The early morning bite might be right for anglers to hit the jackpot during the 32nd King Salmon Derby. Fishing opens at 4 a.m. May 29 — the earliest start time in the history of the event.

Fishermen holding season tickets also can fish around the clock during derby weekends.

Organizer Josh Bentz said the 2010 derby will feature a streamlined validation process.

The derby spans the three-day Memorial Day weekend and picks up again June 5 and 6. For those holding a season ticket, “Instead of needing to get validated every morning at 8 a.m., you’ll just get validated at 8 a.m. day one, which will last the weekend. The first day of the second weekend, you’ll need to get validated again.”

“With a season ticket, you can fish all night, as long as you keep the fish on ice,” said Haines Sportsmen’s Association president Kim Larson. “All fish must be turned in in good condition to be entered in the derby.”

“We’re hoping to sell more season tickets, so people can fish longer and we can get more fish turned in,” Larson said.

Fishing on daily tickets is allowed only from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m.

Prizes will go to the 15 biggest fish and there will be special prizes in categories including youth, women, senior citizen and Canadian. Derby tickets and a list of rules and prizes are available at Alaska Sport Shop and Outfitter Sporting Goods.

With a little more than a week before fishing begins, the prize list is still under construction. More than 100 winnings have been collected, including $100 cash, one night at the Captain’s Choice Motel’s Jacuzzi Suite, a raft trip for six with Alaska Cross Country Guiding, and a wall tent from Outfitter Sporting Goods. The top prize “hasn’t been put together,” Bentz said.

The king salmon are ready for the event, however, slowly but surely showing up in surrounding waters.

“So far, it’s been slow, which is normal for this time of year,” said Rich Chapell, sport fisheries biologist for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. “I did hear of several kings caught in Chilkat Inlet last weekend.”

Biologists have forecasted above average returns for the Chilkat River this year; more than 3,600 kings are expected.

“The numbers of fish should be slightly better than last year, so we’re encouraged by that,” Bentz said.

While the majority of king salmon return to the Chilkat, this year marks the first return of hatchery kings released at Lutak Inlet. In 2008 the Northern Southeast Regional Aquaculture Association’s first batch of 180,000 hatchery-raised smolts were released, and they’re expected to come back this year at catchable size after two years in the ocean.

“We really don’t know how many are coming back, but they’ll be fairly small. Their numbers will give us some indication what will come back next year,” said Lon Garrison, NSRAA’s operations manager. This year’s returners should average between seven and 10 pounds, he said.

The goal of the release is to increase the number of kings available to sport fishermen. More should return next year but the bulk of the return will be in 2012 and 2013, when returning fish are four and five years old, Garrison said.

In addition to a derby ticket, participants must also hold a current fishing license with a valid king salmon stamp.

To volunteer, donate to the prize list, or for more information, call Larson at 766-3885.

Derby proceeds support youth activities and scholarships in Haines.