Some boaters headed to the harbors early this morning to prepare for the first day of the 56th Golden North Salmon Derby.
In Douglas, where two of the three last winners were weighed in, skiffs, cabin cruisers and small yachts began threading their way out of the harbor minutes after validation of tickets began at 7:30 a.m. Once in Gastineau Channel, they joined a line of cruisers and trollers from downtown harbors headed to the grounds south of town.
Others left Auke Bay, Amalga and North Douglas launch ramps headed to favorite fishing holes to the north and west.
At the Douglas Harbor's new double ramp, former Big Apple native Tom DiGiovanni watched Tom Kimlinger and Brian Paige back a Boston Whaler into the water.
"From New York City to a fishing derby in Alaska is a big change," said DiGiovanni, fishing his second derby as a Juneau resident aboard the Whaler.
Kimlinger, targeting a tagged fish today, said his strategy was simple.
"Put your time in. Try to get in front of the fish," he said.
"We've got sandwiches, soda and bait - all we need," added Paige.
Derby fishermen headed out today under a mix of rain, overcast and occasional blotches of blue, depending on where they began. While skies cleared somewhat by midday, the National Weather Service predicted a mixed weekend with scattered showers, some wind and seas to about 3 feet. The chance of rain was expected to be 40 percent Saturday and 30 percent Sunday.
The 2002 derby is little changed from last year's event, with $15,000 cash for the top winner and a range of rewards for the next 99 big fish, said McKie Campbell, who co-chairs this weekend's event with Malcolm Menzies.
"The main thing that remains the same for all 56 derbies is why we're doing it and that's to raise money for scholarships," Campbell said. "We've given over $1.1 million in scholarships through the derby."
The derby's biggest winners catch king salmon, but the event also offers prizes for cohos, which help fill the fish totes and the scholarship fund's coffers. Cohos are one of the reasons the derby runs in August, when many kings already are up rivers and streams.
"There are fewer kings but more fish overall," Campbell said. "It results in not having a bigger fish win, but I think in general people have a better time."
One of the first big fish of the day was a coho, a 20.7-pounder turned in before 10 a.m. by Tim Stoll at Auke Bay. Soon afterward, Rob Carpenter delivered a 17-pounder to Amalga.
Those fishing the derby must buy a $35 ticket, $10 for children 12 and younger, which is good for all three days but must be validated before heading out. Fish can be caught only from boats - not from docks or shore - and must be weighed in the round.
Weigh-in hours are 7:30 a.m. to 7 p.m., with a 6 p.m. closing Sunday.
In addition to the top weight prizes, anglers try for tagged fish and special time, weight, age, gender and organizational membership rewards. For a full list of derby rules and prizes, check the booklet, juneauempire.com/salmonderby/ or salmonderby.org.
Standing at the edge of Douglas Harbor's new parking lot, Bill League watched the morning's startup action with his dog Saki. Although he wasn't fishing, he knew many of the boats from his work at Tanner's Service Center, a nearby boat sales and repair shop. The weeks before the derby are busy, he said while watching blue diesel smoke waft over harbor waters.
"Some years it's plugged. This year we got it done early enough," he said.
Ed Schoenfeld can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.