Come Home To Homer For This Saturday’s Winter King Tournament

The following appears in the March issue of Alaska Sporting Journal:

Have you kissed your prized salmon catch? Excitement is building for the Homer Winter King Salmon Tournament, set for Saturday, March 23. (NOAH DOUGLAS VISUALS)


After a difficult stretch that included one cancellation and restrictions during the Covid pandemic, plus weather-related postponements the last two years and some other shuffling of dates, the Homer Winter King Salmon Tournament is happy to move ahead in 2024.

This year’s event is set for March 23, and tournament organizers with the Homer Chamber of Commerce & Visitor Center hope the last few years of adversity are behind them (though Alaska’s always unpredictable weather may have other plans).

“We are absolutely full-speed ahead for this year and going forward. During 2021 and 2022, we shifted to an April timeframe, but our anglers spoke out very clearly that our traditional timeframe of March is better,” says Brad Anderson, executive director of the Homer Chamber. “This will be our 30th annual tournament, and it has grown to become the signature fishing event in Alaska and the West Coast.”


As this signature Kenai Peninsula event hits 30 years old this month, it’s evolved both in terms of finding the right time to hold it and adapting to its popularity within the port of Homer, where Kachemak Bay meets Cook Inlet.

“Early on, this actually took place in February. But that made it too difficult for most people to get their boats out of the snow and fish,” says Anderson, who added that a brief foray in the other direction with an April start seemed to also miss the mark in terms of the timing of catching kings in and around Homer.

The third weekend in March – weather permitting, of course – seems to be the perfect time for optimal fishing success and the transition from winter to spring.

A recent shift in location also proved beneficial.

“In 2021, we moved the event area to its new much larger space by the Deep Water Dock in the Homer Harbor. This gives us the ability to create more of an event for anglers and spectators,” Anderson says.

“March is still a time when many of our seasonal businesses have not opened yet, but our restaurants, hotels, marine shops and retail outlets work hard to make it an enjoyable experience for those traveling down to Homer.”

2023 winner Gail Bilyeu’s 26-plus-pound king yielded a total of over $62,000 in combined prize money and side bet earnings. (LB PHOTOGRAPHY)


Anderson says that as Covid unfolded, the state’s gaming laws changed, providing nonprofits like the Homer Chamber of Commerce the chance to create more tournament elements – especially the always popular side bets between boats – and present them on the event’s website (

“So registering and adding side tourneys is much easier and can all be done anytime up to the morning of the tournament,” he adds. “For the side tourneys, we have a live feed that shows what teams have entered each category and what that pool of money looks like to help with deciding what works best for their team.”

The side bets add a whole level of competition to the excitement of the event. While the biggest fish prize continues to be lucrative, the side bets can really earn the lucky angler some big bucks. Last year’s champion Gail Bilyeu – his winning king weighed 26.12 pounds – earned $62,036 in cash, a tally that combines the base award and all the side pots, the latter of which represented over $38,000 of his total winnings.

“In all but one year (since 2017), the tournament champion won more money from the side tourneys than the registration pool because each of those teams entered the maximum of five side tourney categories,” Anderson says. “The amounts ranged from $32,000 to $46,000. Combined with their registration pool winnings, the total payouts were $53,500 to $87,000. That makes for some very happy champions and their teammates.”

“This really is that symbolic event that puts winter in the background and to get excited about all the outdoor adventures ahead,” says Brad Anderson, executive director of the Homer Chamber of Commerce, who adds the tourney boosts the local economy and is a chance to show off the harbor facilities, “some of the best in Alaska.” (NOAH DOUGLAS VISUALS)


In Alaska, winters can be long, cold and dark, which is hardly a breaking news shocker, but as the promise of summer, long days and great fishing nears, this March tournament is somewhat of a conduit between the end of winter and literally brighter days ahead.

“This really is that symbolic event that puts winter in the background and to get excited about all the outdoor adventures ahead. As March is a quieter time in Homer, this tournament greatly boosts our economy,” Anderson says. ”It also allows us to show off harbor facilities, some of the best in Alaska. We have these ‘winter kings’ in our ocean waters year-round, so it also gives us a chance for people to understand our fishing waters better.”

Anderson has heard positive vibes from the fishing savants around Homer that there should be some nice fish for the taking come March 23.

And as recent tournaments have shown, just about anyone can score that big Chinook that means a profitable payday with the $150 registration fee per angler and side pots at stake.

“In 2019, we had our first female champion (Shayna Perry), who walked away with $72,998,” Anderson says. “Then, when we came back in 2021, (after the Covid cancellation), we had our youngest champion, 10-year-old Andrew Marley. His winnings were $87,027, which his father quickly put into a college fund.”


Anderson is thrilled about the folks at local businesses who have volunteered their time to assist the Homer Chamber with the tournament, citing Ulmer’s Drug & Hardware, Coal Point Seafood and the UPS Store for helping to grow the derby.

“Because this tournament has generated a lot of attention in the boating world, Honda Marine is joining us this year to sponsor our event area and show off some of their new engines. That allowed us to hire a very popular band, Blackwater Railroad, to help our beer garden really come alive,” Anderson says. “It takes over 50 volunteers to make this happen, and thankfully, we have a great group of chamber board members, business members, volunteer hosts and students who love helping with the tournament.”

To celebrate its 30th anniversary, the tournament has added an early registration drawing to win a Honda generator. Local craft beer company Grace Ridge Brewing will also introduce a new beer to coincide with the event, and there’s even a new trophy designed by Bay Welding.

“We will also have a kickoff party on Friday night at Alice’s Champagne Palace. We have also put out a new document on our Tournament Weather Parameters so people can better understand what criteria our committee looks at to make sure it is safe for boaters,” Anderson says. “People can follow along on what is happening with the weather so they can decide earlier when to head down to Homer.” ASJ

Editor’s note: For more information and to register, see You can also call the Homer Chamber of Commerce & Visitor Center at (907) 235-7740 or email