Salmon Derby Time in the Northwest


Salt Patrol fishing a NW Salmon Derby

Salt Patrol fishing a NW Salmon Derby



When anyone mentions derby time, it gets my blood pumping. The idea of competitive fishing is just a big adrenaline rush for me. Some like snowboarding from mountain tops or skydiving from 10,000 feet but for me the thrill of running my boat in what is now a very competitive NW Salmon Derby Series event with a chance of landing a winning fish, is a big thrill rush for me.

Finding fish when the competition is on the line is tough, landing a fish is one thing but doing it during a derby with hundreds of boats fishing is a total different skill set. Yep, I know anyone can win and luck does play a factor when you fish for one big fish instead of a tournament format where total daily fish weight wins. But still, if you look at the top anglers or teams that win or place year after year, a lot has to do with their prep before the event.  These guys put in lots of work long before daylight on derby day.

For me and many others, prep work starts several days before the derby. I look at the tides and current flows to decide what area will hold bait blackmouth fishing when slack tide hits.  I note these locations and the predicted weather, and wind patterns.

I spend time on tackle rigging, do the reels need new line, are all my hooks new or do they need replacement on my favorite lures and do I have good bait ready to go?  The boat gets the same treatment. Are the motors ready, gas tank full and all electronics purring?  Is it ready for bad weather? These February and March events see some windy days. What have the local reports weeks leading up to the event produced? Asking for a current fishing report a few days before usually gets you a tight lip response. Where will I fish if the wind comes up, what’s my backup plan? How about the downrigger cable on the Scotty’s.  Yep change mine out every year as I take no chances here. Cable is cheap compared to a 15 lb lead ball and release clip replacement. How about spares, do I have all I need, extra cable, lures, balls, etc? It is hard to find spare anything during a derby.

I like to meet up with my team and talk strategy before the derby. Your team might be you and you’re wife or your fishing buddy or if even if you hand select your team from a bunch of great anglers, they all need to know what’s expected of them on your boat.  Who’s the net man, if I hookup who acts as captain and maneuvers that boat?  Is this their first time on your boat, do they know where I keep all the equipment?

Derby fishing is a great team sport; many anglers will say “They won because they have a great boat and spend big bucks”. Not so with the big fish format that is the NW Derby Series. The boat is nothing more than a fishing platform. You troll a lure or a herring from a 12 ft aluminum boat the same way you troll a lure from a 40 ft sportfisher. The anglers that place well in derbies every year prep well and are willing to put in the time on the water fishing their butts off. 

Pre-fishing is a topic that comes up often. Yes many of the top anglers who score year after year not only pre-fish when possible but know the prime derby fish holding areas as well. If you can’t pre-fish spend time finding out who the top anglers are and where and why they fish a particular area. Many times this information comes much freer after the event is over, but still very useful for future reference. Pre-fishing for a day or two before the event whenever possible does pay big dividends. If possible try to get at least one day in.  

On the day of the derby I like to be down at the dock early, have my rods rigged, bait cured and all tackle laid out and ready to go for the day. I check the latest weather forecast and have the motors warmed up including the kicker and I’m ready to leave the dock at “start fishing” time.

Once out on the water, I try to go with fishing my plan, chasing radio fish can cost you fishing time and cash as usually by the time you relocate the bite will be over if it happened at all. Yes we have all done it and for the most part it has not paid off for me. I do stay in contact with my buddies on other boats sharing current reports and conditions on the cell phone. This kind of info has helped in the past and I recommend it. It can save you a relocating to a dead area and wasting prime fishing time.

When we land a derby fish I’m very careful with it in the net, if it’s a legal fish and if we’re going to retain it as a derby fish, I try to insure it doesn’t bleed out. Nothing worse than losing a place by an ounce.  The salmon gets head bonked and dropped into iced saltwater water bath in a cooler to help retain weight.  It stays there until we go for weigh in. If it’s a potential winner were off to the scale as soon as it’s open to prevent any undo weight loss.

I certainly have lost more derbies then I have won over the years, but still every year about this time I start getting the rush to enter a salmon derby. What really pays off about fishing the NW Salmon Derby Series is the camaraderie you develop with other anglers. You meet new anglers and you can’t help but learn some new fishing techniques and locations at each event. But most of all it makes you a better salmon fisherman and there is always that chance you will be standing on the winners stage with that rather large cardboard check with lots of zeros printed on it!  

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