Valdez Ready For ‘Insane’ Fishing Derby Buzz This Summer


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


Even in the challenges of 2020 and 2021, the shows went on in Valdez, home of summers full of popular halibut and salmon derbies. 

From having the Valdez Kid’s Pink Salmon Derby be virtual only, to limiting large groups at weigh-in sites for the silver salmon and halibut derbies, to installing hand-washing stations, the last two years were a challenge that the nonprofit organization that runs these multiple events passed with flying colors. 

“The big thing we do is that we have (derbies) from mid-May through Labor Day weekend and people can win prizes for that long of a period, people get really excited for the events,” says Laurie Prax, Valdez Fish Derbies marketing coordinator and one of seven local volunteer residents who run the derbies. “Everyone thought, ‘Oh no; what’s going to happen?’”

“After COVID, we put the Kids Derby together so a picture could be uploaded for a chance to win. And we had overwhelming interest and hundreds of entries. That convinced us we could run a successful event online. For a lot of people that was a chance to put a little normal into their lives. There’s a lot of room out there in the ocean so we encouraged people to come down and enjoy the outdoors and fishing. “Our regular derbies were already COVID-friendly and we just altered a few details so we didn’t have huge crowds at weigh-in and put the Kids Derby entry online. “It all seemed to work out.”

And even as the pandemic remains something to be monitored closely, the 2022 series of derbies and special events will resemble 2021’s, with a few new twists included. And the excitement is palpable in this little Southcentral Alaska port community on Prince William Sound. 

Prax, who also runs local radio station KVAK – six of the seven derby committee members have other full-time jobs – said there was some pressure during the heavier Covid restriction years to put on the derbies in some form and help local businesses get through what was a key time for tourism. 

“It was rough right in the middle of it, but coming out on the other side, I’m glad we did – not just because it helped us get through a tough time, but because we’re in a better position for it,” she says. “More people have become exposed to our community. And it’s still pretty home-grown. So I think people really enjoy it and they’re bringing family that might be coming to visit. I think this has become a destination. In terms of what the hotels and RV parks are preparing for, it’s going to be a little busy; it’s going to be a lot busy.”

And Valdez is excited about the possibility of locals and even more out-of-state visitors flocking into town for the marquee events. Those are the Valdez Halibut Derby, which started May 21, and the Valdez Silver Salmon Derby, beginning July 23. Both conclude Sept. 4. 

“It’s going to be insane. The indication is that people are excited. We had a lot of in-state people visit last year. People from Fairbanks have been coming to Valdez for years but we started seeing more people from Anchorage and Mat-Su during the pandemic,” Prax says. 

“They were trying to find somewhere to go. And they found us, which was great for our community. So we can’t thank Alaskans enough. Our little town has to have summer tourism and have commerce. The fish derbies are a big part of bringing people to Valdez.”

With some creative ideas, there will be no shortage of fun events available for those who purchase derby tickets or just plan to visit Valdez this summer.  

An example is the Women’s Silver Salmon Derby, set for Saturday, Aug. 13. The festivities begin on Friday night, Aug. 12 with a bit of a scavenger hunt. Participants who sign up and get their dog tags necklace can visit various businesses that are sponsoring the derby and look for their tag numbers posted to win instant prizes. You can also take selfies and qualify for prizes as part of what’s called “The Coho Cruise.” There will also be a costume contest. Go to for more information. 

 “What we’re trying to do is get people into the (Valdez) businesses (and sponsors),. And people really responded well to this. We picked up some new sponsors,” Prax says.

“Last year we had door prizes and gave them to 10 people. Now there are going to be more prizes, and if you look for your number you can win instantly, or you can go snap these photos and have a chance to win. … We’ll have a prize crew, so when people are visiting our businesses we’ll do a live show and give hints to where we are. We’re just trying to make it fun. If they see people with the dog tags around town, we’re going to hand out prizes.”


The lengthy silver salmon and halibut derbies remain the big draw for anglers hoping to catch one of the fish Valdez is famous for and compete for the biggest fish of the summer ($10,000 for first, $3,000 for second and $1,500 for third). Tickets cost just $10 per day or $50 for a season-long pass for either the silver salmon or halibut tournaments. 

Prax is grateful for local businesses that sell tickets and the port’s halibut and salmon charters, where customers can also enter and head out for the opportunity to catch a very valuable fish. 

And silver salmon ticket sales have increased in recent years as more instate anglers have traveled to Valdez for a chance to catch the plentiful coho in and around the city. 

“Sometimes people don’t buy a silver derby ticket, and they really should because you have a better chance of catching a winning fish than winning most lotteries. Anyone can catch a 20-pound salmon,” Prax says. “And the sizes haven’t been crazy, so you really don’t know what’s going to win it. And (the fish) haven’t been coming in any special time of the year.”

“It’s also pretty easy to fish for silvers here. You can do it from shore if it’s the right time. It’s a little less expensive.”


With the Canadian border open again, Prax expects more Lower 48ers to drive north through British Columbia and into Alaska this summer. RV parks are already excited about the possibility of campers spending plenty of time in Valdez and buying halibut and silver salmon tickets. 

“There are regular visitors who will stay at the parks for a month. And they couldn’t get through (the last couple years). And I think you have two years of pent-up (demand),” Prax says. 

Locals who also have endured Covid lockdowns in 2020 and into 2021 are excited about the chance to get outside and fish – not to mention maybe capture the big cash prizes for the biggest halibut or salmon. 

“I just think there are a lot of participants who live here and they are serious (anglers). They play to win. But I think overall what it does is just makes it more fun for them. I think it gives you that reason to go,” Prax says. 

“But it’s not just about going out and winning the cash; it gives you a reason to get outside, and – good lord – don’t we need that right now?” ASJ

Editor’s note: For more on the Valdez Kid’s Pink Salmon Derby, see page 9. And go to for more information on this summer’s events.


During this summer’s Valdez Silver Salmon and Halibut Derbies, participants can also pick up some bonus prizes for special “tournaments within the tournaments.”

During the halibut derby, the Halibut Hullabaloo will be from June 3-12 and features an extra $1,000 prize for the biggest fish caught during that time, in addition to the weekly and annual prizes. Just make sure to purchase your Valdez Halibut Derby ticket during that time period to be eligible. 

“Halibut Hullabaloo is really just a fishing tournament within the tournament. It’s simple and you don’t have to do anything (new),” Valdez Fish Derbies marketing coordinator Laurie Prax says. “We’re finding that a lot of people come and fish that time specifically for that extra (prize). It’s $1,000 cash in addition to the regular prizes.”

For the Silver Salmon Derby, there are two special fishing days known as Big Prize Friday (July 29 and Sept. 2). The derby participant who catches the biggest coho gets an additional $500. 

“With the Big Prize Friday, we wanted to see people more than just Saturday and Sunday. So we’re trying to incentivize the idea of coming down on a Friday,” Prax says. “Again, you don’t have to buy anything but your regular derby ticket and you can win extra cash the first Friday and the last Friday of the silver derby.”

Also returning this year is the Tagged Fish Contest, featuring 21 tagged salmon that represent various prizes, including one valuable fish worth $10,000 and 19 other prize packages. To participate, anglers just need to purchase a silver salmon derby ticket and bring the tag to the weigh in station if they catch a tagged fish between August 12 and September 4. CC