Sandra Dunn of Juneau has been fishing in the Golden North Salmon Derby for more than 25 years. This turned out to be her year to take home first place.
Dunn pulled in a 24.8-pound king salmon for a top prize of $10,000 in cash and other prizes that make up a total value of $11,555.
Dunn described her victory in one word: “exciting.”
Like every angler that enters the contest, Dunn had thoughts of how nice it would be to place, but she was more there to have a good time with family. After all, she’d fished the Derby for so many years and this had yet to happen.
That changed when her boat cast lines at her family’s secret hotspot on Sunday. She calls it “Frank Gillespie’s secret spot” in honor of the family friend and life-long Alaskan who fished with them before he died. This year’s third place prize was named in Gillespie’s honor.
She and her husband and sister-in-law took turns with two poles in the water. Dunn said it was actually pretty quiet up until that point. She had just taken over one of them when the line took off. She said her husband Art looked over and informed her she had just hooked a king.
The excitement quickly grew both in and out of the boat. The three of them could tell it was a pretty good size. Meanwhile, the fish had flipped around and headed deep, Dunn said.
“When it sees the boat it gets excited,” she said.
They were finally able to scoop it out and get it in the cooler. Screaming, dancing, hugging and high-fives ensued.
Dunn said that excitement carried over to the harbor attendants when they too saw the fish.
“They were so excited they forgot to tie the boat,” she said.
Once they got the fish weighed, Dunn knew she could very well have finally gotten a winner. She said it was still too early to be certain, which made the wait more intense.
“It was just before noon then. I realized I had another six hours to wait,” she said.
She knew 24.8 pounds wasn’t an exceptionally large fish so there was a chance someone could still bring in something bigger. In fact, this size is the smallest winning fish the Derby has had.
“My theory is: well no one caught anything bigger so I don’t care if it’s 24.8 pounds,” she said.
The Salmon Derby also turned out to be a fishing victory for her sister-in-law, Ferne Sherlund. Sherlund was visiting from Hessel, Mich. In fact, this was only her second time visiting Alaska. She landed a 12-pound king, the biggest fish she’s ever caught.
Besides the winning salmon, she said the three had brought in several scholarship fish and her husband got a 56-pound halibut. They encountered several shakers over the weekend too.
Dunn was born and raised in Juneau and is retired from the Alaska Division of Investments. She’s been fishing since her late teens. Her personal records include a 36-pound salmon and a 100-pound halibut.
Dunn won but isn’t done. She plans to go back out on the Derby next year.
She joins family ranks with this win. Her husband has placed twice and she has brothers who have placed before.
• Contact reporter Jonathan Grass at 523-2276 or firstname.lastname@example.org.