HOMER -- Memorial Day weekend is the time many Alaska boaters put their vessels in the water after a long winter break. In Seldovia, the holiday also harkens a popular fishing derby -- one with a local twist. Seldovia's Human Powered Fishing Derby is a no-motor event, drawing fishermen with kayaks, canoes, rowboats -- even scuba masks.
Organizer Tim Dillon started the derby six years ago to share 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 the derby as a way to celebrate the region's rich history of boating, beginning long before motorized craft were developed.
"I just really wanted to continue that message," he said. "You can just go right outside of the harbor and catch dinner."
Mark Janes, also of Seldovia, has hit the waves for the derby four out of the past five years, and said he hopes to be out again come Memorial Day Weekend. He's entered the derby 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."
His catch has varied over the years.
"I've caught starfish, I've caught some cod. I caught a little halibut," Janes said. Last year, six king salmon were landed, topped by Dillon's 22-pounder. Toby Seville's 11.4-pound halibut took that division. All together, 29 anglers fished from two dozen human-powered boats.
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," he said. "You're waving at people, and it's usually just a bunch of motorboats 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 recalled. "We went way out there, and were just cruising along. Suddenly, we heard the spout of a whale; it was cruising past us, probably 100 yards off."
Dillon's favorite memories of past derbies center on the people who come out . "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 age 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. "We're out there on the water together and 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.
Twenty to 40 boats have participated in past derbies, Dillon said, but he's hoping more people will take advantage of the Seldovia ferry and come over from Homer and other parts of the Kenai Peninsula.
Anglers can look forward to prizes for the largest king salmon, halibut and gray cod, as well as a yet-to-be-determined grand prize. Past awards have included 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.
For the most part, however, Dillon said people don't come for the prizes. This derby is all about getting out on the water with family and friends, and seeing Kachemak Bay at a slower pace.
One of his favorite derby moments, Dillon said, was a group kayak trip several miles down the coast. They set up camp, stayed up late around the fire and woke up in the early hours to fish.
"The entire inlet was like a sheet of glass," he said. "We were up until 2 in the morning."
The derby, which welcomes all non-motorized fishing ventures, begins Friday (May 23) at 8 a.m. It runs until 4 p.m. Sunday. Derby grounds do not include the Seldovia Harbor, slough, or any beach, but have no other boundary. Sign-up starts Friday morning at the tents on the harbor front, where participants can find a complete list of rules. The entry fee is $35 per rod.
Whether or not you hit the water for the derby, Dillon and fellow fisherman invite the community down for a potluck and fish fry on Sunday afternoon.
To pre-register or for more information, call Tim Dillon at 907-234-7858. Contact the Seldovia ferry at 907-435-3299 for information about passenger and boat transport to Seldovia.
Hannah Heimbuck is a reporter for the Homer Tribune. Used with permission.