This year’s halibut sport fishery has begun with both tradition and change. The tradition is the successful Homer Jackpot Halibut Derby, and the change is a set of new regulations.
May 15 marked the official start and the 30th anniversary of the Homer Chamber of Commerce’s popular halibut derby. The chamber is celebrating with large and numerous prizes.
The Homer Jackpot Halibut Derby takes the crown for the longest running halibut fishing competition in Alaska. Started in 1986 as a way to promote tourism, the derby was first won by Tony DeMichelle with a 312-pound halibut. The $5,000 jackpot prize awarded to DeMichelle quickly grew into the event that is today boasting more than one million dollars in awarded prizes.
Running from May 15 to Sept. 15, the halibut derby is an unofficial sign that summer is here. Many people travel to Homer from all over the state and country to enjoy the warm weather and take their shot at “the big fish,” worth $10,000.
“I’d say our participants are maybe 60 percent tourists and 40 percent locals,” reports Melanie Champagne. Champagne is the new derby and raffle coordinator for the chamber of commerce. This is her first year organizing the derby.
To fish in the derby, hopeful participants can purchase tickets at local vendors throughout town. Each ticket, priced at $10, allows you one day of fishing for any tagged halibut throughout the bay. If you catch a tagged fish during that day, you can win the prize associated with that fish. Proceeds of ticket sales go toward the prizes and operation of the Homer Chamber of Commerce and Visitor Center.
Fish are tagged with a wide variety of cash prizes, from $50 to $50,000. And, of course, the honored jackpot prize for the largest fish of the season.
This year, however, the chamber is also tagging fish with merchandise like stays at local bed & breakfasts and gift cards for local businesses.
“People that catch anything over 48 inches and then release can be automatically entered in a $500 a month drawing,” says Champagne. Those who purchase a ticket but choose not to fish can enter a drawing for a $5,000 prize called “Just for the Halibut.”
“I’ve heard a lot of people in town say, ‘I’m going to win it this year!’ They are fishing anyway, so why not buy a ticket and try for a prize?” says Champagne.
Two years ago, a local fisherman was kicking himself for not buying a ticket. While out fishing, he pulled up the fish tagged for $50,000 but hadn’t purchased a derby ticket. Sadly, he had to let some other participant try for that cash cow of a fish.
The regulations for the charter-boat halibut fishery are changing, however, and may pose challenges for the derby this year. Halibut is a federally regulated fishery, and the International Pacific Halibut Commission sets regulations along with NOAA to keep the fisheries in good health.
For charter vessel anglers in 2015, there is an annual limit of five halibut that you can catch in a season and, from June 15 to Aug. 31, no fishing will be allowed on Thursdays. It’s hard to predict how these new regulations will affect the halibut derby.
“We will definitely see a change in our Thursday ticket sales,” says Karen Zak, executive director for the chamber of commerce, “It’s hard to say how it will affect ticket sales on the whole.”
Even with the change in fishing regulations, the derby organizers expect another successful year.
“Hopefully we will create that excitement to come on down here and go fishing,” says Zak.
Aryn Young is a freelance writer for the Homer News.
Started May 15
Runs to Sept. 15
• Daily tickets: $10
Fish are tagged with specific prizes and there will be a $10,000 prize for the largest fish of the season.
Tickets can be purchased at area businesses, at the official derby headquarters down at the harbor, at the chamber’s visitor center or from select charter boat captains.
Businesses selling tickets: Beluga Lake Lodge, Best Western Bidarka Inn, Big Bear Charters, Boardwalk Bakery, Bob’s Trophy Charters, Central Charters, Fish Connection, Halcyon Heights B&B, Homer Ocean Charters, Inlet Charters, Kachemak Gear Shed/Redden Marine, North Country Charters, Petro Express, Rainbow Tours, Safeway, Salty Girls, Sports Shed, Sportsman’s Supply, Spyglass Inn, Timber Bay B&B and Ulmers Drug and Hardware.
Last year’s big fish winner: Jackson Hobbs of Franklin, Idaho, with a 335.0-pound fish. The teen’s fish was worth $16,731.50. He caught it while fishing with Capt. Travis Larson of Alaska Premier Sportfishing.