Inaugural festival celebrates salmon in Westport Saturday

Westport will celebrate the fish that draws thousands of visitors and anglers to its marina each season with the inaugural Salmon Tales Festival on Saturday.

The hub of the fledgling festival is the Westport Maritime Museum, where there will be vendors, live music and a beer garden by the new Westport Brewing Co. from 11 a.m. until 4 p.m.

It is the hope of organizers that the event will encourage people to return to celebrate and remember Westport’s salmon heritage and create something of an annual sportfishing reunion.

The event is the brainchild of Westport native and real estate broker Mike Coverdale, who saw a void among the area’s numerous summer celebrations.

“We still fish out here — a lot,” Coverdale said. “It occured to me that we didn’t really celebrate (salmon) fishing. We really don’t talk enough about salmon or the history of salmon in building Westport. There’s so much heritage here about fishing.”

Appropriately, the day’s activities all center around salmon — either eating, catching or learning about it. There will be a Smoked Salmon Derby featuring delicacies by professional salmon smokers, who will be judged by a panel of celebrity salmon aficionados. They are:

• Jeff Maxfield, executive chef for Space Needle LLC in Seattle.

• Kevin and Cindy Lanier of the website

• Julie Lorig of Trident Seafoods company.

• Raquel DeHoyos, a food blogger for The Chef’s Apprentice, a foodie website.

There will also be a “popular vote” winner based on participation by visitors who purchase a tasting card and enjoy a sample of smoked salmon from each participant in the professional division.

A judged amateur division is also planned and an award will go to the “Best Home Smoker.”

For those wishing to concentrate on sport rather than your taste buds, four fishing derbies will be running Saturday.

• Off-the-dock anglers can participate in the Boat Basin Salmon Derby. No derby ticket is needed. Fish are weighed in at Float 8’s Seafood Connection. Prizes include vacations, fishing equipment and various baskets.

Last year’s derby winning fish weighed in at 15 pounds, 4 ounces.

• The Northwest Kayak Association will hold a one-day derby. Kayak anglers will launch their crafts out of Johns River and paddle out in hopes of hooking into one of the legendary 50-pounders that enter Grays Harbor fresh off of the ocean.

• The Westport Charter Association hosts an ongoing derby for participating anglers fishing on the boats in the Westport Charter Fleet. Derby tickets are $5 per day and prizes are awarded daily, weekly and seasonally depending on the type of fish. Over the 2011 fishing season, more than over $50,000 was awarded.

Hooks & Horns outdoor magazine offers a salmon derby from Sept. 15 through Sept. 30 for the run of salmon in the Chehalis River this year. Boats will launch in Westport, Johns River and Aberdeen.

For those looking for some hookless competition, there will be Charter Boat Bingo all day. Participants purchase a bingo-style card and go to area businesses to find boats marked with card square numbers, and qualify for drawings for charter fishing trips. Grand prize winner gets a three-day fishing holiday. A total of 20 trips will be awarded.

Just want to kick back with some craft beer and smoked salmon? From noon until 4 p.m., the local band Catch of the Day will play blues on the Maritime Museum grounds, where the beer gardens and numerous vendors of many things salmon-related will be feeding visitors and showing their wares.

There will also be educational displays, including “FIN,” a 25-foot walk-through salmon replica and representatives from the Ocosta High School Salmon Rearing Project.

The Port of Grays Harbor will also be on hand to display historic pictures and information about the evolution of the Westport Marina.

Coverdale admitted that this year’s event was somewhat hastily pulled together, but hopes its successful enough to grow in years to come.

“We’ll start it with a one-day festival and see what we can do,” he said. “Hopefully we can expand it to an entire weekend by next year.”