The Kenai Silver Salmon Derby returns this weekend for a third straight year with some big prizes to be given out over six derby days.
The fishing derby will award no less than $1,000 to a lucky winner at the conclusion of the event Sept. 22, while also sending home six additional winners with cash prizes over the six derby days. The event features two rounds over the next two weekends — Sept. 13 through Sept. 15, as well as Sept. 20 through Sept. 22.
Billed as “The World’s Most Responsible Fishing Tournament,” the event is hosted by the Kenai Chamber of Commerce and Visitor Center and the City of Kenai. The derby raises funds for the nonprofit Kenai Community Foundation, which helps manage and improve river banks and riparian zones along the Kenai River. The riparian zone is the river bank or area of land immediately along a river bank.
Kenai City Manager Paul Ostrander said the Silver Salmon Derby is organized to benefit the health of the Kenai River and the silver salmon population while also providing an incentive to enjoy the river and go home a winner.
“It’s a community event, and that’s the cool part about it,” Ostrander said. “It’s a great opportunity for residents to enjoy the river and do the things they love, but also to give them a little something extra to do. Beyond going out and fishing, it’s a whole (different) element for those folks … the river is the heartbeat of our communities and we try to focus on the conservation of that.”
Instead of the top prize going to the fisherman that snags the biggest fish, every fish caught that weighs in at 4 pounds or heavier will have an equal chance at winning the top prize at the end of the tournament, as well as a daily prize doled out each evening.
Each evening, a wheel will be spun to generate a random number that will be matched to the closest weight of a fish caught that day.
Every fish entered will be eligible for the daily winner, plus the overall derby winner.
Ostrander said because the biggest catch will not be an advantage to winning the daily or final prize, it is hoped that the process of catch-and-release will be limited.
“We’re doing it in a way that will encourage the best practices for fishing,” he said. “It’s something when we were talking about marketing the derby. We all thought it would be kind of a cool thing to put out there … that any fish can win. It discourages anyone going out there and looking for that big fish.”
Derby tickets of $10 per day or $50 for the whole derby are available at the Kenai Chamber of Commerce and Visitor Center, Three Bears and Sportsman’s Warehouse. A limit of three fish per day will be allowed at the weigh-in station at Three Bears.
The first two years of the event have seen mixed results. Ostrander said after 139 entries came through in the inaugural event in 2017, last year’s participation dropped sharply to 73, although Ostrander said some of that could be attributed to poor weather that contributed to the river running dirty. The first year was also a straight five-day tournament.
The inaugural 2017 derby also saw a more varied entry list, while last year’s participants all hailed from the peninsula.
In order to draw in more competition, Ostrander said organizers have brought in sponsors this year to help grow the final prize amount, which will be at least $1,000 on the final day.