30 years of big fish and sea rescue support
By Cesca Waterfield
and Nathaniel Cline, Staff Writers
With more than $30,000 in cash prizes, the 30th Annual Reedville Fishing Derby will bring boats and derby entrants from the Carolinas, Delaware and New Jersey this weekend, May 3 and 4.
When the event began in 1983, it was known as “the Bluefish Derby,” and even then it was a major fishing tournament in the area. Proceeds have always benefitted Smith Point Sea Rescue (SPSR), an all-volunteer organization that has served area boaters since 1973, when the life-saving efforts of a group of locals averted tragedy for a father and two children. Residents Dr. Robert E. Beatley and his wife, Vera, decided to formally organize a rescue organization after that family was saved from the cold waters of the Bay.
Ten years later, SPSR started the derby to help cover the costs of fuel and vessel maintenance. Shifts in fish migration brought changes to the tournament and dates were eventually moved to coincide with spring trophy rockfish season. This year the big fish they’re after is striped bass, and winners will be announced Saturday night.
“It is definitely a milestone we’re facing this year and we’re looking forward to a good year,” said Skip Campbell, head captain of SPSR Rescue III.
Fishing is the focus of the derby, but with more than 20 prize categories including a youth competition and a grand prize of $5000, the event features great food, live music, dancing, craft vendors and more.
Russ Bertino has been tournament director since he joined SPSR in 2007. “It’s been a major focus of mine to keep up with the changes that time, the economy and nature have brought to the business of running a fishing tournament,” Bertino said. “It is quite fulfilling to be a part of the chain that has kept this event going for 30 years.”
Today, SPSR has a membership of about 45 and three rescue vessels that work year-round to cover the Potomac River south of Ragged Point, and the middle Chesapeake from Point Lookout to Windmill Point.
River south of Ragged Point, and the middle Chesapeake from Point Lookout to Windmill Point.
Campbell joined in June 2008 when Rescue III was established. An active boater since 1975, Campbell had no experience performing sea rescue, just a desire to help.
“This was just an opportunity to combine two things: being out on the water as enjoyment and being able to help those that need saving,” Campbell said, adding that his first assignment was to aid a 17-year-old on a kayak, lost for an entire day.
Board member and senior captain Buddy Silva started in 1994 with no experience in sea rescue. A retired accountant from Richmond, Silva was encouraged to join SPSR by Roger Wilkins, owner of Jett’s Hardware.
“I love being on the water and helping people,” said Silva. “We don’t get paid, but we do get the satisfaction of helping anyone that is stranded. That’s where you get your payment from Smith Point Sea Rescue.”
Campbell estimates that the derby attracts between 400 and 500 boats. He hopes to have a large turnout for this weekend’s derby.