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Fishing in a Barbie world: Toy poles used in Rocky River contest

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    Toy fishing rods are piled on a table at Emerald Necklace Marina in Lakewood for the annual Barbie Rod Steelhead Derby.



Catching a 5-pound-plus steelhead on the Vermilion or Rocky rivers is a feeling anglers look forward to every spring.

The fight these lake-run fish put up while in the river is some of the best fun anglers have outside of fishing Lake Erie.

But imagine catching a Lake Erie steelhead using a kid’s toy rod? Next week there is a competition requiring anglers to do just that. The 6th Annual Barbie Rod Steelhead Derby on the Rocky River is set for Saturday, March 30.

The competition requires anglers to use a “Barbie” rod or some type of toy character rod to catch a steelhead. The rods must be stock but anglers can change out the line.

The derby is all catch and release. Proof resides in having a photo with a tape measure on the fish to show its length. Participants also receive a chip that must be in the photo to prove the fish was caught that day on a toy rod.

Prizes are awarded to the top three fish, based on length.

As for the record over the last five derbies, Warren says the biggest fish measured just over 28 inches. That’s quite impressive when you realize the great fight these fish give an angler with the usual steelhead gear.

Event organizer Mark Warren says the event has grown in participants and popularity every year from what started as a simple fundraiser six years ago.

“The first derby was a fundraiser for Mike Durkalec, the Cleveland Metroparks aquatic biologist who was in a bad car accident,” Warren said. “Now the derby proceeds go to the Cleveland Metroparks fishing fund, which is money earmarked for fish stocking, kids programs and stream cleanups.”

Warren participated in the first derby and took third place. He’s been organizing ever since.

Each year participation has grown, with last year drawing 129 fishermen. This year Warren is expecting about 150 anglers.

New for 2019 is a kids division for ages 16 and under. Warren is unsure what the turnout will be in the younger group but, nonetheless, it should still be a record turnout.

For those thinking it may be a little early in the year for a fishing tournament, late March is usually one of the best times to steelhead fish in the Great Lakes region.

“This is the season the fish are running up the rivers,” Warren said. “The streams warm up and the fish start moving in to spawn.”

The spring run of steelhead usually begins in late winter, with the run of fish peaking right around now, with potential to last into late April and early May depending on water temperature. When temperatures get too warm, the fish will move back to Lake Erie to spend the summer months.

The pure numbers of fish in rivers like the Rocky and Vermilion are enough to satisfy any anglers’ appetite for catching a steelhead this spring.

Derby registration begins at 8 a.m. at the Rocky River Marina Picnic Shelter with the weigh-in deadline at 2:30 p.m.

Participants must provide their own rods and, if age 16 or older, must possess a valid Ohio fishing license.

There will be a cookout at the marina along with a raffle that includes 19 gift packages ranging from $180 to $500 in value.

Registration is $30 for adults and $15 for the kids division. Both include lunch.

Contact Brad Zahar at
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