Kenai Silver Salmon Derby

woman holding silver salmon in Kenai

Kenai Silver Salmon Derby

Each year in early September, anglers from all over the Kenai Peninsula gear up for the Kenai Silver Salmon Derby. This annual event in mid-September captures the thrill of sportfishing during the silver salmon run, which starts in mid-August.

Unlike the combat fishing and dipnetting during the red salmon run or the heavy boat traffic in July, the Kenai silver salmon run finds fewer boats and fishermen angling for a catch. The relaxed atmosphere of this fishery also provides increased opportunities and limits, making it a favorite for residents, whether launching before sunrise, fishing down low on the incoming tide, or staying out late with a boatful of friends.  

With its world-renowned king salmon record, surrounding views of eagles, moose, and the occasional bear sightings, the Kenai River has long been the epicenter for sport fishing enthusiasts from around the world. A fresh fall silver for the grill or freezer full of silvers fresh off an evening tide make for memories that last longer than the upcoming winter.

In an effort to celebrate the fishery, bring the community together, and offer a responsible world-class fishing experience, the City of Kenai partners with the Kenai Chamber of Commerce and Visitor Center to sponsor the Kenai Silver Salmon Derby.

This unique fishing derby flips the script on winning prizes while minimizing the potential impact sportfishing has on silver salmon populations on the Kenai River. 

The City of Kenai met with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game to design a tournament that could meet local community needs while also adhering to the laws and ethos meant to preserve the silver salmon. Specifically, how could the City host a fishing tournament that reduced the practice of catch-and-release, which is so prominent with competitive fishing events which award prizes based on the size and weight of the fish?

The Kenai Silver Salmon Derby sponsors gamify the competition with rules specifically designed to minimize the total number of silver salmon released back into the river by randomizing the selection of daily and total prize winners.

Each daily winner is selected using a “Magic Weight,” which is established using two sets of identical-sized wheels. At the close of each day of the derby, the wheels are spun to create a winning weight. The weight is then matched against all of the fish submitted that day.

The first wheel is numbered 4-14 to signify pounds and is spun once. The second wheel numbered 0-9 is spun once to signify tenths of a pound and spun a second time to signify 100ths of a pound.

All of the fish entered during the six-day derby are eligible to compete for the Grand Prize spinning on the final day of the derby. The Grand Prize winner is then randomly selected on that day using the same Magic Weight process.

This method minimizes catch-and-release practices that may be encouraged by a “biggest fish” derby, in which anglers may release smaller fish not likely to win. If any fish over four pounds can win the Daily and Grand prizes, it reduces the urge to throw smaller fish back into the river. Just as with fishing for dinner, any fish caught is a potential derby “winner.” 

With these rules in place to reduce potential mortality to the silver salmon population, the City of Kenai has designated the Kenai Community Foundation as the recipient of proceeds from the Derby. The Foundation earmarks the funds to be used to manage and improve riparian zones along the Kenai River. The Foundation’s goal for the funds is to beautify and restore public portions of the Kenai River, which improves the habitat for wildlife along the river and provides maintained areas for members of the greater community of Kenai.

With this in mind, The Kenai Silver Salmon Derby is named the “World’s Most Responsible Fishing Tournament.” One that not only increases participation in fishing but also returns half of the proceeds to the river, cracking the code on reducing silver salmon mortality while also raising funds for management and conservation efforts in areas along the Kenai River most impacted by human activity. 

This year’s event, the Sixth Annual Kenai Silver Salmon Derby, runs from Tuesday, September 13th to Sunday, September 18th and offers daily prizes of $100 for the Adult category and $50 for the Youth Category. The grand prize awards are slated to be the same as last year, with the Adult Grand Prize at $5,000, and the Youth Grand Prize at $1,000 along with daily and other prizes to be announced. 

Kids enjoying a day at the Kenai Silver Salmon Derby

“There is a rich fishing tradition in the City of Kenai, and we’re happy to continue that legacy with a fishing tournament that’s as unique as Kenai,” says Paul Ostrander, City of Kenai City Manager. “We’ve created an event that will attract dedicated sport fishermen while also bringing together the community for a fun week on the Kenai River.” 

Silver salmon fishing is one of the best salmon fishing experiences from river to plate. From the early silver run on the Kenai River in August to the late run that starts in September, the activity on the river is unique and exciting. Anglers can access fishing from shore or boat, and the Kenai and Soldotna Chamber of Commerce can help those who are looking for fishing guides, riverside lodges, or campgrounds.

Kenai’s parks and trail system offers a variety of wildlife viewing opportunities. 

Tickets for the Kenai Silver Salmon Derby go on sale two weeks prior to the event and can be purchased every day of the event at the Kenai Chamber of Commerce and Visitor Center, Three Bears in Kenai, and Sportsman’s Warehouse in Soldotna. Daily tickets are $10 or $50 for the entire derby.

To learn more about the Sixth Annual Kenai Silver Salmon Derby, you can visit the website or find them on Facebook.

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