In what other metropolitan city can you go to work in your suit and tie (or dress), walk a block or two at lunchtime, and wet your line to catch a giant king salmon?
Nowhere, really, other than Anchorage. Sure, Seattle’s Pike’s Market features fishmongers tossing these behemoths back and forth, but here in Anchorage, you don’t have to wait in line to buy one. You just fish it out of Ship Creek yourself — and possibly win huge prizes in the process.
The annual Slam’n Salm’n Derby is on again this year, benefitting the Downtown Soup Kitchen, which opened its new location in April. This year’s event is set for June 7-16. There will be all sorts of prizes – including round-trip airfare from Alaska Airlines, cash and tagged salmon worth $100 to $1,000. The angler bringing in the biggest king, though, will be the top winner.
“Travel the world over and see where you have a salmon run coming right through a city with 300,000 people,” said Dean Williams, executive director of the Downtown Soup Kitchen. “There’s nothing else like it.”
Last year’s winner was Josh Jones, of Kingfisher, Okla., who landed a 34.85-pound king and won a new boat, outboard motor and trailer for is efforts.
Most years, though, the locals are the leaders.
“Like most of the tournaments I’ve been part of, the biggest element in catching the winning fish is…luck,” said Jim Lavrakas, who lived in Anchorage when he won the Derby in 2004 but now guides clients aboard his boat, the Skookum, out of Homer. “I was a relative newbie to Ship Creek when I won it in 2004 with a 45.2-pound fish. There were at least six other guys around me who were far better fishermen than I, and had much more experience on the creek. I caught that fish on the second day of the 10-day derby, and was just a mental wreck for the eight remaining days. But what a blast!”
The Slam’n Salm’n Derby has become a tradition in Anchorage, and the Downtown Soup Kitchen depends on its support.
“It’s not so much about how much money we make because as a fund raiser, it is not that much,” Williams said. “Rather it is a way for us to interact with the community and let them know who we are and what we are about.”
The Soup Kitchen is developing a culinary training program for homeless people called Feed Me Hope, modeled after a national program that helps the homeless find work.
“We’re excited about having the derby because we can let people know about it,” Williams added.
The derby promises to be a hit again this year. At the height of the salmon run, it is not uncommon to see anglers lined arm to elbow on either side of the bank, tossing in their lines in hopes of catching a giant. It’s a unique event that anglers like Lavrakas are glad to see continue.
“For anyone living in Anchorage who likes to fish, or wants to supply their table with fresh Alaska salmon, Ship Creek is awesome,” he said.
The Slam’n Salm’n Derby takes place 6 a.m. June 7 through noon June 16. Derby headquarters is at the Alaska Railroad Plaza, across from the ULU Factory (211 W. Ship Creek Ave.) All fish weigh-ins will take place here, as well as confirmation that you’ve indeed caught a king – you’d be surprised at how often folks get their species confused. All Fish and Game regulations apply to anglers – you must have a king stamp and valid 2013 fishing license. For details, complete rules and other questions, visit the Downtown Soup Kitchen’s website at www.downtownsoupkitchen.org.