The countdown to the 20th annual Winter King Salmon Tournament, sponsored by the Homer Chamber of Commerce and Visitor Center, has begun. With online registration available, fishermen are already making clear their intentions to catch the winning fish.
"The biggest difference this year is that we are offering online registration," said Monte Davis, chamber and visitor center executive director. "I've tried to get that word out as much as I possibly can. It will simplify matters a bunch."
The one-day tournament begins at 9 a.m. March 23 and ends at 4 p.m. As of March 8, more than 30 fishermen already had taken advantage of the online sign-up, a number Davis hopes will increase to surpass those fishing in 2012.
"Last year more than 500 registered and that was low because of last winter's heavy snowfall. Then, we got blown off the water on Saturday and had to put off the tournament until Sunday and lost another 100 people that just couldn't stay," said Davis. "I'm hoping we go over 600, maybe 700 this year. … They've had as many as 1,000."
In 2012, more than 450 anglers fished from 132 boats and reeled in 90 fish. The tournament had a total cash payout of $64,762, with Emmitt Trimble of Anchor Point taking home a first-place prize of $9,954 for his 34.8-pound salmon. The boat Trimble was fishing on, the Serenity, claimed $20,587.50 in side bets.
Trimble is planning on trying his luck again this year.
"I've entered the tournament four or five times, but (2012) was the only time I've had a winning fish," said Trimble.
Of the chances that he'll win again this year, Trimble said, "Well, nothing ventured, nothing gained. The worst thing that will happen is that you'll have a good day out on the water."
Entry fee for the Winter King Salmon Tournament is $100. Those not registering online can do so at the visitor center beginning March 20. Regular hours are 9 a.m.-5 p.m., with extended hours from 8 a.m.-8 p.m. on March 22. Last-minute registration is available at Coal Point Trading Company on the Spit on Saturday between 6:30-7 a.m. Side bets can be made at the visitor center or on the day of the tournament at Coal Point. Non-fishing members of the public can place side bets the day of the tournament beginning at 8:30 a.m. at Coal Point.
"Side bets have changed a little bit this year," said Davis. "We've done away with $1,000 and $750 because very few were participating. What we've done is made more variety in the smaller bets."
Also new this year is a $250 cash prize for the largest white king caught. It is sponsored by Café Cups.
Other prizes are announced every 12-15 minutes throughout the tournament. More than $16,000 in prizes were given out in 2012 and Davis said there is an equal amount to be given this year. Among them are polarized sunglasses by new tournament sponsor Oakley, maker of sunglasses, goggles and other sports apparel.
Fishermen who don't own a boat can have their names placed on a waiting list.
"We let all the captains know and do our very best to match people up," said Davis. "It's a first-come, first-served basis."
In past years, free vessel safety inspections have been offered at the Homer Harbor's launch area by the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary. This year the inspections are being done upon request. The Auxiliary's Homer flotilla has four qualified inspectors. To schedule an inspection, call Mike Riley, 299-6150, or Craig Forrest, 299-0232.
Boat cleaning kits also are being provided to tournament captains, according to Rachel Lord of Cook Inletkeeper. The kit includes a tote bag containing tidebooks, oil absorbent bilge pillows and pads and information to help captains protect the environment while. Lord will hand out the kits at the visitor center on Friday and at Coal Point the morning of the tournament. She will be at the after-party to distribute additional information and answer questions.
As in past years, Capt. Pattie's Fish House is preparing the dinner served free to tournament entrants at Coal Point at the end of the day. Non-fishermen can enjoy the meal for $8.
After an Alaska winter, the 20-year-old Homer Winter King Salmon Tournament is a welcome sign, and not just for those who live on the shores of Kachemak Bay.
"Even when I lived in Anchorage, just knowing the winter king salmon tournament was happening was the first blush of the fishing season and always exciting," said Davis.
For more information or to register online, visit www.homeralaska.org.
McKibben Jackinsky can be reached at email@example.com.