The first Golden North Salmon Derby was Aug. 31, 1947. (Actually it wasn’t named Golden North Salmon Derby until 1948.) There were two judging stations; one at Tee Harbor and one at Auke Village Recreation Area. There were thirty prizes ranging from a Plymouth sedan to canned fruit.
Total value was estimated to be $4500. The Derby was suspended because of weather and re-started the next weekend. The present three day derby was introduced in 1949. There were 360 entrants competing for $6300 in prizes including a car and 3,000 pounds of canned salmon. The Scholarship Fund was established with $1,000 from the sale of the1953 derby fish; no doubt boosted by the annual convention of Alaskan dentists who carefully timed their convention to coincide with the Derby. The 1955 Derby saw 2,000 participants vying for $12,000 in prizes and produced $2,000 for scholarships. Two scholarships were awarded for the first time.
The Derby continued to evolve and by the 10th Derby the present method of winners choice for prize selection “whereby each winner in turn was privileged to choose his prize from all those remaining” was adopted and was reported to work well. The 1960 Derby saw the expansion of the Derby area to include Pt. Hilda Light and Young’s Bay while the prize list included two cars. Ticket prices were $12 for 3 days. The Derby button shape was changed from round to oval.
There were 4,000 participants in the 1963 Derby which was won by 5 yr. old Jody Pasquan. Special prizes were awarded for the largest halibut. The 1966 Derby saw expansion of the fishing grounds to include Doty Cove and Grand Island and the addition of Douglas Boat harbor as an official station. Four $2,000 scholarships were awarded. 1970 saw a ticket price of $15 for 3 days and the Juneau Yacht Club assumed the boat patrol responsibilities.
1971 brought the Silver Anniversary of the Derby and a special tagged fish worth $10,000. Roger Polley designed plaques that were to be awarded to the top four Derby winners. Changes in State law complicated the paperwork side of the Derby. Halibut prizes were discontinued.
In 1977 the Derby was moved to August in order to address concerns for possible impacts on the King salmon population and to provide more scholarship fish. Derby starting procedures were changed in 1978 in response to safety concerns and the starting “bombs” were eliminated. There was a special prize for fly fishermen. Four fish were tagged as special prizes.
1979 saw $20 tickets and six tagged fish each worth $1,000. A new banner was provided for South Franklin street. The Hoonah Handtrollers protested because new Fish & Game regulations did not permit handtrollers to fish in derbies. In 1980 the date was moved to later in August, where it has remained, to avoid conflicting with the Haines fair. There was a big flap with the Federal Communications Commission regarding radio broadcasts of the Derby. The tagged fish prizes were dropped. 1981 saw the inclusion of tide data in the official derby brochure. Radio broadcasts were resumed in 1983. Amalga Harbor was added as an official station. Awards Night was moved from the Elks to Centennial Hall.
In 1985 the Derby area was expanded to Pt. Styleman. Ticket validation on first fishing day was implemented allowing participants to stay out on the fishing grounds. Tagged fish were re-instituted. 1986 brought $25 tickets and a $100,000 tagged fish. Scholarship amounts were increased to $8,000.
1989 saw the addition of more tagged fish; though worth far less than the $100,000 fish. Downriggers were permitted beginning in 1991.
Ticket prices went to $30 in 1992. The booklet style of brochure was adopted and 95 year old Frank Zamora fished the Derby.
1996 was the golden anniversary of the Golden North Salmon Derby. There were 3400 tickets sold. Over $120,000 in prizes provided keen competition while a $500,000 tagged fish and a $100,000 tagged fish provided incentive to turn in scholarship fish. Maggie Hall caught the $100,000 fish. Tee Harbor was dropped as a weigh-in station. Dick Garrison, Chuck Porter, and Rudy Pusich completed a clean sweep having fished in all fifty Derbies. 1996 was also the first year that Derby standings were posted on the Internet (via the KINY Radio website). The Derby introduced its own official website the next year.
1997 saw ticket prices going to $35 and scholarships to $10,000. Prizes were valued at over $100,000. DEC regulations required umbrellas at fish cleaning stations to protect cleaning tables from errant seagulls.
In 1998, prizes exceeded $85,000 and a contest for the best Derby photo was added.
1999 saw the institution of a $10 ticket for junior anglers (12 and younger) for the three day derby as well as the development of possible scholarship prizes for the top three weights turned in by junior anglers. Also, the Salmon Derby joined the computer age through the development of a web site.
The first derby of the new millennium saw an “outsider” win the big prize for the first time. Wayne Sutherland turned in a 36.9-pound King at the Packer on the first day to take the first prize to Boise, Idaho. The Derby was dedicated to Ladd Macauley and Chuck Porter. Chuck fished every Derby until this one and actually won the Derby in 1952. Ladd contributed much to the community but his efforts in enhancing area fisheries have contributed to the Derby and to our young people through the scholarships partly made possible by the fish Ladd helped produce.