Hordes of pink-clad anglers will descend upon Diamond Lake June 26 to fish for cash prizes in the Black Bird Shopping Center's annual Rainbow $5,000 trout derby — while at the same time paying homage to one of the store's favorite employees and its best customer.
Wendy Lee Anderson was known as Wendy Hawk when she graced the store's floor and then its business office during about a decade of work at Black Bird in west Medford.
"She was a great employee, and everybody liked her," Black Bird's Mike McMullen says. "There wasn't anybody nicer than Wendy Hawk."
There wasn't anybody freer with his charge card at Black Bird than Scott Atkinson, the NAG Drywall patriarch who always managed to be the first entrant to sign up for the derby over its first 12 years in existence.
"That's always been Scott's deal," McMullen says. "I always had to call Scott and find him and get him down here to be the first to sign up. It was a tradition we had."
Rainbow $5,000 anglers will be reminded of Anderson and Atkinson from this year on out as the derby will take on a whole new look and a whole new purpose because of them.
Anderson and Atkinson both died from cancer battles less than two months apart earlier this year. In their honor, part of the proceeds from the 13th annual derby set for June 26 will be donated toward cancer research, and the entire derby literally will be cloaked in breast-cancer awareness.
The traditional white t-shirt given to each participant now will be bright pink, with the derby's logo on the front and "Tough Enough to Wear Pink" written on the back.
Anderson, 46, died Jan. 14 of breast cancer. Atkinson, 76, died March 12 of leukemia in his third and final cancer battle over the past 20 years.
"They were really special people, and it's a real feel-good deal for all of us to do this," McMullen says.
"And seeing a bunch of these old bruisers out there wearing pink will be interesting," he says.
Since the derby moved from Howard Prairie Lake to Diamond Lake three years ago, it has become entrenched as the region's most popular summer trout derby.
As many as 1,200 anglers are expected to be on hand, all trying to be that skillfully lucky person who pulls in the fattest Diamond denizen of the day.
Cosponsored by the Mail Tribune, the Rainbow $5,000 is the trout derby where everyday anglers play like the pros — earning cash prizes for the largest trout caught by pre-registered contestants.
The largest fish by weight will win its angler $1,000, with second place netting $750 and third place fetching $500. Prizes descend in value until $100 for 10th place.
The 11th- to 20th-place finishers each will win $75, while the 21st- to 30th-place finishers will earn $50.
Black Bird also offers merchandise giveaways throughout the day on the lake high in the Cascade Mountains of eastern Douglas County.
The derby entrance fee remains at $15, and the weigh-in will end at 3 p.m. As with past derbies, each registered contestant can weigh in only one fish.
And chances are, that one fish each angler brings to the weigh-in should be a doozy.
Laura Jackson, the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife's Umpqua District fish biologist, says Diamond Lake now sports about 200,000 of the fingerling rainbow stocked there last summer. Those fish are all about 12 inches long now, she says.
The lake likely contains a solid number of last year's 12-inchers that now are 16 inches long or more, Jackson says. Plus, the remaining contingent of last year's 20-plus inchers have all fattened up, as well.
The fish are all healthy because of the vibrant insect population that makes bug-net hats almost a necessity during summer forays there. The lake averages more than 300 pounds of insects per acre of lake bottom, Jackson says.
But all this great news about the lake's mercurial fishery still pales in comparison to the losses of Anderson and Atkinson, McMullen says.
Atkinson's cancer battles were well known in the store, McMullen says.
Recently, Atkinson had been telling friends and family members that he hoped to hang on for one more fall elk season. But this winter talk shifted instead to his hope of making it to one more Rainbow $5,000 derby.
By the end of February, that didn't appear possible, McMullen says.
While beginning some of the early prep work on the derby in early March, McMullen made a trip to Atkinson's east Medford home for one last visit. He brought the new Rainbow $5,000 sign-up sheet and Atkinson penciled in his "NAG Drywall" on the first line.
"So he's still the first one to sign up," McMullen says. "I'm thinking having Scott's name first on the sign-up sheet will be a tradition we'll keep going."