The following appears in the March issue of Alaska Sporting Journal:
BY CHRIS COCOLES
Homer will be the place to be in March for anglers looking to match their winter pastime with a chance to win some extra cash.
The Homer Winter King Salmon Tournament is set for Saturday, March 21, the 27th year of this popular event on the Kenai Peninsula.
This year’s event is expected to top the $171,000 in prize money awarded last year, when Shayna Perry collected $72,997.50 as the tournament’s first woman champion, thanks to her 26.70-pound fish.
We caught up with Nyla Lightcap, director of membership relations for the Homer Chamber of Commerce, who with an assist from Brad Anderson, executive director for the chamber, provided some details for this awesome Alaska winter tradition.
Chris Cocoles It’s another exciting anticipation of the Homer Winter King Salmon Tournament. What’s the buzz around town usually when the tournament gets close?
Nyla Lightcap The Homer Winter King Salmon Tournament has become the largest fishing tournament in Alaska, so the excitement around the event is pretty amazing. Last year we gave away over $171,000 in prize money, plus hundreds of gift prizes. Even locals who do not fish in the tournament come out to be a part of the festivities when the prize money and awards are handed out.
The timing of the tournament is great, because by March everyone is ready for something fun and exciting, and it’s great to see so many people in town supporting the local businesses.
CC This is year 27 of this event. How has the tournament evolved over the years into what it is today?
NL Yes, this is the 27th year of the Winter King Tournament. The Kachemak Bay is one of the most scenic areas you could ever have for a fishing tournament like this. So the sheer beauty of the region makes the day on the water special. Then, when you add in the level of prize money we offer plus gifts like Traeger grills, Yeti coolers, fishing gear and hundreds more items, the participants really feel that they have a chance to be a part of something very memorable.
CC How has the community in and around Homer – the volunteers and sponsors – contributed to this being such a popular event?
NL One of the biggest supporters of this event is the (City of Homer’s) Harbormaster’s Office. They really enjoy helping boaters get out and enjoy the waters around Homer, and it gives them a chance to attract those fishermen back to the region again.
Our major sponsors are Ulmer’s Drug & Hardware and Coal Point Seafoods. They have both been integral parts of the tournament since the beginning. We are incredibly lucky to have their ongoing support.
Because the event is so much fun to be around, we are able to get an excellent group of volunteers who contribute many hours of their time to keep it organized and fun. The majority of the volunteers have come back year after year, which adds to the level of service they provide.
It really is a great group of folks. The local businesses all benefit from the influx of visitors, so they are also very helpful in time and resources to make it all happen.
CC What are your expectations for this year’s event? Do the experts expect a good amount of kings to be caught?
NL Lots of fun and good fishing! Last year had the second highest level of entries ever and we are pacing ahead of that schedule this year. We gave away a record amount of prize money last year, so that has probably helped increase the interest in the 2020 event.
The registration fee did increase this year, which is the first increase in 24 years. Most of that money will go back out in extra prize payouts, which is already creating some excitement.
CC Considering it’s March on the Kenai, how much does weather affect whether or not it’s a successful tournament? Have you had some terrible weather experiences in the past?
NL Over the 27-year history, I believe there have been only a couple of times that the tournament had to be delayed due to weather. But that is always a potential issue. Fortunately, most of our participants are from Alaska and understand weather-related issues, so they come prepared for what Mother Nature deals them.
This year, we will have a couple of boats from Sea Tow traveling around the tournament waters to make sure everyone is acting in a safe manner and can stay ahead of issues.
CC How awesome of an atmosphere is it when you see all the excitement of the boats in the water and then the fish being brought back to be weighed?
NL The parade of boats coming back into the harbor is quite a sight to see. Last year there were 426 boats in the tournament and it gets exciting.
We have added some TV monitors this year where we will be live streaming the weigh-in process and leaderboard, so more people can join in the excitement of seeing who has the winning fish.
CC Tell us about the cash prizes this year and how competitive the anglers must be with so much at stake.
NL The top prize winner last year won $73,000 for her fish and we gave away around $171,000 in total prize money. That pool of prize money will be bigger this year, so expect to see even bigger payouts.
CC Looking ahead to the summer, how is the progress going for the new edition of the Homer Halibut Derby with a shorter tournament being planned?
NL We have decided to discontinue the Homer Halibut Derby after 34 years. It is being replaced with a two-day Homer Halibut Tournament on June 5-6. Based on the overall success and interest in the Winter King Salmon Tournament, we feel this will be the best way to support our local Homer businesses and provide more enjoyment for our participants. ASJ
Editor’s note: To register for the 2020 Homer Winter King Salmon Tournament, go to homerwinterking.com, and call (907) 235-7740 for more information.