MATT SCHUBERT’S OUTDOORS COLUMN: Salmon is king but flatties are nice

ONE HAS TO look long and hard to find any remnants of the old Port Angeles Salmon Derby.

I stumbled upon one myself during an afternoon bike ride along Ediz Hook a couple of years ago.

There, stuck to an old, worn message board near the Hook’s public boat launch was a collection of faded Port Angeles Salmon Club derby brochures from the 1980s.

While it might not seem all that long ago to some, it’s now been 18 years since the last Port Angeles Salmon Derby.

Thus, an annual event that was once the Port Angeles equivalent of the Irrigation and Rhododendron festivals is but a memory.

Talk to longtime locals about it, and they’ll surely rip off a few stories of what it used to be like each Labor Day weekend in Port Angeles.

Thousands would come from out of town during the derby’s heyday, both for the fishing and the accompanying Derby Days festival.

There was a parade, derby royalty and, of course, the two-day fishing contest that awarded $25,000 in prizes.

A line of boat trailers took up the entirety of Ediz Hook, and the water out in front was dotted with boats jutting up against each other from bow to stern fishing the same drift.

Salmon caught in the derby sat on ice in large bins for all to see all weekend on the Hook.

And for some time, there was even a starting line for all of the boats to gather at. Once a flag was waved at dawn, they’d all take off in a mad dash for their favorite honey holes.

After a man sunk his boat in the ensuing chaos one year, it was decided that perhaps such a start might be a little too risky for all involved.

The derby went on for nearly six decades from 1937 to 1993 (minus a few years during World War II.)

Even as the state’s salmon stocks thinned out, the salmon club and surrounding areas negotiated to keep fishing open for Labor Day.

It wasn’t until the very last one in 1993 that the event had to be moved to July in order to fall in the state-mandated fishing season.

One year later, fisheries managers lowered the boom with a complete closure of summer salmon fishing in the Strait.

Port Angeles lost its salmon derby and, in a way, its identity.

An article published in the PDN after the closures were announced summed it up thusly: “Salmon Capital of the World? Don’t look here.”

By the end of the decade, Port Angeles saw all 18 of its charter operations leave town.

What’s left

Perhaps the lasting legacy of the Port Angeles Salmon Derby is what anglers get to look forward to each Memorial Day weekend.

The club’s annual Halibut Derby is, after all, a product of the popularity those 56 salmon derbies had before it.

At its height in 1988, a total of 2,842 people registered for the salmon derby. The revenue generated from those events still helps support its flatty successor.

It might not be quite as big, but the Halibut Derby is one of the largest fishing events on the Peninsula.

It returns for the 11th year in a row this Saturday and Sunday when hundreds of anglers descend upon Port Angeles.

The target may not be quite the same — salmon will always be king — but it’s still something worth celebrating.

Let’s just hope we can keep this one around for a while.

________

Matt Schubert is the outdoors and sports columnist for the Peninsula Daily News. His column regularly appears on Thursdays and Fridays. He can be reached at matt.schubert@peninsuladailynews.com.

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