Homer’s Winter King Salmon Tournament Returns To March Madness
The following appears in the March issue of Alaska Sporting Journal:
BY CHRIS COCOLES
After the Covid pandemic wiped out the 2020 event, the Homer Winter King Salmon Tournament’s braintrust found success during difficult times.
“The last two years have drawn record amounts of anglers and boats to this tournament. With the cash prize amounts averaging over $220,000, anglers can earn large cash prizes and enjoy fishing in the beautiful waters of Kachemak Bay,” says Brad Anderson, executive director of the Homer Chamber of Commerce & Visitor’s Center, which stages the annual event that dates back almost three decades. March 18 marks the event’s 29th anniversary.
“We expect that trend to continue once again for this year’s tournament and we’d love to see some new anglers this year,” Anderson adds.
BACK TO MARCH MADNESS
Pandemic issues prompted both the 2021 and 2022 events to move to an April Saturday. While a later start to the tournament potentially offered better weather as the calendar approached spring, the change also brought more logistical issues, as a press release last summer stated in announcing that the tournament would return to its traditional third Saturday in March.
“We surveyed our tournament anglers after this last tournament, and the overwhelming response was to move it back to March, its original month for the previous 26 years,” Anderson said in the press release.
Other issues identified included more restrictions for April Chinook fishing – mostly pertaining to changing bag limits and fish in possession – plus potential holiday conflicts and other events that start becoming the norm as Alaska slowly awakens from its winter slumber.
“March is just the best overall fit for this tournament,” Anderson added in the release.
Survey participants favored March to April despite the success of the two-year switch, which was especially helpful in 2021 when Covid vaccines were in their infancy.
“The harbor gets a lot busier in April, so there are fewer spaces for the Winter Harbormaster’s office to donate for the free overnight mooring that our anglers receive,” Anderson says. “Easter also starts impacting the available dates. So, March has less conflicts and we are also hoping we will find better winter king fishing with the earlier date.”
The regulation change starting in April made this return to this month a no-brainer decision.
“During the winter fishery of September 1 to March 31, there is no annual limit for king salmon in the Cook Inlet and Kachemak Bay; just a limit of two per day, two in possession of any size,” Anderson says.
“Currently, we’ve been experiencing some outstanding fishing this winter with a warmer ocean current bringing in more baitfish to the bay. We’re really hoping that will continue into March for our anglers. With over 400 boats participating in the tournament, March is a much quieter time in Homer Harbor, so it is a lot safer and easier to navigate everyone through that area in March.”
Early indications suggest that going back to a March date could indeed make for a productive salmon haul.
“The local charter boats that have been fishing this winter have been reporting some very strong numbers of winter king salmon in Kachemak Bay – mainly due to the increased amount of baitfish that have shown up,” Anderson says. “And we certainly hope that will continue during our event.”
THE KIDS ARE ALRIGHT
What makes these one-day fishing derbies so fun is how wonderfully unpredictable they can be. Of course, everyone is hoping for a lot of anglers catching a lot of fish for significant cash prizes, but you just never know who is going to weigh in the biggest king.
Take the last two tournament champions, both of whom took home five-figure cash prizes. Not only were those winners 10 and 15 years old, respectively, at the time, but they’re brothers. In 2021, Andrew Marley caught a 25-pound, 6-ounce Chinook aboard the Fly Dough, a fish worth $44,517. Then last year, Andrew’s older sibling Weston Marley won a record first-prize purse of $84,619 (including side bet money) for his king, a 27.38-pounder.
“Anyone who fishes for these kings knows how difficult it can be to first find them, then successfully reel in these very active fish. The Marley family has been fishing these waters for many years, and the two boys have learned a lot from their grandfather and father on how to fish this area,” Anderson says. “They have certainly shown that kids and any angler have the opportunity to be successful. You just have to get out there and participate.”
HOW IT WORKS
Registering for the tournament costs anglers $150.
“The total amount of prize money is dependent upon the number of anglers registering in the tournament and those that have entered the side tourney,” Anderson says of different local charter boats offering up their own pools. (For more information on side bets, go to homerwinterking.com/tournament .php?id=3060.)
“The tournament pays out 65 percent of the total revenue in prizes. The last couple of years has averaged over $220,000 in total cash awards,” Anderson says.
“For the side tourney prizes, each team can enter up to five of the 12 cash categories, ranging in price from $25 to $500. The team that has the largest fish in each of those categories wins 65 percent of that pot. Last year’s winner (Weston Marley) had also entered five side tourney categories, so that is how he got up to $84,619 in total winnings for his fish.”
WELCOME TO HOMER
The record attendance the past two years brought together plenty of Alaskan locals besides out-of-towners who made it. And the hope is that even more visitors will head to Homer and be a part of what’s become one of the first marquee fishing events leading into spring and summer.
“This tournament has become a large boost to the Homer economy during a time of the year that Homer is usually much slower. Most of the lodging fills up and our restaurants are packed, plus (you have) all the tackle and gas that gets purchased,” Anderson says.
“It creates a lot of employment opportunities for our local residents. Visitors to Homer also get to enjoy a visit that still has significantly fewer people than during our peak summer months, so they can really enjoy all the beauty of Homer at a quieter pace.” ASJ
Editor’s note: For more information and how to register for the Homer Winter King Salmon Tournament, go to homerwinterking.com. The Homer Chamber of Commerce & Visitor’s Center website is homeralaska.org.
HOMER HALIBUT DERBY RETURNING THIS SUMMER
Homer Chamber of Commerce & Visitor’s Center executive director Brad Anderson reports the Kenai Peninsula community’s halibut derby is re- turning this year. Competition runs from June 1 to 30.
“Homer is known as the Halibut Fishing Capital of the World, so during the month of June, we will be celebrating everything halibut, including bringing back the Homer Halibut Derby,” Anderson says.
More info can be found at homerhalibuttournament.com and homeralaska.org.
“The daily tickets can be purchased online by 8 a.m. (on June 1) and anglers can win cash prizes for the largest halibut,” Anderson adds.
Anglers catching one of several tagged halibut can also win prizes.
“We are kicking off the month with the Big ’But Ball on June 3 and a Solstice Festival on June 21, and that will include a deckhands’ competition,” Anderson states. ASJ