Youth tournament leader Chase Rosenthal poses with his 49.4-pound catch on Monday. Photo by Kyle Walker.

The Seward Halibut Tournament, now in its 13th year, opened over the weekend, this time with a few changes to the prizes handed out to lucky anglers. A production of the Seward Chamber of Commerce, the tournament for the first time will offer awards specifically for competitors on private boats in an effort to draw participants from another sector of the sport fishing market.

“It’s really been seen as a charter industry event,” said Chamber representative Jen Leahy. “Private boaters may have thought, ‘This isn’t for me.’”

Two prizes are specifically for anglers fishing on private boats. The heaviest fish overall caught on a private boat will win that angler $1,000, while the heaviest fish caught by an angler under 18 on a private boat will earn the youth $250. The addition of prizes for private boaters is just one of several changes to the awards scheme this year.

“We’re just getting the story out that we’re making some changes,” Leahy said. “The whole prize structure is different now: there are weekly winners, and we’re trying to create incentives for people to participate earlier in the month.”

“Locals should feel a source of pride: halibut is a really important resource to our town,” Leahy added. “The economic impact of sport fishing on our community is huge. These are some of the most affluent, committed visitors we have. They’re spending money every which way.”

The tournament retains overall awards for heaviest fish and for a forty tagged fish, one of which will earn its captor two round trip tickets to any Alaska Airlines destination. For the first time this year, however, each of the tournament’s four weeks will serve as a kind of mini-tournament: the heaviest fish caught each week will earn a $1,000 prize.

The tournament and women’s leader as of 6 p.m. on Tuesday was Eileen Hardcastle of West Jordan, Utah, who landed a 123.6 pound halibut. Ryan Beckett led in the military category with a 65.8-pound fish. The youth leaderboard was led by Chase Rosenthal with a 49.4-pound halibut.