Josh Bentz leads the 34th annual King Salmon Derby after the Memorial Day weekend, with a 30.4-pound catch.
“It jumped clean out of the water and almost hit the boat,” Bentz said.
The derby continues 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. this weekend, June 2-3. The competition offers more than $19,000 in cash and prizes and is a fundraiser for youth activities.
The May 26-28 haul included 25 fish, and about a fourth of them were from Chilkoot Inlet, said Toni DeWitt, event co-chair.
“We haven’t gotten any coded wire tagged heads back yet, so we can’t tell for sure where those fish are from,” said Fish and Game biologist Rich Chapell.
“Over on the town side, you get kings returning to Pullen Creek in Skagway and to Lutak Inlet, the hatchery fish we release there as smolt. You also get fish from other parts of Southeast, including the Chilkat River, that are headed up there just to feed for the summer.”
The 2011 derby averaged 97 rod hours per king salmon at the end of the first sampling week, but that number was down to 59 rod hours for the start of this year’s derby. Chapell said fishermen might continue to see good results on the town side.
“One theory is that there’s a strong return of hatchery fish coming back to Pullen Creek this year,” he said. “We expect that to be true, because we released a lot of fish three years ago. We’re expecting a strong return to Skagway, and Haines anglers can catch those fish on the way by.”
Bentz stuck to a popular spot near Chilkat State Park to nab his first-place king. He got an early start to the derby on Saturday in a 21-foot Bayliner, and secured the 30.4-pounder around 10 a.m.
“We figured it was going to get beat the first day, but then two days goes by and then three days goes by,” Bentz said. “I bet it will get beat next weekend.”
He finished sixth in last year’s derby, with a 30.6-pound king. Resident Dave Parks led after the first weekend that year, setting the mark at 32.65 pounds. Parks went on to place fifth, and resident Bob Piper’s 39-pound king took the title. Sixty-nine kings were turned in at the derby in 2011, including 41 on the final Sunday.
Bentz fished the first three days of the derby, but said he will not be back next weekend, due to a move to Juneau for employment with the Alaska State Troopers. This is his first time leading the derby. The top prize is valued at $2,632, plus a bonus for a current Haines Sportsmen’s Association member.
Kim Larson, event co-chair, said 71 season tickets and 51 daily tickets have been sold.
“It’s cold and everything, but it was pretty darn calm out there,” Larson said. “The humpback whales were back, with lots of feed out there. When Dejon (Delights) was cleaning one of the salmon, it had four huge herring inside of it.”
Updates will be available at the “Haines King Salmon Derby” Facebook page.
The unofficial top 10 entries so far are: Josh Bentz, 30.4; Toni Dotson, 23.5; James Hart, 23.1; Chauncey Craig, 22.05; Chuck Baltzell, 21.6; Wayne Walter, 21.55; Steven Scarrott, 21.15; Ted Hart, 20; Karl Jay, 19.8; Ted Hart, 19.65.