History of Valdez Fish Derbies: 55 Years of Fabulous Fishing

History Written by Laurie Prax

When it comes to a fish story, everyone has a different tale. And when the story begins more than 50 years ago, there are many colorful and varied details. To re-create the history of the Valdez Silver Salmon Derby, started in 1952, Chamber records were scoured and interviews were conducted with previous organizers and officials as well as local anglers and business people.

Different people have been credited with starting the Silver Salmon Derby, but everyone agrees it was started by local business people and later picked up and run under the auspices of the Chamber of Commerce. When the Chamber closed its doors in the late 1990s, a small group of volunteers ran the derby using the Gaming Permit of the Valdez Convention & Visitors Bureau. The derby currently is its own non-profit corporation run by seven volunteer committee members.

In the early days, anglers were fishing for wild stock Coho salmon in the derby. The traditional return of wild stock Cohos to Corbin Creek was about 9,000 fish annually, according to Dave Cobb of the Valdez Fisheries Development Association. Cobb said the derby has grown exponentially with the silver return over the years.

The Silver Derby ran for 30 years before the inception of a Valdez Halibut Derby, which was started in the mid-‘80s by Darrell Shreve and Jim Heston. In the late ‘90s the halibut derby was changed from a large fish derby to a target weight derby. In 2002, the big fish derby returned with a $10,000 prize for the largest fish caught.

The Pink Salmon Derby started in 1991 as a four-day derby with a $500 prize each day, and a Kids Pink Salmon Derby day was held in 2001. The Pink Salmon Derby was discontinued due to low ticket sales, but in 2008, the Kids Pink Salmon Derby made a comeback with a free one-day tournament open to kids age 5 through 16, and continues to this day.

As we look back through the years it’s remarkable to see how the Fish Derbies have grown. With $80,000 in cash and prizes at stake, it’s refreshing that most anglers are fishing for the sport of it. Sure, the prizes make it more exciting but it’s one of the few contests where you get to spend a wonderful day on the water win or lose.

Go to www.valdezfishderbies.com for more information.

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