Riley Bernhardt is once again photographed at the derby barge with a couple of enormous kings. Her dad Gary has been posing with her like this for at least the last six years. (SSA/Marsha Lysons)

The loss of a charter fishing boat on Sunday (5-28-23) came during the middle of the first weekend of the 68th Annual Sitka Salmon Derby.

The contest continued, while many boats helped in the search and everyone hoped for positive news.

The extensive search effort was evident to anyone in Sitka Sound on Memorial Day Monday (5-29-23), with both a Coast Guard C-130 search plane and an Air Station Sitka helicopter airborne for much of the day, along with many Good Samaritan and official watercraft, including the fast-response cutter Douglas Denman.

Derby officials say that a number of participants diverted to assist with the search as the news spread, and one told KCAW that “I know it was on everyone’s mind as we all waited hoping to hear that they’d been found.”

Sitka, along with much of Southeast Alaska, experienced unseasonably warm temperatures and calm weather in the first half of May, but conditions had changed significantly by the holiday weekend, with strong southerly winds and temperatures dipping as low as 40 degrees.

Despite the dire news and the bad weather, 94 people entered a total of 276 fish in the Sitka derby. Caleb Gray turned in a 32-and-a-half pound king to take the top spot on the leaderboard. Adding in his other five fish for the weekend, Gray also leads in total pounds at just under 126.

Caleb Gray, at left, waits while his king is weighed on the Sitka Salmon Derby barge. On the right, he learns that he’s the leader. (SSA/Marsha Lysons)

In second place in both categories is Riley Bernhardt – no stranger to the leaderboard – with a 29-and-a-half pound king and 115 total pounds for her six fish.

In third place is Kenny Gray, with a 28-and-a-half pound king and just over 100 total pounds.

The Sitka Salmon Derby continues over next weekend, June 3 and 4. All results are unofficial until the awards banquet on June 15.

Prize money in this year’s derby has gone up: The winner will take home $10,000 cash and two round-trip tickets on Alaska Airlines. Second place will win $5,000 cash, and third place will receive an electric pot hauler worth almost $2,000.