Golden North Salmon Derby Co-Chair Doug Larsen said Thursday morning the derby will be postponed or canceled until further notice.
The National Weather Service is forecasting gale force winds to whip across the derby grounds on Saturday, including the areas of Lynn Canal, Stephens Passage, Chatham Strait and Cross Sound.
“We just can’t in good conscience have people go out when the conditions are as bad as forecast,” Larsen said.
Larsen said derby officials made the decision on Thursday morning, and the hope is to reschedule the event for next weekend.
“Hopefully we can do it next weekend but we’ll have to check on logistics and things to make sure that’s possible,” he said.
Larsen said the derby is prepared to refund anyone who may not be able to fish at a future date or if the derby is canceled. He said updates will be posted on goldennorthsalmonderby.com.
The derby is sponsored by the Territorial Sportsmen Inc., a conservation organization that promotes the interests of outdoors users, and raises money for the TSI Scholarship Foundation.
It’s only the second time the derby has had to be postponed, according to a history of the first-ever derby written by Karleen Alstead Grummett. During that 1947 derby, Grummett wrote “the derby was suspended by high winds and rough waters and the Coast Guard were kept busy until late into the night helping small boats back to port.”
Kimberly Vaughan, a forecaster at the National Weather Service in Juneau, said the winds will top out at 55 knots on Saturday. Gale force winds are sustained winds of 32-47 knots.
“Saturday is going to be the strongest winds and for that we’re looking for sustained winds up to around 35-40 knots which would give us the potential for gusts as high as 50-55 knots,” she said.
Vaughan said gale force winds are more common occurrences later in the year.
“This is something we would see more in our fall time, in what we call our transition times,” Vaughan said.
The derby fishing grounds encompass most of the area between Point Bridget north of town to Point Styleman south of town.
Derby participant Andrew Dimond, 28, said he wasn’t shocked when the annoucement was made in the morning. Dimond, who fishes off his aluminum boat, kept close tabs on the weekend forecasts throughout the week.
“My small boat’s only 22 feet, so we have to be a little choosier about what weather we fish in than some of the bigger boats,” Dimond said. “But even this weather system is a lot stronger than we are typically used to planning around. It usually doesn’t blow this hard.”
Dimond, a marine biologist at the Ted Stevens Marine Research Institute, hopes the derby will be rescheduled for next weekend “because that’s literally the only weekend I can make and then I’m getting sent out to the Bering Sea for my job for the next three weeks,” Dimond said.
“It’s either next weekend or nothing.”