Seldovia’s human-powered derby gains momentum
Tim Dillon doesn’t like what many fishing derbies have
become: a race to the fishing grounds and a complex
assortment of high-tech boats and outboards. “People
get caught up in the expense, the boat, the gas, the pressure of catching
fish,” he said. “Fishing can be enjoyed with a human-paddled boat,
a rod and reel or a hook and hand line.”
The sixth annual Seldovia Human-Powered Fishing Derby is his answer
to help anglers rediscover and celebrate the fun and simplicity of
fishing. The entry requirements are simple: Only nonmotorized boats
such as kayaks, canoes, rowboats, paddleboats and homemade craft are
“We’ve had 70-year-old women participate, and have had scuba divers
go out and get fish,” he says. “Spearfishing is also allowed in the
derby. As long as it’s human powered, it qualifies.” Phil Gagnon was
a winner the first year of the derby, catching a 17-pound king salmon.
“It was the first time I had fished out of a kayak, and it was thrilling,”
he recalls. “The salmon hit and pulled me across the bay before I
finally landed it. I’d fish the derby again, no question about it. ”Dillon
reminds potential entrants that the derby isn’t the place to satisfy a
wide-eyed addiction for large, daily cash awards.
“There is a $100 award each for the largest salmon, halibut, gray cod,
and black rock fish,” he says. “Everyone who officially weighs in one
of those species qualifies for a random drawing for the grand prize,
including those that won the first-place prizes. Each year we give away
a boat. Two years ago, the grand prize was a 17-foot sail/rowboat with
trailer. Last year it was a fully equipped Easy Rider kayak. These boats
have been valued from $3,000 to $6,000. Not bad prizes for a $35 entry
fee and the odds of winning are pretty good for a competitive fleet of
about 40 boats.”
Dillon has received grant money this year from the National Scenic
Byways to construct a timber-framed pavilion at the Seldovia Boat
Harbor to serve as the derby center and informational kiosk for the
derby throughout the year.
The 2014 derby will be Memorial Day weekend, starting at 8 a.m.
Friday, May 23, and ending at 4 p.m. Sunday, May 25. He plans a ribbon-
cutting ceremony at the pavilion and hopes to attract greater participation
at this year’s event.
“Some entrants enter the derby and plan an adventure weekend,” he
says. “They’ll paddle 10 miles up the coast, camp out and fish all day
Saturday and return Sunday, paddling as much as 30 miles.”
Once the derby ends, the fun continues.
“We have a potluck fish fry shortly after the derby closes, using fish
entered in the contest,” he said. “In the past, commercial fishermen
have donated halibut to the fry and lots of nonentrants join in for the
celebration. It’s a lot of fun when anglers are called up to tell their story
of what they caught and how.” Dillon said he moved to Seldovia about
30 years ago, where he built a wilderness lodge, guided clients on kayak
trips, and promoted ecotourism long before it became mainstream in
Alaska. He hopes to continue his vision by using fishing not only as a
focal point for anglers to have fun, but also to remind them that Seldovia’s
history has a rich background in human-powered craft for fishing,
work and transportation.
Dillon’s vision is generating a growing interest each year. There
will always be derbies for anglers who think bigger is better. No matter
what size fish you catch in the Seldovia Human-Powered Fishing
Derby, however, you have a shot at the grand prize. The big catch here
is your total experience on the water.
It’s a great concept, and thoughts of the derby are already planting
the seeds of fishing adventure in my mind. I’m thinking about dusting
off the kayak, rigging a hand line and imaging myself as the crusty old
angler in Ernest Hemingway’s “The Old Man and the Sea.”
I wonder: Would the contest judges allow as an entry a salmon or
halibut that I caught that was partially eaten by a salmon shark while
I was hand lining it in? The only way to find out is to enter the derby
and experience an angling adventure limited only by luck and your