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By BILLY SINGLETON
Daily News Staff Writer
A few days after the conclusion of Ketchikan’s first ever coho salmon derby, the numbers are in.
The 71st Ketchikan CHARR Educational Fund Salmon Derby wrapped up on Monday after seven days of fishing over three weekends. Though previous derbies have targeted king salmon, this year’s incarnation switched to cohos amid concerns about the health of the region’s wild king salmon.
Derby Coordinator Michael Briggs said on Friday that the derby was successful, though participation fell short of past derbies.
The derby sold about 750 tickets this year, down from last year’s 1,010. According to Briggs, this year’s sales still yielded well over $25,000 for CHARR’s scholarship fund.
“I do think it went well,” Briggs said. “As I mentioned, a little disappointed with the ticket sales. But we didn’t really know what to expect. I don’t think the community knew what to expect either.”
Participants reportedly had a blast fishing for cohos regardless.
“The people I’ve talked to have really enjoyed this derby,” Briggs said. “And I think that if we do continue with a silver salmon derby next year, it will have more participation because of the word of mouth that got around about this one.”
Briggs said that positive responses also have come in the form of suggestions for two derbies per year — one for kings and one for cohos.
This year’s anglers entered 741 cohos at the derby’s weigh stations, a figure roughly in line with numbers for kings in recent years.
The first two weekends — Aug. 18-19 and Aug. 25-26 — started off relatively slow, with weigh stations collecting about 250 and 175 fish respectively.
Things took off during Labor Day weekend. Coho in the area were larger and more plentiful, a fact likely aided by rain and the approach of coho’s annual peak abundance in the area. The derby’s seven largest fish overall were entered on Labor Day weekend — as well as 24 of the derby’s largest 31.
Jerry Hughes took first place (and the $10,000 grand prize) with a 16.4-pound coho he caught on Sept. 2. He won the derby when his fish held the top spot through the following day, which happened to be his 71st birthday. Coincidentally, the derby is in its 71st year, as well.
Hughes’ coho stole the lead from previous leader Bill Sinkey and the 16.0 pounder he’d caught the previous day. Edward Toribio took third with a 15.7-pound fish, also caught Sept. 2.
The derby winners are still technically unofficial until the derby committee certifies the results on Tuesday, but Briggs said he doesn’t anticipate any changes as no catches have yet to be contested.
According to Briggs, the 2018 derby came with a number of notable differences, apart from the obvious change of species. Fishing was skewed heavily north, with the northern weigh stations receiving far more entries than Mountain Point and Bar Harbor.
“Those two weigh stations were pretty barren for the most part, while Clover Pass and Knudson Cove were just getting hammered all day,” Briggs said.
The derby was also more accessible to novices. Briggs said that as a coho derby, it was more welcoming to children, who sometimes lack the patience and experience required for kings.
“I had one guy write me an email saying, ‘You know, I take my kids out on the derby every year, and during the king derby they usually just fall asleep, they’re bored, they’re not really having fun,’” Briggs said. “And he’s like, ‘My daughter caught six fish on her little pink fishing pole this year, and we just had a blast. It was one of the funnest derbies that we’ve participated in.’”
“Obviously, our main thing is to raise money for the education fund, but it’s nice to see families coming back and saying they were having a great time with it as well,” Briggs said.
As for the youth prize ladder, Rylie Welk took first place with a 13.5-pounder caught on Sept. 1. Cleo Craig came in second, with a 13.3 coho caught on Sept. 2; and Madeline Muhoven took third with a 13.2-pound fish caught on Aug. 26.
A slew of prizes also will be awarded for special categories and random drawings.
In spite of the coho derby’s warm reception, Briggs’ fingers are still crossed for the return of the kings.
“It is 70 years of tradition, you know what I mean?” he said. “We weren’t trying to buck tradition by having a silver salmon derby, we were just trying to have any event at all so that we could continue to raise some money for scholarships. If we’re allowed to do a king salmon derby, or if it makes some sense for us next year, then we will certainly be switching back to that.”
An awards ceremony is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. on Sept. 15 at the Ted Ferry Civic Center.