As spring comes to Alaska, so does the annual return of regional icons, including whales, bears, chinook - and the Spring King Salmon Derby.
"It's our ninth annual (derby) so we're just hoping to generate more participation, exude more excitement in the community, bond more families, catch more king salmon and just have a great time this year with the derby," said Archie Cavanaugh, founder of the Spring King Salmon Derby.
Sponsored by the Central Council Tlingit & Haida Alumni Scholarship Assistance Program, the derby runs from May 1 to May 31. Entry tickets cost $30 and all proceeds from the derby go toward supplemental scholarships for Native students.
Thousands of dollars are on the line in this year's derby, and the lucky angler who takes home first place will end up with a chinook on their line worth $13,299.59 in cash and prizes. Participants are allowed to enter multiple fish over the course of the month - which are weighed after being gilled and gutted - but only the largest of each individual's fish will be eligible for a prize.
Derby coordinators are encouraging local anglers to get out and buy tickets early to support the scholarships and to get a chance to have a leg up on the competition, said derby coordinator Leslie Isturis.
"It would just be really, really sad if you caught a really big fish and you didn't have a ticket," she said.
Cavanaugh, the director of the CCT&H Vocational Training and Resource Center, started the derby after he was forced to turn away students looking for financial assistance to further their education.
"There isn't anything more effective than helping a student who is going to college; there really isn't," Cavanaugh said. "This scholarship program, when it's established to assist students for paying higher education, it means a change of economics, a change of life. It has nothing but positive returns, not only to the community as a whole, but also to the families and to the Central Council tribe. Students return as assets to us."
Cavanaugh said the derby has been growing consistently over the years and is providing more students each year with help to attend college.
"Last year we gave 83 scholarships at about $350 a shot," he said. "I thought that was pretty good."
Unlike some Alaskan derbies that generate money from the sale of donated fish, the Spring King Salmon Derby generates all of its income from ticket sales, said Isturis. All prizes are donated by businesses serving Juneau, and ticket sales and weigh-in stations are run by local businesses on a volunteer basis.
"In the end, the bottom line is we're trying to make money because we don't get money from the fish, we get money directly from ticket sales," Isturis said. "We don't get the fish, you get to keep your fish."
"I think the key behind this derby is people can take their king salmon home and barbecue it, fry it or bake it. I think the excitement of this derby is just that. It's king salmon specific," said Cavanaugh, adding that he hopes participants will donate some of their bounty to those who don't have the opportunity to fish, like the elderly and those with disabilities.
In the end it's more than just about winning prizes and catching big fish, said Isturis. "Every year, with as much work as everybody puts out there, ultimately we just want everybody to have a real good time fishing and to get together with their families," she said.
Tickets are on sale at Evergreen Motors, Western Auto Marine, Breeze-In, Outdoor Headquarters, Allen Marine Tours, Fisherman's Bend, Harri Plumbing & Heating, Alaskan & Proud, Rayco Sales, and DeHart's Auke Bay Store.
The three weigh-in stations operating for the derby are Jerry's Meats and Seafoods from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Sunday; Taku Smokeries from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday; and DeHart's Auke Bay Store from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Sunday.