The following appears in the April issue of Alaska Sporting Journal:
PHOTOS BY HOMER CHAMBER OF COMMERCE
BY CHRIS COCOLES
In the winter of 2020, the community of Homer was busily preparing for the 27th installment of its popular winter king salmon tournament.
But then COVID-19 caught wind of the annual celebration of fishing and ruined everyone’s plans. The tournament was postponed and then ultimately cancelled for 2020.
Since then the pandemic has wreaked havoc worldwide, affecting seemingly everyone in some way. But as vaccines have arrived in Alaska and signs of an impending return to normalcy are evident, the Homer Winter King Salmon Tournament is now set for April 17 and will feature a healthy dose of coronavirus safety protocols.
We caught up with Brad Anderson, executive director of the Homer Chamber of Commerce and Visitors Center, for some details about one of Homer’s signature events on the calendar.
Chris Cocoles We’re so glad you’re able to put on the 2021 Homer Winter King Tournament. How exciting is it for you to be able to get this going again?
Brad Anderson We are so thrilled to be able to bring back the tournament after such a difficult year. Not only is this a time when Alaskans get out and enjoy the beautiful fishing waters of Kachemak Bay, but for the community it is a symbolic event that says winter is behind us and summer is around the corner. We decided to shift it to April 17 so we could improve the chances that we could pull it off. The vaccination rate for Homer and Alaska has been going extremely well, so more people are feeling better about getting out and interacting with their neighbors. April should have less chances for weather delays, so we can’t wait to see everyone again.
CC And with that optimism, how frustrating was it last year – as the pandemic really became a crisis right around the time you were preparing for the tournament – that you had ultimately had to cancel this and other events?
BA We know we disappointed many people with last year’s decision, but we really had no choice. It had been running for 26 consecutive years, so it was very hard to break that successful track record. We tried to shift the date but ran into conflicts with Easter and the COVID situation was not showing signs of improving. So many of our area businesses benefit from all the people coming into Homer for this event, it was hard not to see how it was having a direct impact on their businesses and employees.
CC Obviously, so many communities struggled in 2020 with COVID-19, but how difficult was it in Homer to cancel the tournament, which is such a big event and draws so many visitors?
BA The Winter King Tournament drew around 1,400 anglers and 400 boats to the last event in 2019. That generates a lot of economic activity, so when you remove that from a time of the year when business is typically very slow, it has an impact. But most businesses had signs of what was developing and started making adjustments early in the year.
CC Tell us about the planning that went into putting on this 2021 event, which is later on the calendar on when the tournament usually falls.
BA First off, we wanted to make sure we had every chance to make the event happen this year. We knew COVID was still going to play a factor on what we would be allowed to do and how comfortable people would be with having this event in the community. So the committee first worked on what modifications would be necessary to deal with those factors. Our healthcare contacts felt that if we were able to move into April, that the vaccine would be broadly available by that point and that weather would make it easier to have the events in more spacious outdoor areas.
But we had to also consider that after April 1, the king salmon regulations kick in and the fish caught would go towards the anglers’ annual limit. So we had to weigh the pros and cons of a March date and an April date. The April 17 date had many more pros for this year, so that became our new date, but for this year only. It will return to the third Saturday in March again in 2022.
CC What are some of the details you can share about what to expect on April 17 in Homer? Are you anticipating a big turnout?
BA For the previous 26 years, we had a continued growth in registrations as the event gained in popularity and the prize money got bigger. We are expecting a smaller turnout this year, but it will attract enough people to keep the prize amounts at strong levels. We have added elements to our tournament website (homerwinterking.com), so now in addition to registering for the tournament, you can also add in the boat side (pot) tournaments. This is another great way to improve your chance of winning some big money from this tournament.
We are moving the event area over to a larger section of Homer Harbor so we can allow for more social distancing and better use of outdoor areas. Each registered boat will get a free night of mooring in Homer Harbor, either Friday or Saturday night; you will get free boat launching and free parking.
CC What kind of impact will the later date have on this year’s event? Perhaps the potential for better weather?
BA April should allow for better weather with a reduced chance the tournament will have a weather delay. In April, many of our longtime fishermen say there will be larger kings in the ocean waters around the bay, so we might see some record-sized fish caught this year.
CC You list the COVID-19 protocols on your website, but can you give the rundown on them and the importance of everyone staying safe and healthy?
BA We will be abiding by the most updated state COVID and CDC guidelines, and we have healthcare professionals that we are consulting with to make it as safe as possible. All of the tournament registration process and side tournaments can now be done online at homer- winterking.com, so people will not have to gather in the usual large numbers at the chamber office to register in person.
All of our event activities will take place outdoors. We have moved the public event elements into larger spaces so we can keep non-related groups of people separated. We are asking people to wear face coverings when they are in areas where others might be. We will have face coverings available for anyone who forgot theirs, and there will be numerous hand-sanitizing stations. All staff and tournament officials will be using face coverings.
CC Can you break down some of the cash/prizes and sponsor information for the Homer Winter King Salmon Tournament?
BA The amount of the cash prizes will be determined by the number of anglers in the tournament. Seventy percent of the registration and side tourney money goes back out as cash prizes. In 2019, we handed out over $171,000 in total prize money, with the top winning king earning nearly $80,000. We offered an early prize drawing for a $500 Bass Pro Shop/ Cabela’s gift card for those participants who registered by March 21. We will be handing out thousands of dollars in hourly prize packages during the tournament. Our presenting sponsor is Ulmer’s Drug and Hardware, which has been with the tournament since its beginning 27 years ago. Other sponsors include the UPS Store, The Kachemak Gear Shed, Muslow & Agnew LLC, Homer Port & Harbor, Bass Pro Shops and Cabela’s.
CC Finally, it’s hopeful now that we’ll be able to get back to normal later this year, but how great will it be for morale to have this tournament back in Homer after having to cancel last year?
BA The Homer Winter King Tournament has been happening for 27 years, so there is a strong history to this event. The Homer community is very excited to have public events like this start to return once again, and the local businesses are looking forward to welcoming visitors once again. Having this event kick off the 2021 season will give a big morale boost to Homer and we can’t wait to share our beautiful town with our friends once again. People can find more information about the event and register at homerwinterking.com and follow us on the Homer Winter King Salmon Tournament Facebook page (@HomerWinterKingSalmonTournament). ASJ