Editor’s note: This story has been updated with more details on Michael Rian’s derby-winning catch.
A 13.27-pounder held on to win last weekend’s Everett Coho Derby, the first held in three Septembers due to fishery closures because of low forecasted returns.
And while the weather and salmon could have been more cooperative, organizers were still pleased to once again put on what is billed as the West Coast’s largest fishing derby.
“We got back to offering a coho derby, sold almost 1,700 tickets, weighed over 500 coho, and had a great event!” said organizer Mark Spada of the Snohomish Sportsmen’s Club, which along with the Everett Steelhead & Salmon Club puts it on.
It also marked a return to awarding the Northwest Salmon Derby Series grand-prize raffle boat in September, with Joshua Stokes of Post Falls, Idaho, scoring the fully loaded King Fisher 2025 Falcon package valued at $65,000.
MICHAEL RIAN OF North Bend was the lucky angler, catching his $10,000-derby-winning fish on Saturday morning, the bumpier but better of the two-day event.
A longtime fisherman who bought his first boat at 11 with money from lawn-mowing jobs, Rian said the North Sound is his home waters and that he has fished the Everett derby off and on over its 25 years.
For the 2018 edition, he and a fishing partner focused their efforts in the fishy southeastern corner of Marine Area 8-2, trolling from the Shipwreck north to Mukilteo. While their baits were down 50 to 90 feet, all the coho they hooked were at one precise depth, 66 feet.
“Our group of friends who fish each year in Canada has caught a very high number of coho at that exact depth, and have tried to disprove the theory, and we keep losing!” Rian noted.
On the business end was an orange-label herring in a Rhys Davis anchovy helmet in gold, green and chrome and tandem 2/O and 3/O barbless hooks on a 6-foot, 30-pound fluorocarbon leader behind 11-inch flashers in black moon jelly and gold green.
“With rain/heavy cloud cover, we chose dark-colored flashers and gear that would have better visibility given the low light conditions,” Rian said.
With the outgoing tide and strong southwesterly winds and wind waves, the crew decided to fish south to north.
“Everyone knows this about me, but I’m an o-dark thirty fisherman. You CAN’T leave early enough for me! We had gear in the water at 6:15 a.m.; the winning fish was netted at 06:44, and others followed shortly after,” said Rian, which only reinforced his theory that a solid percentage of salmon are caught at first light.
“We knew we had a good fish once it was hooked, but boating it proved challenging given the weather,” he recalled. “We were all business and focused, given the weather and the steady action in a short window of time. I did not realize the full size of the fish until we looked at it in the fish box a bit later. I have to say, both of our guesses were low! It was deceptively heavy.”
The plan for the weekend was to fish Saturday, then hit the Seahawks home opener against the Cowboys, but as Rian watched the online leaderboard that evening he decided to try and upgrade on Sunday. Fishing was a wash, in more ways than one, and Rian and his buddy came in to derby headquarters after hooking only one small silver.
“We waited – me nervously! – at the derby for the Sunday weigh-in cutoff to come, and really didn’t know I won until my name was announced. I’m still getting my head around it for sure, and it’s been an amazing experience,” he said.
When presented with an oversized check, Rian told MC John Martinis that he planned to use some of his winnings to buy new downriggers, music to the ears of Martinis, who runs an Everett tackle shop.
OTHER TOP FIVE finishers included Glen Velasquez of Everett, second,12.93 pounds, $5,000; Trevor Judson of Monroe, third, 12.81 pounds, $2,500; Roy White of Everett, fourth, 12.38 pounds, $1,000; and Brak Kelly of Redmond, fifth, 12.3 pounds, $500.
The average size of the fish was also up, 7.04 pounds versus the anemic 4.54 pounds of three years ago. That season’s silvers were at sea during the height of The Blob and associated poor ocean conditions.
“The size (of this year’s coho) is consistent with major food sources becoming more plentiful,” noted North Sound state fisheries biologist Brett Barkdull. “Northern copepods were more plentiful, for instance.”
There have been good numbers of coho in Puget Sound and headed up the rivers, but the overall derby catch was just 548.
“The river fishing had been great all week, but on the weekend was very tough, for whatever reason,” Spada added. “I think this just proves what a lot of us already knew: Coho are a difficult fish to predict behavior. Weather changes seem to affect them more than any other fish. There were some very good fisherman who struggled, to say the least.”
This year’s derby had 1,694 adult and 201 youth participants.
In the kids division, it was literally neck and neck for first and second place.
Baron Kuehlwein and Alex Hotchkiss both came in with 10.79-pounders, but because Kuehlwein’s went on the scales two minutes before Hotchkiss’s he won $300 while Alex settled for second and $200.
Madison Vanzandt came in third with a 9.11, good for $100.
So many more prizes were also given out — largest fish caught on Silver Horde, Dick Nite and Gibbs-Delta gear; best father-son and mother-daughter catches; youngest and oldest anglers to weigh fish; biggest landed by active duty military; fishermen from the furthest away; and more.
Proceeds from the derby benefit local fishery enhancement projects, including the rearing and release of salmon, nutrient enrichment and triploid trout stocking, as well as youths.