The sixth annual Kenai Silver Salmon Derby came to a close Monday as the final magic weight was determined and overall winners were announced.
To enable anglers of any skill level to compete, as well as to discourage the pursuit of only the largest fish, the winning magic weight was determined by spinning two wheels each day of competition. One wheel — numbered 4-14 — signifies pounds, the second — numbered 0-9 — is spun twice to determine both tenths and hundredths of a pound.
A magic weight was determined for every day of competition to award daily prizes, but after competition ended on Sunday, Monday’s closing ceremony pooled every fish caught during the derby to award a grand prize of $5,000 in the adult division and $1,000 in the youth division.
City of Kenai Mayor Brian Gabriel spun the two wheels and produced a magic weight of 5.36 pounds. If multiple fish had been caught at that weight, multiple winners would have to split the prize, but only one winner was named for each division.
Ronald Duval claimed the $5,000 prize, with a fish weighing 5.32 pounds, the closest to the magic weight caught by an adult.
Abigail Craig, a 5-year-old, brought home $1,000 with a fish weighing exactly 5.36 pounds. Craig was overwhelmed and began crying, her sister carrying her up for a photo with Gabriel.
Nathaniel Craig, Abigail’s father, said the family fished five days of the derby, Wednesday through Sunday.
“We generally wake up at 3 a.m. every morning,” Craig said. “The kids get to snuggle under the sleeping bag with our dog Bucky, we get to watch the stars. … It’s a blast.”
Craig said his family has participated in the event since its inception in 2017, competing in each year besides 2020.
“Everyone has a good sense of camaraderie, and they’re cheering on the kids and congratulating them as they’re able to land the fish,” he said.
Abigail’s siblings have been competing in the derby for years. Her older sister Lily won the youth division in 2017, and older brother Joseph claimed the title in 2021. Craig said this was actually Abigail’s first showing.
“She’s a little spitball,” he said. “She really likes getting out there, waking up and going fishing. You know, as long as it’s not too cold.”
Craig said Abigail caught the fish using a Mag Lip 4.5 plug. He said the kids rotate fishing out of the back of the boat.
“We had a good mix this year of catching fish on both plugs and eggs.”
Over the five days the family competed, they caught and submitted 29 fish.
Craig said after a quick visit to the toy store for some Gabby’s Dollhouse cat figures and to AK Crazy Collector in Soldotna for some Pokémon cards, the prize money will go into Abigail’s savings.
During a speech at the award ceremony, Kenai City Manager Paul Ostrander said that the derby was a success.
“This was definitely the most participants that we had, and fishing apparently was pretty good because I saw a lot of people got limits most days.”