit. The event is never perfect or seamless, but a dedicated cast of up to 30 volunteers help to hold the raffle and silent auction, operate the wood-fired BBQ and handle check-in and T-shirt handouts.

Then, in 2020, COVID hit. At the very last possible moment, we were forced to postpone the event. We held an online “Virtual Derby” last year but it’s just not the same. Now, in 2022, we’re stoked to be able and have an in-person derby once again. Everyone that entered in 2020 is automatically registered for this year’s event. Sadly, we cannot take any new entrants. On the positive front, we had all the prep work accomplished for 2020. A plethora of prizes and phalanx of golden trophies await the patient and loyal derby participants for the March 12, 2022 version of The Sand Crab Classic.

For those entered already from 2020, here are a few key points regarding this years’ derby. The 2022 derby is scheduled for March 12 at Portuguese Hall in Santa Cruz. Thanks to all who signed up for the 2020 Sand Crab Classic Perch Derby, we hope to see you all soon. While still a valid concern, COVID regulations at this time do not preclude holding an 'In-Person' derby for this year. So, it is a GO! (We'll do our best to roll with the punches if conditions or regulations change. But, IT'S GONNA HAPPEN! Most questions can be answered by checking www.sandcrabclassic.com  or the Sandcrabclassic Facebook Page. Queries can also be addressed to: sandcrabclassic@yahoo.com

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