On Thursday morning Bill Rawls, a visitor from North Carolina, cast a hook and bait into Ship Creek near Downtown Anchorage. After about an hour of waiting he felt a pull on the line. A short struggle later Rawls reeled in the biggest fish he has ever caught in his life—a 40-pound king salmon. “Everyone around me kept saying how big it was,” he recalled giddily.
The 40-pounder was caught during the Slam’n Salm’n Derby, a 10-day long fishing competition in Anchorage which draws hundreds of locals and tourists looking to snag king salmon. Prizes are given out for the largest fish caught, which include a flat screen television, Alaska Railroad tickets, and a coveted 16-foot cataraft.
The event is free to the public, but donations are directed towards the Downtown Soup Kitchen. Last year the organization raised about $50,000, which it used to temporarily house and feed those in need.
The derby comes after a series of lackluster salmon runs in the region. This year, though, more than 100 fish have already been entered into the competition, some topping 30-40 pounds. “The Derby’s off to a great start,” said Dustin Slinker, owner and operator of Ship Creek’s Bait Shack. “A lot of the other fisheries in the state are under emergency orders and shut down, but here in Downtown Anchorage you can still catch a 40-pound King Salmon.”
A fish hatchery program that broke ground in 2012 is partially credited for the abundance of fish. This is the first season that grown salmon from the hatchery have swum through Anchorage, Slinker said.
The derby wraps up at noon on Sunday, when there will be a BBQ and awards ceremony. Rawls is heading back to North Carolina before the competition closes, but he’ll try to come back next year. “Down at the creek everyone was super polite, super helpful,” he said. “It was just a once in a lifetime experience and I’m going to try and make it back.”