On February 26, 2011 the Rotary Club of LaConner will sponsor the 46th Smelt Derby which is older that the Super Bowl by one year.  The original focus of the Derby is to fish for Smelt in the Swinomish Channel, 45 years ago this was mainly accomplished by dipping for the Smelt.  However, due to changing economic and environmental rules, there is less food material being dumped into the Channel in LaConner.  Hence, there are fewer fish, so these days most fishermen try to snag their fish on lines containing many hooks.  The Rotary Club of LaConner with the assistance of judging by the LaConner Sea Scouts awards prizes in a number of catetories (under and over age 13) including:  longest and shortest smelt, longest herring,  biggest fish, and strangest object to be hooked and turned in for a prize.  The fishing prize winners select their prize from 25-30 merchandise prizes selected for fishing prizes.


The Derby also has a large focus on the raffle that carries a Grand Prize of $750 plus 75-100 merchandise prizes.  The Grand Prize is awarded at about 3PM on Derby Day with merchandise prizes being awarded every 15 minutes or so during the day.  Raffle prizes commonly include, a rubber duck, gift certificates to local restaurants, fishing gear, teeth cleaning at a local Dentist’s office and many more unusual prizes donated by LaConner merchants.  Raffle tickets NO LONGER entitle the bearer to fish.  In order to comply with State Gambling Rules, fishing tickets must be purchased separated.  The good news is that Raffle Tickets and Fishing Tickets are only $2 each.  Prices have remained unchanged for as long as this author has been a member of the LaConner Rotary Club.


Other events take place on Derby Day also.  There will be a pancake breakfast that is used to help fund a donation to the LaConner High School Senior Class.  There will be free fish printing at Maple Hall during the morning hours, kids and others can put paint on a real fish and then print an impression of the fish.  There will also be a hot dog stand operated by Rotarians.


The other BIG event of the day is the Skagit Symphony Smelt Run operated by the Symphony.  This event was cofounded about 15 years ago by Rotary and the Symphony.  After two years of joint operation, the Run became fully operated by the Symphony, though most years Rotary provided modest assistance.  In 2010 Rotary was invited to one again play a larger role in the Smelt Run and responded with volunteers in a number of jobs most importantly being the course volunteers strategically placed to encourage volunteers.


Derby proceeds are derived from Raffle Ticket Sales, sponsorships, food sales and a profit sharing arrangement with the Symphony.  The Rotary Club of LaConner Foundation then uses the proceeds to help fund the Senior Class, scholarships, the Dolly Parton Imagination Library, other literacy projects and other donations made by the Rotary Club of LaConner throughout the year.


Rotary volunteers are involved in obtaining raffle prizes from local merchants, manning headquarters at the fire museum, selling raffle tickets, working at the pancake breakfast and hot dog stand, and volunteering at the Run.  As Derby Day approaches Rotarians are urged to volunteer for several of these low key jobs and to recruit friends and family members to help with the Run.