• Chamber celebrates 20 years of slaying kings
By Sean Pearson
For many anglers in Alaska, there is just something about Homer’s Winter King Derby that signifies the beginning of fishing season. Homer Chamber of Commerce director, Monte Davis calls it a “rite of spring.”
Now, “spring” just has to make an actual appearance.
With 19 years under its belt, the Chamber has seen several derbies come and go. Some have obviously been more successful than others. And, in the world of winter king salmon derbies, 2012 was one of those tough years.
The threat of inclement weather on the Saturday of the tourney had tournament organizers scrambling to postpone the event to Sunday and get the word out to anglers. And while the bad weather threat near Homer proved to be more bark than bite, derby organizer Jim Lavrakas assures that the weather a bit further out on the water was quite inclement.
“It was nice closer to Homer, and a lot of people were really angry about the change,” he said. “But Larry Cabana went out early that day and said he was seeing winds at 25 miles per hour and seven-foot seas out by Diamond Gulch.”
Davis agreed that the weather had a significant impact on last year’s event.
“The week before last year’s derby, about 100 people contacted us at the chamber to report that they would be sitting this year’s derby out,” he explained. “Many of them had always fished the Winter King Tourney in the past. But, last year, they couldn’t even see their own boats,” due to heavy snow piled on them.
After hosting a yearly average of 850 anglers over the past eight derbies, 2012 dropped to just 473 anglers on 132 boats. Even the fish wouldn’t cooperate, as only 97 turned out for the annual event.
Both Davis and Lavrakas are hoping for a little better cooperation from the weather this year, but say it’s still a little far out to get an accurate sense of what Saturday’s weather will be like.
“We can fish 3-5 foot seas, but a 40-degree, 1-foot sea day is the best,” Lavrakas said. “Actually, tide plays a bigger influence in fishing. You need to have water moving under the boat for the bite to be active. We’ll be just starting a series of bigger tides this weekend and that’s perfect.”
Davis said he has been checking the weather patterns, and found that the good weather is supposed to carry into the next 10 days.
“That should be nice,” he said. “It will be brisk out there, but at least people can get out on the water.”
Lavrakas, who operates Skookum Charters out of Homer, said he’s only just now getting a feel for what this year’s fishing will be like. He just put his boat back in the water about 10 days ago.
“I’ve only been out to fish a couple times so far, including a charter I had on Saturday,” he said. “We hooked two kings and landed one, but the other boats around me did better that day. I was still a little rusty.”
One thing Lavrakas said he did notice was the lack of bait fish seen on his sounder.
“There was no bird activity on the water, and what bait I did see was spaced and spread out,” he said.
Lavrakas said he spends much of his time checking in with other captains who have been out on the water when he hasn’t, and has always found Homer captains to be very generous with information.
“Yes, there is competition for braggin’ rights, but it’s always friendly, and for a relatively new guy like me, I really appreciate that,” he said. “My general sense is that there are more kings to catch on the south side of the Bay, but the bigger kings are caught off the Bluffs and that stretch up to Anchor Point.”
He said that, generally, the colder the weather, the deeper the fish are. “At those times, you try to fish within 10 feet of the bottom,” he explained. “I only have two downriggers, so I spread them out — one deep off the bottom and the other 25 feet above the deeper rig.”
And, if that doesn’t work, Lavrakas has a few back-up superstitions available.
“Obviously, no bananas onboard,” he said. “But I also rub my lucky fish beads that the Chamber hands out when you register.”
Emmitt Trimble apparently had the luck with him last year, as he reeled in a 34.85-pounder worth just under $10,000. Trimble was fishing with Captain Joe Isenhour aboard the F/V Serenity.
With this being the 20th anniversary of the derby, the Chamber is celebrating the number 20 with new prizes, including a $220 payout for the first winter king weighing exactly 20 pounds.
According to Davis, Cafe Cups is also sponsoring a $250 prize for the largest white king. The winner will be determined at weigh-in.
And, to keep things exciting, Davis said he knows of at least six people who plan to fish from kayaks this year.
Seems like that might be a challenge, especially if a really big king strikes. However, Lavrakas pretty much has it down to a science.
“If a fish strips line, dives for the bottom and there’s seemingly no control of it, it’s a big ‘un,” he said. “If the rod is bouncing in the holder but the fish hasn’t pulled the line free from the clip and you have to pop it loose on your own, it’s probably just a ‘shaker,’ and not a keeper.”
But that’s not always the case.
“I’ve popped fish loose many times and set the hook,” he said. “Then, the fish wakes up and decides it’s a king salmon – and away to the races you go.”
Lavrakas said he loves feeder kings over all other fish because of the fight they put up, the uncertainty of landing them and, of course, how they grill.
“Their super fatty meat is the best,” he said. “It’s like butta!”
The entry fee for this year’s Winter King Salmon Derby is still $100 per angler, and entry forms and side bet forms can be downloaded from the Winter King Tournament website, or by calling the Chamber at 235-7740 to register by phone. For more information, call Paula Frisinger at the Chamber at the same number.
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