The days to fish are fewer, but the ways to win have grown by thousands.
In past years, the Homer Jackpot Halibut Derby, an event sponsored by the Homer Chamber of Commerce and Visitor Center, began May 1 with anglers continuing to drop their hooks in area waters in hopes of snagging a winning fish until the end of September. This year, however, the derby begins May 15 — Tuesday — and ends mid September.
“The truth of the matter is we sold very few tickets and it was a lot of extra work for us that really wasn’t worth it, so we shortened it by a month,” said Monte Davis, chamber and visitor center executive director. It’s a change derby organizers “don’t think will affect the bottom line of the derby at all,” he said.
What will affect anglers, however, is the biggest change made since last year.
“It’s changed from being a big-fish-only derby to being more of a catch-and-release, tagged-fish, conservation-minded derby,” said Davis. “We feel really strongly about getting the idea out there that the more of those 70-, 225-, 250-pound fish we can leave in the water that we know are egg-laying hens, the better off we all are. ... With the declining halibut stocks we’ve seen coming for years and years, the halibut derby committee felt a change really needed to be done, so they took the bull by the horns.”
Not something easy to do when the event has run successfully since 1986.
“But looking forward, it’s fairly obvious we needed to do something,” said Davis.
There will still be a big-fish competition, with a prize of $10,000. There also will be a $5,000 drawing open to anybody that buys a derby ticket and participates.
The “released fish” prize is another effort to encourage anglers possessing valid derby tickets to release halibut weighing more than 50 pounds. There will be a monthly drawing for a $1,000 cash prize and a season-long drawing for $5,000.
It’s the thousands of other prizes that Davis thinks will snag anglers’ attention.
“This is the good news. Every previous year tagged fish is now worth at least $100 that will be paid in Homer bucks,” said Davis “We know we’ve been tagging about 100 fish for each of the last 20 years, so when I saw ‘thousands,’ I mean thousands. ... We can legitimately say there are thousands of ways for you to win.”
Homer bucks, made to resemble $5 bills, are a chamber and visitor center way of encouraging local shopping. Member businesses are encouraged to accept the bucks as they would cash and then exchange them at the chamber for a check totaling the amount of the bucks submitted.
The derby’s emphasis on tagged fish helped the chamber reel in a couple big-ticket tags.
“We’ve got the GCI $50,000 tagged fish and then Stanley Ford of Kenai has a Ford F-150 tagged fish,” said Davis. “We know we have the two biggest prizes ever offered for tagged fish.
Each tag caught and the name of the person catching it will be secured in a vault until the derby ends in September.
“Then we’ll open the vault and see if it’s the $50,000 tag or the Ford F-150 or any of the five $10,000 tags, I don’t know how many $5,000 tags and a whole bunch of $1,000 tags,” said Davis. “We won’t know any of them until after Sept. 15. We’re going to try to build the suspense.”
The delay serves another purpose, also.
“When that 350-pound fish was caught on Father’s Day in 2011, ticket sales plummeted for 10 days,” said Davis of anglers thinking they didn’t stand a chance next to the monstrous fish caught that day by Chad Aldridge of Sterling.
In 2011, there were 14,000 of the $10 derby tickets sold, a decrease from the 16,000 usually purchased by derby anglers. Davis expects that number will increase this year.
“Now, with the focus more on tagged fish, we think we’ll sell a lot more tickets,” he said.
Derby tickets can be purchased at many local businesses, as well as in the mornings at the derby weigh-in station prior to leaving the harbor for a day of fishing.
For more information, visit www.homeralaska.org.
McKibben Jackinsky can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.