Let the fishing begin

By McKibben Jackinsky

For the Homer News

Get your ticket, bait your hook and catch a winner. It’s almost that easy with all the prize-winning opportunities in the 24th Homer Jackpot Halibut Derby. Big fish, released fish, lefties, this year’s tagged fish, previous year’s tagged fish, adults, youth and sellers of derby tickets for winning fish are only some of the categories in which prizes are offered.

If you’re hoping to hook a monster halibut, however, don’t get discouraged by reports that the fish are getting smaller, said Karen Zak, executive director of the Homer Chamber of Commerce and Visitor Center, sponsor of the May 15-Sept. 15 event. A press release announcing the derby issued by the chamber listed weights of previous winning fish and was misinterpreted to reflect an overall decrease in halibut weights. The 2014 winning fish topped the scales at 335 pounds, while the 2015 winning fish weighed 224.4 pounds and the 2016 winner was 252.2 pounds.

“People caught bigger fish last year, but they didn’t have a derby ticket,” said Zak.

The lesson is clear: buy that $10 ticket before taking off on a fishing adventure.

That said, however, the chamber continues to promote conservation of bigger fish.

“All of us — the charter captains and the Homer Chamber of Commerce — do not condone an angler keeping a large fish if it’s not a contender for the Jackpot Halibut Derby or if they do not possess a derby ticket,” said Zak.

The angler with the largest halibut at the end of the derby is guaranteed a $10,000 win, plus 50 cents for every derby ticket sold. As in past years, chamber members spent a day on the water earlier this year catching, tagging and releasing halibut. There is one tag worth $50,000 sponsored by GCI and one worth $10,000 sponsored by the chamber. The remaining tagged fish are worth $250, $500 and $1,000, the values randomly pre-assigned and recorded.

“So down at the (Spit) derby shack, when someone brings in a tagged fish, they’ll know right away what its worth,” said Zak.

Halibut bearing previous year tags are worth $100.

One change this year comes from the NOAA fisheries change in regulations for charter halibut anglers. In order to stay within the catch limit set by the International Pacific Halibut Commission, charter vessel anglers may not catch and retain halibut on Wednesdays nor on three Tuesdays in 2017: July 18, July 25 and Aug. 1.

Working with the IPHC, the derby submits tags from tagged halibut caught, carefully noting the fish’s weight, the coordinates of where it was caught and the year it was tagged.

“They put that information into their computer system and know how far a halibut has traveled, its weight and length,” said Zak, noting a Homer tagged halibut caught last year by an angler in Seward. “They have probably 10-15 years of data from us.”

Derby tickets can be purchased at the Derby Shack on the Spit, open seven days a week from noon-7 p.m. They also can be purchased at the visitor center, open Sunday 10 a.m.-3 p.m., Monday-Friday 9 a.m.-6 p.m. and Saturday 10 a.m.-4 p.m, and at many businesses around town.

“There are lots of fun ways to win and it’s a fundraiser for the chamber at the same time,” said Zak. “If you’re going out fishing, for $10 you’ve got a little more element of fun.”

For more about the Homer Jackpot Halibut Derby, visit homeralaska.org/jackpot-halibut-derby.html.

McKibben Jackinsky is a freelance writer and can be reached at mckibben.jackinsky@gmail.com.