In Alaska, the transition from summer to fall can be marked by salmon returns. As the leaves start to change from green to yellow, the red salmon runs start to give way to silver salmon runs. Nothing marks the beginning of the silver salmon season better than the Silver Salmon Derby in Seward.
This derby is one of the largest and oldest fishing derbies in Alaska. It is open to anyone with an Alaska sport fishing license, meaning anglers can be from all over the world. But this derby is especially popular with Alaskans.
About the Silver Salmon Derby
The Silver Salmon Derby was founded in 1956, making 2023 its 68th year. The founders had two goals: increase tourism to Seward and boost Resurrection Bay salmon populations. That first year saw 1,000 anglers with William Kupfer winning a 1956 Chevy Bel Air for his silver salmon of just over 15 pounds.
What many people may not know is that salmon aquaculture plays a big role in keeping the silvers returning to Resurrection Bay for this derby. Since the beginning, derby profit money has been used for a salmon restoration fund. The fund is used to support silver (coho) salmon aquaculture as well as other projects.
When derby anglers bring their salmon back to the derby weigh-in station, they are given the option of donating or buying back their salmon for $5 a fish. The donated salmon are sold to a local fish processor and all the money collected through the buy-backs and donations is used for the Seward Chamber of Commerce Salmon Restoration Fund.
This fund helps to pay for Cook Inlet Aquaculture Association (CIAA) for the raising of silver salmon. Our Bear Creek Weir staff annually collect eggs and milt from the silvers returning to the weir. The resulting fertilized eggs are incubated at the Trail Lakes Hatchery until released back to Bear Lake (as fry) and Bear Creek (as smolt).
How CIAA supports the Silver Salmon Derby
In a collaborative effort with CIAA, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game (ADF&G) also collects silver eggs and milt at Bear Creek Weir. These eggs are taken to the William Jack Hernandez Hatchery in Anchorage for incubation to the smolt stage and then transported back to Seward for release.
In total, about a half a million eggs are collected each year between CIAA and ADF&G. The combined released from CIAA and ADF&G are estimated to produce about an annual return of about 20,000 silvers.
Silver salmon generally spend 18 months at sea before returning as adults. Their adult weight is usually between 8 and 12 pounds and they are distinguished by their bright silver color with small black spots on their backs. Silvers are known to return to just about any accessible body of fresh water, including the smallest of creeks or ponds.
A popular sport fishing event
Angers love to fish for silvers because they put up a good fight. Hooked silvers will dodge under the water and jump high in the air to try and shake that hook, making it a challenging and fun experience for the angler.
The chance to fish for silvers as well as win prizes in the Silver Salmon Derby draws in a crowd each year. There are categories for fishing from shore, from a boat, and even from a kayak. And the prizes are awarded by weight with the heaviest fish winning the overall first-place prize. The heaviest fish so far in the 68 years of the derby was caught by Shirley Baysinger in 2002 and weighed 22.24 pounds!
The 2023 Silver Salmon Derby winner from Tennessee
The Silver Salmon Derby usually runs for about nine days in August. The 2023 event ended on August 20. The overall winner was Timothy Kain from Kingsport, Tennessee, with his 13.98 pound fish. He won $10,000 and the weight of his fish in coffee beans provided by a local coffee company.
Anglers caught nearly 9,600 pounds of silver salmon this year. The money generated by those fish will go right back into the restoration fund to keep this silver run returning year after year.