With the first Kenai River Silver Salmon Derby officially closed, the Kenai Chamber of Commerce is calling it a success.
The derby organizers weighed their last salmon Sunday evening after five days of determining random “magic” winning weights and awarding daily prizes to the adult and youth anglers with the fish closest to that weight. Fishermen brought in 266 salmon to be weighed over the course of those five days, said Kenai Chamber of Commerce President and COO Johna Beech.
“It went really well,” she said. “We are considering it to be a success.”
All those tickets were sold between Sept. 12 and Sept. 17, too, she said. The chamber, which partnered with the city of Kenai and with the Kenai Community Foundation to put on the derby, didn’t get the final green light for the derby from the Alaska Department of Natural Resources’ Division of Parks and Outdoor Recreation until Aug. 28. That meant the chamber couldn’t sell tickets early or do a lot of marketing to attract people to the peninsula to participate in the derby.
A few of the participants were from Anchorage or outside, but most were locals, Beech said.
“For the most part, it wasn’t a mass exodus, which was kind of nice that we kept it local, just for the first year so we can work out the kinks,” she said.
Most of those kinks are administrative, she said. By and large, the system the chamber worked out went over well — each evening, the organizers spun a set of wooden wheels at the Three Bears grocery store in Kenai to determine the magic weight for the day, and the fish that weighed in closest to that won the daily prize. The organizers chose to do the magic weight system after concerns arose about increasing the number of fish caught and released if the prize system worked on the largest fish caught.
At the end of the derby, they spun the wheel again to determine the overall winner, which this year went to Kendall Soares in the adult category for a 12.3-pound silver and Lily Craig in the youth category with a 12.19-pound silver, both only a hair away from the magic weight of 12.32 pounds.
The daily weights were completely random and covered a wide range from day to day — the highest was Friday, when the magic number was 21.12 pounds and the lowest was Sunday, when the number was only 5.7 pounds.
“Everybody really liked doing the wheels,” Beech said. “We actually every night had a little crowd waiting to see what the weight was going to be. … We spun for the overall number, and I was actually nervous. I think it was just the excitement.”
The youth category had only nine participants, Beech said. A pair of siblings dominated the winner’s circle for the youth category — Joseph and Lily Craig alternated on winning the prize from Friday through Sunday, including one day where there was only one youth entry.
Their father, Nathaniel Craig, gave credit to the staff at Trustworthy Hardware and Fishing in Soldotna for help on reeling in silvers.
“I would like to give a special thanks to the staff at Trustworthy Hardware … who took the time to educate us on how to rig our fishing lures, best colors to use, and techniques to reel in the big ones,” he said in an email. “They have always been extremely helpful, kind to my family, and have the best prices in town!”
Joseph Craig won the youth category Friday and Sunday, with a 12.13-pound fish and a 13.95-pound fish, respectively; Lily Craig took home the youth prize Saturday with a 9.72-pound fish and the overall prize.
One of the chamber’s main goals for the derby is to help buff out the shoulder season in Kenai, when the tourism traffic is dying down for the winter. The organizers kept it relatively simple this year, using the same weight for the adult and youth categories, but they hope to do more advertising next year before the event kicks off, Beech said.
Reach Elizabeth Earl at firstname.lastname@example.org.