Drifting in front of Douglas Harbor at 7 a.m., there weren’t many boats pouring out for the Golden North Salmon Derby. Unlike year’s past, boat traffic only trickled: A Lund skiff here, a Nordic Tug there.
Did fishermen back out of the 71st annual derby because of Fish and Game’s Monday announcement outlawing the retention of king salmon in Southeast?
Nah. They were all just leaving from Auke Bay.
It was bumper-to-bumper per usual in Auke Bay Friday morning, several derby fishermen said.
Kami Bartness, a derby official at the Auke Bay weigh station, said they’ve validated about as many derby tickets as they did last year, king salmon ban be damned.
Though tough for some fishermen to swallow, Fish and Game’s regulations have a silver lining in the derby.
Easier to catch than kings, the smaller fish return in greater numbers than their big, royal cousins and don’t range as much in weight. When derby results are finalized, coho — known as silvers — will likely take most of the derby’s 71 prize spots.
All this means this year’s derby has been a shootout.
“That should be the title, ‘The silver lining.’ You have to use that,” Bartness said from the Auke Bay weigh station on Friday. “That’s what I’ve been telling people, there’s more of a level playing field this year. Because we have guys like Max Mielke, Ryan Beason, they know how to target the big kings. A lot of people don’t know how to fish kings, especially in mid August.”
Results for the derby will be finalized Tuesday. For up-to-date standings and reports from the dock and the water, check out the Empire’s live derby blog.
Bartness said complaints have been mum during the derby. Most people were just happy to fish a long weekend regardless of what species of fish they targeted.
Many were catching, too. As of 3 p.m. Friday, exactly 60 fish had been turned in at Auke Bay. Every boat the Empire talked to from the deck of the Sea Pirate, the Melino’s Marine Services boat we reported from Friday, had at least one fish on board.
None were catching more than Dylan Kubley, who had 10 fish on board by 1:30 p.m. Kubley and his partner Abbey Wilwert were shaking smaller coho from their lines to stay out longer. They would have had to quit fishing if either landed their sixth fish — that would have put them at Fish and Game’s daily limit for coho.
“We shook probably 12 cohos and 20 kings,” Kubley said. “Right before you guys showed up we had a king, a nice 31 incher we had to shake.”
Kubley and Wilwert fished near the derby boundary by Point Lizard Head. He fished a green hoochie, and on Wilwert’s line, an undisclosed color of hoochie.
The pair fish year-round together and were holding out hope for weighty fish to land them on the leaderboard.
“We’re trying to find a 14-20 pounder,” Kubley said. They had a 12 pounder already in the cooler.
“There’s a lot of fish out here, for sure. We’ve also caught like 200 pinks. It’s been up down up down all day,” Kubley said.
Right when the Empire pulled away, Wilwert had another on the line. Kubley netted it and pulled it in. When he gave it a bonk on the head with his gaff, it was clear this was a keeper.
“13 pounds!” he yelled across the water.
Kubley, like many fishing the derby, has a boss sympathetic to the derby’s pull. He was, after all, fishing near two of his bosses.
North of Point Lizard Head, Will Grooms fished with coworkers from Lyle’s and Jensen’s Home Furnishings and personnel from KINY. He had never caught a fish in Alaska in his 24 years living here.
His boss had paid for a trip out to the derby with Moore’s Charters, bringing Groom’s lifetime Alaska fish tally from zero to four.
“I’ve got my lucky balding head, it’s been working for me,” Grooms said. “Twenty-four years, first time I’ve ever been out in the derby.”
• Contact reporter Kevin Gullufsen at 523-2228 or firstname.lastname@example.org.