Derby Days: Fishing the Dream
July 03, 2012
The Ketchikan King Salmon Derby has been an important part of Ketchikan’s identity as a sport fishing destination since 1944. That year, the now-defunct Alaska Sports and Wildlife Club organized the first king salmon derby, which lasted from May to September. The winner was Homan McLane, with a 44 lb. king. By 1948 the grand prize was a whopping $500 for the winning salmon. (SitNews Editor's Note: In today's dollars that would be equal to $4,767.95.)
Ketchikan King Salmon Derby Awards Ceremony during the 1951 derby.
As participation grew far and wide, so did the prizes and prize money. The grand prize in in 1950 was $5,000 in cash (SitNews Editor's Note: In today's dollars $47,679.46), and the first, second and third prizes were more than you could shake a salmon rod at: first prize was a 1950 4-door deluxe Chevrolet sedan; second prize was a 12 cubic foot freezer; and the third prize winner got a new 14-foot mahogany plywood skiff with a 5-horsepower Evinrude outboard. Fresh-off-the-assembly-line cars soon replaced cash as the grand prize, and roundtrip tickets to Hawaii via Pan American airlines later replaced the cars. In 1956, when Milton Fox landed the largest derby salmon ever caught, his 79 lb. king earned him a choice of roundtrip tickets to Hawaii or Mexico, plus $500 cash.
In 1954, Ketchikan King Salmon Derby, Inc. came into being under the Chamber’s sponsorship, and the Alaska Sports and Wildlife Club withdrew. In addition to sponsorship by the Chamber, early derbies were supported by the catches, which were sold to cover expenses. Proceeds from the derby paid for the updated 1950 Welcome Arch and construction of the Deer Mountain Hatchery in 1954. In 1969, the organization developed a scholarship fund for college students studying subjects related to fish and game. The scholarship fund continues today as managed by the Ketchikan Cabaret, Hotel, Restaurant and Retailers Association (CHARR) and is used to defray the cost of textbooks and tuition at Alaskan colleges and vocational schools.
This year’s derby took place over three consecutive weekends, beginning on Memorial Day weekend. 695 fish, amounting to more than 11,000 pounds of king salmon, were officially weighed in. The 2012 grand prize is $10,065 cash, part of a total of $85,000 in prizes awarded.
Since its inception, the derby has undergone a variety of incarnations including seasonal derbies and derbies for other salmon species; but what has always remained is a commitment to sportfishing at its best in “The Salmon Capitol of the World”.
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