By Hannah Heimbuch
As winter makes its final claims on Kachemak Bay, eager anglers are gearing up for Homer’s popular king salmon derby, coming up next weekend on March 22.
Event coordinators this year are welcoming a new official group of derby participants – kayakers. While paddle-powered craft aren’t your typical derby transport, there’s been large enough interest to warrant some event expansion.
“There’s a contingent from Anchorage that comes down pretty regularly,” said Homer Chamber of Commerce Director Jim Lavrakas of the paddling fishers. “They either launch from Anchor Point, or a lot of times they’ll launch from the end of the spit, and troll around the green can.”
After some unofficial participation in past years, it was time to give the kayak crew a category of their own to compete in, he said.
“Just to add something new and open up the categories more,” Lavrakas said.
Other new features include live video feed of the weigh-in, sometimes a lengthy process. Viewers won’t be able to see the scale – the committee didn’t want to dissuade people from entering if they don’t think their fish is top dog – but the current 20th place fish will be announced every 10 minutes throughout the weigh-in.
That’s not the only derby-digital addition to this year’s event. Participants are encouraged to enter a Youtube video contest after pulling up their lines, compiling their favorite footage from the day and posting it with #201homerwinterking by May 15.
The winner will be highlighted through the Chamber, receive a prize, likely a sweatshirt and pin, Lavrakas said, and of course claim video bragging rights.
Event leaders are hoping that new features and advertising, on cable and network television as well as in Anchorage newspapers, will lead to the biggest turnout in the Derby’s 20-year history. Last year brought in about 700 anglers, Lavrakas said, and their record was just over 1,000 in 2005.
More anglers mean a more successful fundraising effort for the Chamber, and a larger pot for fishermen, Lavrakas said.
Some of the new strategies, as well as others that will come into play next year, are geared toward not only interesting more anglers, but motivating more summer fishermen to get their boats wet during the off season.
“One of the restrictions or limitations that we have with this tournament is that there’s a finite number of seats available on charter boats here,” Lavrakas said. “We’re trying to think of another way to give them some incentive to put their boats in the water.”
The Chamber used to keep a waiting list for anglers eager to find a spot on a boat, but it didn’t seem fair that — more often than not — those spots just weren’t coming up.
“We’re telling people that our tournament is so popular that all our charters are booked,” Lavrakas said. “So you need to find your best friend who owns a boat and come on down.”
Self-proclaimed fair weather fisherman Cathie Ulmer of Homer plans to hit the waves with her family.
“My plan includes going on our catamaran, the Showtime, if the seas cooperate,” Ulmer said. “Captain Scott and perhaps our sons will complete our team.”
She’s hoping for clear skies, and hungry fish, she said.
“We’re really excited, with the additions and the changes this year,” Lavrakas said. The committee has worked really hard to make this a more exciting tournament this year.”
As fisherman seek out that winning king, they are reminded that the bag limit within tournament boundaries is two kings per day. The boundary lines are the Coast Guard marker light at Anchor Point extending offshore on a line at 59°46’142” North, to the west boundary at 152°00’00” West, running south to a line at 59°25’00” North, which runs east to point south of Point Pogibshi.
Lines go into the water at 9 a.m. on Saturday morning, and out at 4 p.m.
Anglers can register day-of at Coal Point on the Homer Spit. Registration is $100 per person. You’ll need a sport fishing license and a king stamp to participate.
The 2014 prizes are slated to include more than $100,000 worth of cash and merchandise awards. Last year’s first place winner, Leszek Kuligowski, took home $15,372 for his 35.1 pound winning king. Second and third took home $10,248 and $8,052 respectively.
The top 20 fish are awarded cash prizes, a percentage of the total entry fees collected.
This year coordinators hope to have the awards ceremony wrapped by 7 p.m., and welcome participants to a seafood chowder dinner at Land’s End during the proceedings.
Landing those big fish isn’t the only way to win at the Homer Winter King Derby. The raffle this year includes two prizes, with the first ticket drawn getting dibs on which one they’ll take home. Raffle prizes this year are a gift pass for two adults for Denali Star GoldStar Service roundtrip from Anchorage to Fairbanks, valued at $1,344, and two roundtrip ERA tickets from Homer to Anchorage — valued at $780.
Raffle tickets are $10, or three for $20.
Cafe Cups will also be sponsoring a $250 prize for the largest white king to come over the rail.
Back by popular demand is the bellringer giveaway, when angler’s names are drawn randomly throughout the day, every 15 minutes. Stay tuned to VHS channel 69 to hear if your name is up for any of these sponsor-donated prizes, including lodging and gear — often totally more than $15,000 over the course of the day.
For more information on the event, prizes, rules and registration, visit the Homer Chamber of Commerce website at homeralaska.org. Sport fishing regulations can be found at adfg.alaska.gov.
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