What some call the most unique fishing derby in the nation, the Seventh Annual CCA King of the Reach Live Capture Derby, aims to improve hatchery production through angler assistance this month on the Hanford Reach section of the Columbia River.
The derby, scheduled for the weekend of October 25-27th, is a collaborative partnership between Grant County PUD, the Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife and the Coastal Conservation Association’s Tri-Cities chapter.
Sport fisherman sign up for the derby in hopes of catching wild fall chinook salmon to be used in the Priest Rapids hatchery program. This year’s derby boat entry sold out in one week.
While angler broodstock collection is utilized in several watersheds in the Pacific Northwest, the Hanford Reach program is arguably the largest such program.
It is also the only known derby-format broodstock program, with participating anglers eligible for thousands of dollars in prizes provided by Grant PUD, CCA, and local businesses.
Traditional catch and keep fishing is closed during the event in that area, so derby participants enjoy a near private water experience. Fish caught by anglers are held in makeshift live wells (typically large coolers with supplied aerators) and are delivered to hatchery staff on the shore.
These fish are then taken to the Priest Rapids Fish Hatchery where they are spawned. “Utilizing these wild genetics in the hatchery has several positive benefits. One benefit is that the genetic base of the hatchery produced fish is diversified by adding wild fish into the stock composition,” said the CCA in a press release.
“This also helps improve genetic fitness and survival of the hatchery chinook produced. Integrated hatchery efforts like the Priest Rapids fall chinook program must utilize a certain percentage of wild fish in their egg production efforts, making the King of the Reach Derby a vital part of the production process.”
“The King of the Reach Live Capture Derby is, undoubtedly the most unique fishing derby experience in the Pacific Northwest, if not the country,” said Nello Picinich, CCA Washington’s Executive Director. “Anglers come from all over just to fish in the derby, including participants from across Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Montana, California and even New York. The opportunity to fish closed water for aggressive salmon, while competing for prizes is incredibly exciting while also being beneficial for the Grant PUD hatchery program.”
Originating with a pilot program in 2012, the derby has been responsible for producing approximately 18 million fertilized salmon eggs over the past seven years for the Grant PUD salmon hatchery program.
In 2018, a record 280 anglers turned in over 1200 fish for the program which generated over 7.8 million fertilized salmon eggs with at least one wild parent. The fish caught in the derby are known as the famed Upriver Bright stock which fuel important fisheries from southeast Alaska all the way up the Columbia to their spawning grounds on the Hanford Reach.
“Chinook salmon are an important food source for the imperiled Southern Resident Killer Whales, making this program more important than ever before,” said the CCA.
Although boat entry is sold out, anglers that are fishing on already-registered boats can still purchase tickets online at www.ccawashington.org/KingoftheReach or by calling 360-694-4300. Derby rules, and additional information can be found www.ccawashington.org/KingoftheReach.
The Vernita boat launch and White Bluffs launch both serve as derby registration stations, along with fish collection points, with a new fish collection point located between the two launches at “the Punch Bowl.” There will be no new boat entries taken on-site during the derby. Primitive camping is permitted at Vernita, while no camping is allowed at the White Bluffs site.
Coastal Conservation Association is a non-profit organization comprised of 200 chapters in 18 coastal states spanning the Gulf of Mexico, Atlantic and Pacific coasts. In 2007, CCA expanded into the Pacific Northwest and the organization quickly grew to more than 9,000 members and continues to launch new chapters in both Oregon and Washington. For more information, please visit www.CCAWashington.org