The Golden North Salmon Derby returns this weekend for the 77th edition as the same charitable event, with bigger prizes. (Meredith Jordan / Juneau Empire)

The Golden North Salmon Derby returns this weekend for the 77th edition as the same charitable event, with bigger prizes. (Meredith Jordan / Juneau Empire)

Salmon Derby expects to bring on the coho and some king

Popular charitable competition swims off starting Friday

Juneau resident Shawn Bethers, the winner of last year’s Golden North Salmon Derby, has some wise advice for this year’s contestants: Be sure to double-check the fish you catch to make sure you know the species. Taking an undersized king can get you in trouble and it’s easy to do.

Bethers, who took the grand prize last year with a 22.1-pound king, is among the estimated 1,000 people expected to participate in the 77th Golden North Salmon Derby again this year.

Registrations have just started picking up, event chair Ryan Beason said Monday, noting roughly 90% happen the week of the derby. Fishing starts at 7:30 a.m. on Friday and ends at 6 p.m. Sunday. Meanwhile, the prize money for the derby is up this year, surpassing $1,000 in every category, he said.

Beason predicts this year’s top-weighing fish will be a king salmon, but it’s all about the coho, which are in season.

“As far as the fish, it’s a matter of timing,” Beason said. “We try to time it right. Some years we miss it, and some years we hit it big.”

For the second year in a row, the Juneau weigh station is at Auke Nu Cove, located near the ferry terminal.

Coho is “where we make most of our money,” said Beason, referring to proceeds from the sale of fish. The Territorial Sportsmen Scholarship Foundation, which puts on the derby, uses the money to fund scholarships. It surpassed $2 million in money awarded for colleges, graduate and vocational studies before this year’s event. Income for the charity also comes from general donations and the return on investments in the foundation’s endowment fund.

For Juneauites like Bethers, the derby is a family event.

“It’s derby time — our favorite summer weekend, for sure,” he said.

He doubted he had missed a single year, then added, “maybe I missed one as a baby in a car seat.” By the time he was in college he made sure trips home coincided with derby weekend.

Last year Bether caught the winning fish with his daughter, Helea, now 11. She will be with him this year, as will his older daughter, Maelee, 13, and wife Jessica. His parents are coming in for the weekend, and his sister and brother-in-law also participate.

That leads back to knowing what you catch. Last week Bether hooked two 24-inch salmon and was just about to throw them in the cooler when he took a closer look. It turned out one was king, which has to be 28 inches to be taken. It lived to swim another day.

“I damn near broke the law and kept a small fish, which my dad taught me never to do,” he said. The trick, Bether said, is to check the gums of the fish: The gums of king salmon are black; cohos are white. “Also, cohos have a silver tail,” he said. “You only get in trouble if you keep the kings.”

“I’ve been fishing for 35 years, and if I could nearly do it, believe me it’s easy to do.“

PAST SALMON DERBY WINNERS

2017*: Donald Zenger, 18.8-pound coho, Auke Bay (*no king fishing in 2017)

2018*: James McKnight, 17.7-pound coho, Douglas (*no king fishing in 2018)

2019: Steven Bogert, 24-pound king, Douglas

2020: Mike Pusich, 28-pound king, Douglas

2021: Tiffany Listberger, 31.7-pound king, Auke Bay

2022: Shawn Bethers, 22.1-pound king, Auke Bay

Know & Go

What: 77th Golden North Salmon Derby

Where: Weigh station is at Auke Nu Cove (near the ferry terminal). A map for this year’s tournament can be found online: https://www.goldennorthsalmonderby.com.

When: Shoreside weigh-in times are Friday, 7:30 a.m.-7 p.m.; Saturday 7 a.m.- 7 p.m.; and Sunday, 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. Derby prizes for scholarship and special prizes pickup, Thursday, August 17, at Juneau Arts and Culture Center. Pickup starts at 5:30 p.m. The award ceremony for top fish, high five and Bullwinkle’s Scholarship begins at 7 p.m.

Cost: $50 for individual adult tickets and $10 for kids ages 6-12 years old, $100 team entry fee per person.

• Contact Meredith Jordan at meredith.jordan@juneauempire.com or (907) 615-3190.

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