Michelle Otis, Ph.D., introduces the Atlas and Athena program to a group of Brookings-Harbor High School leadership members on Thursday. The Pilot/Jef Hatch
One year ago: The 2011 Slam’n Salmon Derby produced a total of 47 fish for the entire Labor Day weekend one year ago.
This year: The 2012 Slam’n Salmon Derby came two fish short of tripling that number in just one day of fishing as more than 450 fishermen braved the icy waters of the Pacific Ocean to bring in 1,920 pounds of Chinook salmon.
“It’s great,” event coordinator Tawndy Davidson said on Friday. “There are a lot of fish being caught. Tomorrow will be busier, but we’re cruising right along.”
The heaviest fish of the day – 25.1 pounds – was caught by Michael Sovine of Gold Hill, who made the weigh station line with just minutes to spare as the first day of fishing drew to a close.
Sovine also took home third prize for most combined weight with two fish totaling 36.9 pounds.
Cindy Carman of Medford claimed second place in most combined fish with 39.8 pounds, while Wes Small of Albany took first with 40.4 pounds of glistening pink and silver flesh.
Second heaviest fish overall went to a fisherman who has been in a boat for every Slam’n Salmon Derby since he was born almost nine years ago – Dean “Hoot” James.
“He has been fishing since he was born,” Hoot’s father, Tim Coakley, said. “He’s been in every Slam’n Salmon tournament.”
Hoot, a resident of Cave Junction, claimed first place for a short time after his fish, weighing in at 24.1 pounds, was weighed with approximately one hour remaining in the day’s competition, but his reign at the top was short-lived as Sovine’s 1-pound-heavier fish came in.
“I thought it was a big one,” Hoot said of reeling his Chinook in. “I’d be surprised if it was the biggest I caught though. I guess I could catch a 40-pound one.”
Hoot uses a fighting chair bolted to the deck of his parents boat. The chair allows for him to be strapped in for safety and utilizes a gimbal to help him hold the pole, but he receives no assistance from his father or mother in bringing the fish in.
“He netted it for me,” Hoot said indicating his father, “but he didn’t help me reel it in.”
According to long-time weighmaster Jon Terebesi, there isn’t much chance of seeing fish much larger than the current weights.
“The way the fish are weighing up, I don’t think we’ll see a 40 pounder,” he said. “The fall fish just aren’t coming in yet.”
Terebesi has been weighmaster at the derby since it began nine years ago and has seen tons of fish – literally – come across his scales.
He also keeps an eye – and an ear – open to weather and ocean conditions throughout the derby.
“It got better out there as the day went on,” he explained of the favorable conditions on Friday, “but the wind started picking up at the change of the tide and it got a little rough.”
While the likelihood of seeing a 40-pound Chinook is low, the chances of seeing another 5.6-pound salmon are just as slim.
Ken Hoback – father to the 2011 champion, Shaun Hoback – brought in the smallest fish of the day at just that weight; 5.6 pounds.
“It feels normal,” Shaun – who got skunked – said of his dad’s catch. “Last year’s win for me was pure luck and so this is more like what we’re used to.”
The derby continues through Sunday afternoon with plenty of activities off the water, too, including a fish tank provided by the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW) and the Oregon South Coast Fishermen (OSCF).
“It’s here so people can see salmon and steelhead alive and in their habitat,” OSCF president Tony Hobbs said. “The kids love it and it’s a great attraction for the one’s not fishing.”
The tank features multiple salmon in a variety of sizes as well as a sturgeon, and attracted viewers of all ages to watch and wonder at the underwater world.
“Most of the fish you see here are dead,” Hobbs said. “So it lets people see them swimming and then they might want more information on other projects that we and the ODFW are working on.”
Today: fishing begins at first light and the weigh station closes at 4 p.m. with daily winners announced around 4:30 p.m.