For the second year running Southeast’s largest king salmon derby has been canceled due to conservation concerns. Organizers in Wrangell had hoped to entice anglers with a coho derby instead. But it’s off to a slow start.
Wrangell’s coho salmon derby got underway August 10. Three days later only one guy has entered any fish. And neither weighed more than six pounds.
“Definitely slower than I expected. Only having two fish weighed in is a little disappointing,” said Wrangell’s Chamber of Commerce director Alicia Holder. The Chamber hosts the event. “We hope that will catch up in the next couple of weeks.”
The chamber’s only sold 50 derby tickets so far. They hope for even more by Labor Day when the derby ends.
Compare that with hundreds of king salmon derby tickets the chamber usually sells, making it the largest of its kind in Southeast. Derby chairman Shawn Curley said the smaller silver salmon don’t have the same draw.
“Because the king is an amazing fish. There’s nothing else like it,” he said.
The coho derby was dreamed up last year after Alaska Department of Fish and Game’s conservation measures effectively shut down summer king sportfishing in the area. And with it went a 65-year tradition.
There’s hope that the kings will rebound and the derby can return. But until then the coho contest and a Labor Day weekend halibut derby have taken its place with a chance to bag a tagged halibut worth $10,000 in prize money.
The rules have been tweaked this year. Last year the derby was judged on a three-fish cumulative weight, this time it’s for the single heaviest coho.
Last year’s derby was held on the weekends. This year it’s wide open until Labor Day.
The low enthusiasm may also reflect a slow start to the coho season.
The Wrangell area’s state sport fish biologist Patrick Fowler says the regional runs average about 10,000 coho. But last year was half that and this year it’s not looking much better.
“I would venture to guess that we’ll see coho catch rates improve over the next two weeks,” he said. “But it’s probably not going to be a banger year if we aren’t already seeing good catch rates.”
Each week the winning catch gets $250. The first through third place prizes for the entire competition are based off a percentage of ticket sales.
Last year’s heaviest coho was 16.8 pounds.