By Josh Bronson
Pilot staff writer
The fifth annual Slam'n Salmon Ocean Derby, the largest ocean salmon derby in the Pacific Northwest, is ready for another record year.
"The numbers are looking good and the ocean is starting to lay down," derby co-founder Jim Relaford said. "Right now, we have about 550 registered and we expect anywhere from around 800 to 1,000 fishermen this year."
Last year, 766 fishermen braved the mighty Pacific to try and catch the trophy Chinook that would bring in the $5,000 grand prize and the gold ring.
Ken Tanksley of Medford brought home the grand prize with his 44.1 pound beauty.
"My guess is that it's going to take a 47 or 48 pounder to win this year," Relaford said.
Each year, the winning derby fish has been bigger than the previous winner, starting with a 34.04-pounder caught by Art Selby of Brookings in the inaugural derby in 2003.
Fishermen come from all over the country to fish in the Slam'n Salmon Ocean Derby, with the farthest entrant so far coming from Yonkers, New York.
"There's a lot of new people coming into our area to fish for the first time," Relaford said. "What's happening is that people are making family reunions out of the derby. They're coming from Colorado, Arizona, Missouri to fish the derby and spend the weekend here."
Derby headquarters opens at noon on Thursday, where fishermen will be able to pick up their badges to begin fishing Friday morning.
The beer garden and vendors on the boardwalk will also open up on Thursday.
Fishing begins Friday morning at 5 a.m. and fishermen must be in line at the weigh-in station by 4 p.m. that day.
On Sunday afternoon, the derby will wrap up with salmon barbecue, where organizers are planning to serve 1,500 people, according to Relaford.
"Close to 100 volunteers are already signed up to help with the weekend," Relaford said. "But we still need some help with shucking corn at around noon on Sunday."
Cal-Ore Life Flight will be offering helicopter rides on the final day of the derby (Sunday) for people who want to fly over the boats and take aerial photos of their loved ones or for those who just want to go on an exciting ride.
There will be over $15,000 in prizes handed out over the three day event, including cash prizes and various drawings.
Registration is $50 per person and each entry fee includes a free salmon barbecue dinner.
Interested fishermen can register at www.slamnsalmon.com or at the derby headquarters located on the boardwalk in the Port of Brookings Harbor up until the morning of the final day of fishing.
Reminder: There is a possibility that the coho season may still be open during the derby, but coho salmon will not be counted. The derby is for Chinook salmon only.
The fifth annual Slam'n Salmon Ocean Derby will likely draw over 800 fishermen from across the country to the Port of Brookings-Harbor.
But the derby hasn't always been this successful.
In 2003, just four short years ago, Jim Relaford and Leroy Blodgett came up with the idea of having an ocean salmon derby in Brookings.
With only six weeks to prepare for the event, Relaford and Blodgett were able to find 113 fishermen to participate in the inaugural event.
At the time, the derby was referred to as the Wild Rivers Coast Salmon Derby.
After handing out $1,100 in prizes the first year, the prizes were increased to $11,000 with a grand prize of $5,000 in 2004.
The number of participants also skyrocketed from the first to second year, going from 113 to 438 fishermen and 700 salmon barbecue dinners.
In 2004, the current name of the derby, "Slam'n Salmon Ocean Derby," was adopted.
With the leftover money earned from the entry fees and sponsors, the derby committee donated the money to various fish enhancement programs, a tradition they continued in each derby thereafter.
Over 600 anglers swarmed Brookings in 2005, and the salmon barbecue served around 1,400 people, double the previous year.
The number of entries continued to climb in 2006, with 766 fishermen heading out to sea on the final day of fishing.