By Hannah Heimbuch
Memorial Day weekend is a favorite launch point for many an Alaska boater, getting gear and vessels in the water after a long winter break. In Seldovia, the holiday harkens a popular fishing derby, with a local twist. The Seldovia Memorial Day Derby is entirely human-powered, drawing fishermen with kayaks, canoes, rowboats and even scuba masks.
For organizer Tim Dillon, starting the derby six years ago was all about sharing a favorite pastime with his community.
“I’ve been paddling and rowing on Kachemak Bay for 33 years,” Dillon said. “I’ve just always fished out of human-powered craft.”
He also sees it as a way to celebrate the region’s rich history of boating, one that reaches back long before motorized crafts were developed.
“I just really wanted to continue that message into the future,” he said. “You can just go right outside of the harbor and catch dinner.”
Mark Janes, of Seldovia, has hit the waves for the derby four out of the past five years, and hopes to be out again come Memorial Day weekend. He’s entered using a hard-shell kayak and an inflatable kayak. Despite the challenge of carting gear and hauling fish in a human-powered craft, the derby is a great time, he said.
“It’s just fun. It definitely gets you out on the water on a day you might not necessarily be going out,” he said. “It’s peaceful.”
The catch has varied over the years.
“I’ve caught (sea stars), I’ve caught some cod. I caught a little halibut,” Janes said.
But that’s not the only interaction he goes for.
“It’s fun to see a whole bunch of little boats out on the bay cruising around, and you’re waving at people,” he said. “It’s usually just a bunch of motor boats cruising out of here.”
Janes has made some great memories on the water on derby days.
“Me and my friend Chris were out one year past Fourth of July Creek,” he said. “We went way out there. We’re just cruising along and suddenly you hear the spout of a whale, it was cruising past us, probably 100 yards off.”
Dillon’s favorite memories of derbies past center on the people that come out to enjoy them.
“What I see drawing the people on the south side of Kachemak Bay is this notion that we all get together with our families,” Dillon said. That includes toddlers bundled in life jackets, elders upwards of 70, and everyone in between.
“It’s such a refreshing thing for us to get together and not have to use internal combustion engines,” Dillon said. “To be out there on the water together and to be sharing secrets of how to do it. Just pulling up alongside one another and hanging onto another boat and enjoying the weather.”
The quiet and camaraderie of the human-powered derby makes for a great community weekend, he said.
“When we’re out there we raft up together and we’ll have a sandwich or we’ll laugh and we’ll talk about who got hung up on the kelp,” Dillon said. “There’s a lot more communication.”
They’ve had anywhere from 20 to 40 boats during past derbies, Dillon said, but he’s hoping that more people will take advantage of the Seldovia ferry transport and come over from Homer and other parts of the Kenai Peninsula.
Contact the Seldovia ferry at 907-435-3299 for information about passenger and boat transport to Seldovia.
Anglers can look forward to prizes for the largest king salmon, halibut and gray cod, as well as the grand prize. This year’s grand prize is yet to be determined, but past awards include a Scott Hansen carving, several Dave Seaman boats, and last year’s prize, an Easy Rider kayak. Those who enter a fish get their name in the hat for the grand prize, and another entry for every prior year they’ve participated.
But for the most part, Dillon said, people don’t come for the prizes. This derby is about getting out on the water with family and friends, and seeing the bay at a slower pace.
One of his favorite derby moments, Dillon said, was a group kayak trip several miles down the coast, where they set up camp, staying up late around the fire and waking up in the early hours to fish.
“The entire inlet was like a sheet of glass,” he said. “We were up until two in the morning.”
The derby, which welcomes all nonmotorized fishing ventures, begins at 8 a.m. May 23 It runs until 4 p.m. May 25. Derby grounds do not include the Seldovia harbor, slough or any beach, but have no other boundary.
Signup starts the morning of May 23 at tents on the harbor front, where participants can find a complete list of rules. Entry is $35 per rod.
Whether or not a boater takes to the water for the derby, Dillon and fellow fishermen invite the community for a potluck and fish fry following the derby close May 25.
To preregister or for more information, call Dillon at 907-234-7858.