When angler James “Jimmie” Peeples of Chico, Calif., hooked into a 323.2-pound halibut last August, he and his fishing buddies “were amazed, flipping out,” he told the Homer News at the time. “I couldn’t believe it.”
That day of fishing netted more than food for the freezer.
It put Peeples in the winning seat for the 2012 Homer Jackpot Halibut Derby’s $10,000 grand prize.
That was far from the only prize available to last year’s derby ticket-holders, however. There was a tagged halibut worth $50,000 sponsored by GCI and another one worth a brand new Ford F-150 pickup sponsored by Stanley Ford of Kenai, neither of which were caught. There also were numerous tagged halibut worth from $250 to $10,000.
With the May 15 start of the 2013 derby, there are even more ways to win, according to Monte Davis, executive director of the Homer Chamber of Commerce and Visitor Center, organizer of the Homer Jackpot Halibut Derby. In addition to the grand prize, this year’s opportunities include a GCI $50,000 tagged halibut, a Stanley Ford tagged halibut worth a new pickup and 115 tagged flatfish that can be redeemed for cash prizes of $250 to $10,000.
In addition, every past-year tagged halibut that is caught this year is worth $100 Homer bucks.
“There’s lots of opportunities,” said Davis of the many ways to go home a winner. “It’s cool.”
The prizes are in keeping with derby organizers’ attempt in 2012 to refocus the event away from a big-fish emphasis and toward a more conservation approach.
That is a challenging shift to make, however, as has been evident by the drop in ticket sales after a large fish is caught. As an example, Davis pointed to the 2011 mid-June landing of a 350-pound halibut by Chad Aldridge of Sterling.
“It really knocked ticket sales down for a month because people thought, ‘What are the odds of me catching a fish bigger than that?’” said Davis. “But this way, anyone who goes out there has a chance of catching $50,000 or the Stanley Ford F-150. That’s a wonderful prize, well worth the $10 ticket to take that chance.”
Last week local charters and chamber members spent the day fishing for halibut that they tagged and released back into Kachemak Bay.
“I’m guessing we had at least eight, nine boats out there,” said Davis, who was among those fishing.
“It was flat calm and beautiful.”
Beautiful also could describe reports of halibut being caught so far this season.
“I heard a bunch of boats saying they did great, that they’d caught their limit,” said Davis.
“And there were some decent fish caught, too. We heard about an 80-pounder. I caught one that was 35. That was fun.”
Returning as this year’s derby manager is Paula Frisinger.
“Even though she has it down to a ‘t,’ it’s her attention to detail that makes her so valuable in this process,” said Davis. “Because of that, it’s really as easy as it can be for the participants, the ticket sellers and charter captains.”
That’s especially important with some new twists and turns to this year’s derby.
“One of the changes this year is that each of the merchants who is actually selling derby tickets, we’ll pay them $1 per ticket,” said Davis.
“If you’re a charter captain, yes, you want to encourage people to take part in the derby, but it still takes time and effort.”
As in past years, the seller of the winning grand-prize ticket also is awarded $1,000.
Not offered this year is the monthly released-fish prize for anglers releasing halibut weighing 50 or more pounds.
“There just weren’t that many people who turned them in to take part,” said Davis. “
The derby weigh-in station on the Spit is open daily from 5:30-8 a.m., making it convenient for anglers to purchase tickets before heading out for a day of fishing.
The rest of the time, Frisinger is only a phone call away. Her number is posted on the building and she can be there within minutes to weigh in possible prize-worthy catches.
More than 14,000 tickets were sold for the 2012 derby, which was a slight drop from previous years.
“This year we’re expecting it to be up a bit,” said Davis.
“We’ve talked to so many charter captains that are saying there’s early booking and it’s going to be a very strong season.”
McKibben Jackinsky can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.