Jan Herron displays the 41.2-pound fish that won Wrangell's 2008 derby (KSTK)

Jan Herron displays the 41.2-pound fish that won Wrangell’s 2008 derby (KSTK)

Wrangell fishermen are getting their gear ready for the chamber of commerce’s king salmon derby. But some anglers in other towns are already out on the water.

Organizers say things are looking good for this year’s Wrangell King Salmon Derby.

Now, organizers are always optimistic. But this year, they’ve got evidence.

“I’ve been seeing some pictures on Facebook. People are already out there catching fish. So I think it’s going to be a great year,” says Cyni Waddington, who runs the derby for Wrangell’s Chamber of Commerce.

The organization promises more than $30,000 in prizes for contestants. They range from $6,000 for the overall biggest Chinook to smaller prizes for youth and seniors.

Not all winners get cash.

“One of the local Native artists … does a sterling silver salmon bracelet for the woman who catches the biggest fish in the derby and that’s very popular,” she says.

Wrangell’s salmon derby runs through the first week in June.

Ketchikan, Sitka, Haines and Petersburg have salmon derbies over the Memorial Day weekend. Ketchikan continues for two more weekends, Haines and Sitka for one.

Skagway’s Game Fish Derby is near the end of June. And Craig and Klawock have one running this and next month, with another starting in July.

Juneau has two large derbies, and one is already underway.

“It seems like the run is just fantastic this year. I don’t hear anyone complaining about long rod hours. Everybody’s catching,” says Leslie Isturis, organizer of the capital city’s Spring King Salmon Derby.

It’s a project of the regional Central Council of Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska. Proceeds go to scholarships.

The contest runs all of this month, and the prize for the top fish is $10,000.

Isturis says other payouts are a little different from last year.

“Rather than have a lot of the money in the regular prize listing, we split it up between daily and weekly prizes,” she says.

Juneau’s longest-running derby, the Golden North, runs the second weekend in August.

Many of the prizes are goods or services rather than cash.

Wrangell’s Waddington says that’s part of the fun.

“We actually get lots of prizes from the community … for derby award night. We just basically go down the ladder from the largest weight. I think last year everybody who entered a fish got a prize of some sort,” she says.

Tlingit-Haida’s derby has its own collection of prizes donated by individuals and businesses.

Isturis says there’s even a mystery prize, donated by two local carvers.

“They gave me a check inside an envelope and they said we’ll let you know about half-way through what the weight is. They won’t even tell me,” she says.

The derbies help merchants sell fishing gear, groceries, and other important supplies, such as beer.

Wrangell’s Waddington says they also promote tourism.

“There’s a good number of people who come from other places in Alaska, but there’s definitely a good number of people who come from the Lower 48 as well, who make this one of their travel destinations to come fishing,” she says.

Anglers should have a better chance to catch the big one this year.

The resident bag limit is three kings a day, 28 inches or larger, with no annual limit. That’s up from one a day in 2013.