Golden North derby kicks off Aug. 13

Posted: Friday, August 06, 2010

With the end of summer approaching, August means it's time for a three-day fishing contest that originated 12 years before Alaska was even named a state.

The 64th Annual Golden North Salmon Derby is set to kick off Friday, Aug. 13 and will run through Sunday, Aug. 15.

Last year, longtime derby participants saw changes made in celebration of the state's 50th anniversary, and this year there will be a few more. In past years, the top 100 fish turned in earned prizes, but that was changed to the top 50 last year, in honor of Alaska's statehood. This year, to celebrate the tournament's 64th year, the top 64 fish will earn prizes. The rules, the same that have existed since the derby's inception, remain the same.

"The purpose of the derby is the scholarships," said Sandy Williams, co-chairman of the Golden North Salmon Derby. "The fish that are turned in are sold, of course, and the sale of those fish goes straight toward scholarships.

"We call them 'scholarship fish.'"

According to the derby's website, the first scholarship was given to Johnny Harris in 1953, and as the derby has grown, these scholarships have become the focal point. There were six scholarships awarded in 2009 to Logan Balstad, Kevin Craig, Trevor Larsen, Steven Gile Jr., Daniel Powell and Chad Wilson.

Since 1953, 254 scholarships have been awarded to Juneau-area students that amounted to a total of $1.3 million.

As for the fishing, the target fish is the coho, also known as silver salmon. And although there are still king salmon swimming in local waters this time of the year, they're a rare catch for derby entrants.

Williams said due to healthy donations from the community of Juneau, "the prizes are going to be decent because we had a very good year soliciting," he said. "I think folks are going to be very impressed."

Williams said the top prize this year will be worth $10,000, including what he described as an extra $3,000 worth of items within the prize.

Territorial Sportsmen Inc. has organized the Golden North Salmon Derby every year since it began. It's a group that promotes conservation and education about the outdoors and provides scholarships for graduating seniors locally and throughout Southeast Alaska. The local group is involved with Family Fishing Day in June, maintains at least one Forest Service cabin a year and sponsors Hunter Safety Education programs. TSI is also connected with maintenance of the indoor and outdoor shooting ranges.

History of the derby can be traced back to the first event, which was held on Aug. 31, 1947. But it wasn't until a year later that is was called the Golden North. Since, the beginning of the derby, changes have been made. They range from what kind of fish are acceptable to where the derby boundaries are located. From how much money is awarded, to the types of prizes awarded.

Notable winners of the derby include Jody Pasquan, who was 5 years old when she won in 1963, and Wayne Sutherland, who in 2000, became the first non-Alaskan to win the derby. Sheldon Winters won in 2008 with a 35.6-pound king salmon.

Tickets are $40 for adults and $10 for children younger than 12.

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