'You'll never fail with a Gold Steelie'

Saturday's Rainbow $5,000 trout derby at Diamond Lake was a real hog fest

As his brother and father busied themselves untangling their hooked-together fishing lines while trolling out of the family driftboat, Ben Bowers decided not to waste too much time in Saturday's Rainbow $5,000 trout derby at Diamond Lake.

Bowers grabbed his $7 trout rod and cast a big spinner.

Anglers in the Money

Here are the top 10 finishers and top three youth-division winners in the Rainbow $5,000 trout-fishing derby held Saturday at Diamond Lake in eastern Douglas County. Winners were based on the heaviest single rainbow trout they caught and entered that day.

1. Ben Bowers - 4 lbs., 9 oz.

2. Richard Dickson - 4 lbs., 2 oz.

3. Rocky Bergman - 4 lbs., 1 oz.

4. Janie Lopez - 4 lbs.

5. Roger Bernards - 3 lbs., 15 oz.

6. Mike Boyd - 3 lbs., 13 oz.

7. Glen Wardlaw - 3 lbs., 12 oz.

8. Pam Coulter - 3 lbs., 12 oz.

9. Mark Parmele - 3 lbs., 11 oz.

10. Ryan Cornutt - 3 lbs., 10 oz. (tie)

10. Charles Cook - 3 lbs., 10 oz. (tie)

Youth Division, ages 13 and younger

1. Noah Cline - 3 lbs., 3 oz.

2. Megan Aichele - 3 lbs., 2 oz.

3. Cameron Bartley - 2 lbs., 11 oz.

4. Amberlee Fowler - 2 lbs., 8 oz.

5. Nathan Lynch - 2 lbs., 7 oz.

"I threw out a Gold Steelie, just for the fun of it," Bowers says.

But fun turned to serious business after a steelhead-sized rainbow hit that spinner, eventually catapulting the 17-year-old Grants Pass angler to top honors in Southern Oregon's largest trout derby.

The 4-pound, 9-ounce rainbow bested a field of 792 anglers in the annual derby, earning the out-of-work teen a $1,000 check and a newfound attachment to a big lure that fooled a big fish on Southern Oregon's biggest trout-fishing day of the year.

"Oh, yeah. The Gold Steelie," Bowers says. "My dad says you'll never fail with a Gold Steelie."

Despite a drop in registrations, the 13th annual derby stands out as perhaps the luckiest for anglers who weighed in 180 fish while vying for a space among the top 30 anglers who earned cash prizes for their catches, organizers say.

The sizes of the Diamond Lake rainbows caught during the derby were immense, with just 11/2 pounds separating Bowers' trout from the 30th-place finisher.

"I don't know if I've seen as many trout caught, and I don't know if I've seen as many big trout caught in the derby before," says Mike McMullen of Medford's Black Bird Shopping Center, which organizes the derby.

"Those fish are off-the-charts weird," McMullen says. "They're so fat. I don't think the heads on those things grow as fast as their bodies."

Bowers says he's unsure what he'll do with his fast-growing wallet of winnings.

"I'll probably put it in the bank and save it," Bower says. "I'm only 17, and my parents say I don't know how to spend money wisely.

"But I might take a trip to Disneyland," he says.

Regardless, the success of the derby will allow some Oregon breast-cancer survivors a chance at normalcy.

Part of the proceeds will be donated to the Bandon-based Brees Foundation for Breast Cancer Research, which helps victims receive mastectomies and other post-surgical assistance.

The donation will be made in the names of Wendy Lee Anderson and Scott Atkinson.

Anderson was a former employee who died from breast cancer in January at age 46. Atkinson was a top Black Bird customer and avid derby angler who died March 12 of leukemia at age 76.

In their honor, derby participants wore bright pink shirts.

Co-sponsored by the Mail Tribune, the Rainbow $5,000 is the trout derby where everyday anglers play like the pros by earning cash prizes for the largest trout caught by pre-registered contestants.

Derby entrants pay a $15 fee when they register, then fish anywhere on Diamond Lake that day for one trout to weigh in.

The largest fish by weight earns its angler $1,000. Second place nets $750 and third place fetches $500. Prizes descend in value until $100 for 10th place.

The 11th- to 20th-place finishers each win $75, while the 21st- to 30th-place finishers earn $50.

A passel of Bowers showed up Saturday at dawn at Diamond Lake, with Bowers' dad, Jeff, brothers Matt and James and his sister, Ashleigh, all crammed with him in the driftboat.

The group were trolling Rapala plugs when the tangled lines stalled their progress about 9 a.m.

That's when Bowers made the $1,000 cast near the lake's old Ranger Station.

"I got this huge hit and thought, 'Oh, crap,' " Bowers says.

The $7 Walmart rod arched as the fish taxed the 10-pound-test line, but the recent North Valley High School graduate eventually muscled it into the net.

"It fought really hard, but I'm really glad I caught it," he says.

After the weigh-in, the family returned to Stewart State Park, where they were camping for the weekend.

That night, someone snuck into their camp and made off with the family tackle box and the $200 to $300 worth of lures in it, Bowers says.

But they left behind the lucky Walmart rod and just five lures.

"They didn't get the Gold Steelie," Bowers says. "Luckily, it was still on the rod."

Reach reporter Mark Freeman at 541-776-4470, or e-mail mfreeman@mailtribune.com.

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