Ron Pylkki started his Saturday morning at Diamond Lake by fishing much the same way he has all season there — providing a very compelling argument as to why this thing he does is called fishing and not catching.
"I couldn't buy a fish for love or money," says Pylkki, 61, of Medford.
Top 10 adult finishers and top five juvenile-division winners, by weight, in the Rainbow $5,000 trout-fishing derby held Saturday at Diamond Lake. Ties were broken by length measurements.
1. Ron Pylkki - 5 lbs. 7 oz.
2. Abel Santos - 4 lbs. 6 oz.
3. Charles Anderson - 4 lbs. 1 oz.
4. Patty Melson - 3 lbs. 15 oz.
5. Chad McPherson - 3 lbs. 14 oz.
6. Shirley Walck - 3 lbs 14 oz.
7. Roseanna Jones - 3 lbs 14 oz.
8. Stony Melson - 3 lbs 13 oz.
9. Latrice Durbin - 3 lbs. 8 oz.
10. Claus Lendren - 3 lbs. 7 oz.
1. Weston Atkinson - 4 lbs. 4 oz.
2. Hunter Scott - 2 lbs. 14 oz.
3. Jarad Beal - 2 lbs. 12 oz.
4. Grifen Siewell - 2 lbs. 5 oz.
5. Jacob Nielson - 2 lbs. 4 oz.
Then something finally inhaled his trusted damsel-fly imitation and his fly line stopped in the water.
Minutes later, Pylkki landed the loveliest of rainbows Diamond had to offer and he netted a wad of cash.
The 5-pound, 7-ounce trout earned Pylkki the $1,000 top prize in the 14th annual Rainbow $5,000 derby that saw more than 1,000 anglers plunk down $15 to fish all day for cash prizes.
"We fish Diamond all the time, and it's the first big fish I've caught up there in several years," Pylkki says. "It was exciting and well worth it."
His catch echoes an Oregon Outdoors prediction made June 17 — that this year would mark the first derby won by a fly-fisher, and the fish would be caught at the lake's south end, which is now bursting with daily midge hatches.
"We had to make the prediction come true," he says.
Organized by Medford's Black Bird Shopping Center, this year's derby featured another first: Six tagged fish were released into the 2,824-acre lake that could earn additional cash prizes for their captors.
Five of the trout sported blue tags worth $100 each. One sported an orange tag worth $500.
One 10-inch rainbow caught by Aaron Appling of Grants Pass had a blue foy tag attached to its dorsal fin, and because it was the only tagged fish that was caught, organizers awarded him $500.
"A shocker of shockers," says Black Bird's Mike McMullen, who helped catch and tag the cash fish. "Who would have thunk it?"
No one caught the orange-tagged rainbow worth $500, sponsored by Lithia Motors, but anyone who catches it any time through this year's trout season will still get the prize, even if they didn't fish in the tournament.
"So the 'Lithia lunker' is still out there," McMullen says.
The tagged fish were all caught with rods and reels Thursday, then tagged and released in the lake's fabled Cheese Hole near Diamond Lake Resort.
But Appling's trout wasn't caught there, McMullen says.
"He caught it a hell of a long way from where we dumped it," he says.
As for Pylkki, he didn't even bother signing himself and fly-fishing partner Bob Staysa of Days Creek into the derby until Friday afternoon.
They each slept Friday night dreaming they would catch the biggest fish of the tournament, as well as one of the tagged fish, Pylkki says.
But after about two hours of fishing during the start of the tournament, Pylkki would have been satisfied with a strike.
Staysa and Pylkki were both casting versions of the damsel-fly imitation, with Staysa boating fish after fish and Pylkki getting completely ignored.
"We've been fishing that fly up there for years," Pylkki says. "But I couldn't get a bite."
Pylkki tried fishing the fly under a strike indicator, but that failed. Then he tried long casts and retrieving in slow strips. Eventually, he stripped and the line stopped.
"I said, 'Bob. Finally, a fish,' " he says.
At first, Pylkki thought it was a small trout. But when it flashed under water, Staysa put down his rod and grabbed the net because he knew this was a big trout.
"All I could think was, at the way my luck's been going lately, he'll either break off or spit the hook," Pylkki says.
But Pylkki stayed patient and eventually brought the big trout to the net.
"I didn't really have any idea how much he weighed," Pylkki says. "We whooped and hollered for about five minutes then went back to fishing."
Five hours and one more trout later, Pylkki weighed in his winner at 2 p.m. and had the winning check at 3 p.m.
"It was fun," he says. "I'd do it again."
Reach reporter Mark Freeman at 541-776-4470, or email at email@example.com.