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The most unique fishing derby in the nation, the CCA Washington King of the Reach Live Capture Derby, was held on the weekend of Oct. 29 on the Hanford Reach section of the Columbia River. This remarkable event aims to improve hatchery production through angler assistance and is a collaborative partnership between Grant County Public Utility District (PUD), the Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife (WDFW) and the CCA Washington Tri-Cities Chapter.

Sport fishermen 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 generated so much excitement that it sold out in less than 10 minutes. Over the course of the three-day derby, more than 300 anglers captured 603 wild Chinook salmon.

While angler broodstock collection is utilized in several watersheds in the Pacific Northwest, the Hanford Reach program is 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 Washington, and local businesses. Traditional catch-and-keep fishing are 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, including diversifying the genetic base of hatchery produced fish with the addition of wild fish into the stock composition. 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.