First time is a charm for rookie derby angler

Sarah Blinkhorn sat day-dreaming in a boat with her boyfriend and his brother Saturday and didn't see her bobber disappear under the Diamond Lake surface.

"They yelled, 'Jerk!' and I didn't know what they meant, so it got away," says Blinkhorn, 26, of Sutherlin. "But I got the second one right."

Turns out Blinkhorn picked the perfect time and place to catch her first fish on her first-ever fishing trip.

Her nearly 6-pound rainbow trout won the greenhorn Blinkhorn $1,000 during Saturday's Rainbow $5,000 fishing derby at this eastern Douglas County lake, proving that the 15th annual derby really is an every man's — and every woman's — chance to fish like the professionals for cash.

Her 25-inch trout weighed 5 pounds, 15 ounces, the biggest of three fish over 5 pounds weighed in for the derby. It topped a leader board that paid cash to the owners of the 30 heaviest fish caught by registered anglers that day.

The derby is organized by Medford's Black Bird Shopping Center, whose representatives gave Blinkhorn her $1,000 check without realizing they could have easily given her a First Fish certificate along with it.

"I'll be damned," says Mike McMullen, one of the main organizers of the derby for Black Bird. "Think about it — light gear, 3-pound test leader and all the weeds in that lake. It's hard to catch a big fish. But first fish?

"How the hell she caught that fish I'll never know," he says.

Nearly 900 anglers braved the postal carrier's trifecta — rain, sleet and snow — on a cold and windy day on Diamond Lake.

The derby paid off in a sliding scale, with second place netting $750 and third place fetching $500. Prizes descended in value down to $100 for 10th place. The 11th- to 20th-place finishers each won $75, while the 21st- to 30th-place finishers earned $50 each.

Along with competing for $5,000 in cash prizes, contestants plied the lake for six tagged fish that could have pushed the winnings even higher. Five fish sport green tags worth $100 apiece and one — dubbed the Lithia Lunker because it's sponsored by Lithia Body and Paint — carries a brown tag worth $1,000 to whomever catches it.

None of those bonus fish were caught Saturday, but the cash prizes are still available for anyone who catches them legally at Diamond Lake this season, which ends Oct. 31, McMullen says. Anyone who catches one of the tagged fish should check it in at Diamond Lake Resort.

The derby included a kids division won by Bryson Kievit for an 18-inch trout that weighed 2 pounds, 7 ounces. That was 2 ounces heavier than second place finisher Cody Bagshaw, though Bagshaw's fish measured a half-inch longer than Kievit's.

Blinkhorn, who is a cashier at the Bi-Mart store in Roseburg, says part of her winnings will go toward July's rent and the rest will go toward a vacation to San Luis Obispo, Calif., from which she hails.

And there's another day on the water in Blinkhorn's future.

"Fishing?" she says. "Oh, well, I love it now."

Reach reporter Mark Freeman at 541-776-4470 or

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