It pays to register early for March 19 winter king tourney

Both those who go out to sea in search of a big catch and those who choose to stay on dry land have chances to win big at the 23rd annual Winter King Salmon Tournament on Saturday, March 19. The all-day event will give away cash and merchandise prizes in the form of bets, raffles, drawings and, of course, the anglers with the biggest fish. 

The tournament, sponsored by the Homer Chamber of Commerce, will begin at 9 a.m. and finish with lines out of the water at 4 p.m. Participants can weigh their fish from about 3:30-6 p.m. so that winners can be announced at 6:30 p.m.

“Anyone can come down and watch the action,” said tournament coordinator Melanie Campagne. “It’s always exciting to see someone win $50,000.”

One lucky early registered angler will win a fishing advantage package from the chamber March 16. The winner will be chosen out of the fishermen who complete their registration by 11 p.m. Sunday. 

The prize package, valued at $330, includes a tackle case, flashers, a sinker, ball bearing swivels, adjustable mooching rig, open eye hooks, bait oil, kite flashers, Coho killer spoons and other fishing gear.

The early-bird registration prize will be given to the winner March 16. 

Fishermen who are unsure about throwing their line in the water for this year’s tournament can rest easy if they register early: The $100 per person entry fee is refundable. Entrants can receive a refund if they change their minds up to March 19 — the day of the event, Campagne said. Entries can be purchased at the Homer Chamber of Commerce and Visitor Center until Friday, March 18, at 8 p.m. and purchased the day of the event at the tournament headquarters at Coal Point Trading on the Homer Spit.

“It’s a popular event. We give a lot of prizes away and it’s been running pretty much the same way for 23 years,” Campagne said. “This tournament was started to bring an economic boost to Homer at a slow winter time. Last time we had 1,300 anglers coming down, a few hundred were from Homer, but the rest were from Anchorage, Kenai, Seward; they … bring an economic boost to Homer and it serves as a big boost to the chamber so it benefits the community in all ways.”

At tournament headquarters, Campagne will communicate with the anglers via radio, announcing catches as they come in. Burnt Down House band will play from 4:30-6 p.m., with food and beverages from Big Dipper Chipper and Alaska Brewing, Campagne said.

For those who are not fishing, the tournament is open for the general public to observe. The public can also enter into boat side bets — which boat will catch the big one — between 8:30 and 9 a.m. on the day of the tournament.

Spectators and anglers alike can purchase $20 raffle tickets from the chamber for the chance to win travel and recreation prizes. First place wins two round-trip Alaska Airline tickets; second place wins two round-trip Ravn Alaska tickets; and third place wins a full day halibut fishing with North Country Charters for one. 

The chamber is also selling newly designed Winter King tournament long-sleeve shirts, sweatshirts and hats in a wide range of sizes and colors, so anyone can get into the spirit of the competition.

Throughout the tournament, more than $100,000 in cash and merchandise prizes will be given away, according to the chamber’s website. The top 10 fish will receive cash prizes, which come from 75 percent of all the tournament entry fees. Anglers who catch the 11th-20th place fish will win merchandise prizes. 

Anglers have a chance to win additional prizes from the drawings, which will take place every 15 minutes, for prizes from supporters and donors from the Homer community, Campagne said. Anglers are automatically entered into the drawing with the purchase of their registration and winners will be announced over the boat radio.

Anglers come from the Homer community and beyond to participate in the tournament, and in a variety of vessels. As of Friday, March 4, the tournament had about 10 kayaks registered. In this competition, only the size of the fish caught matters.

Last year, Mike Olsen of Kodiak won $27,762 for the 30.4 pound king salmon he caught in an undisclosed location on the water. Olsen’s fish did not set a weight record, but he did receive the highest prize amount in the history of the tournament. Though the Chamber does not know if Olsen plans to enter again this year, more than 100 other anglers have registered for the tournament as of Friday, March 4, Campagne said. 

Homer resident and second place winner in last year’s Winter King Tournament Chelsa Johnson once again will fish the tournament and has his sights set on catching another winning fish. Johnson will be aboard the Curmudgeon with his friend Jake Kitzmiller, who owns the boat. Last year they entered with the plan to split their winnings evenly, and got more than expected.

“Jake paid for his boat with his boat. It was the first time a sport boat ever paid for itself,” Johnson said. “We’re going to go out again and see if we can’t catch a fish. … Maybe we’ll be able to increase to first (place) and get the Homer local pride going.”

Though Johnson hasn’t been out fishing in the last month, he has heard from others that the conditions hint at a similar tournament day to last year’s calm seas and warm weather. The anticipation built from not fishing for a while will make participating in the tournament even sweeter, he said.

“It’s been flat and calm, kind of glass-like, and sunny the last few days. Everybody I know who’s been out there has been catching some nice size kings. It hasn’t been too windy and it’s been warm,” Johnson said.

Anna Frost can be reached at