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Ole Bartness: A lifetime on the hook

This year's Golden North Salmon Derby is dedicated to a man with a lot to share about fishing in Juneau.

Posted: August 8, 2013 - 10:11pm  |  Updated: August 9, 2013 - 12:12am
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Ole Bartness talks about fishing in Juneau at Fishermen's Bend Marina on Wednesday. Bartness benefitted from the Territorial Sportsmen's scholarship funded by the Golden North Salmon Derby in 1956. The 67th Annual Golden North Salmon Derby runs Friday through Sunday.  Michael Penn | Juneau Empire
Michael Penn | Juneau Empire
Ole Bartness talks about fishing in Juneau at Fishermen's Bend Marina on Wednesday. Bartness benefitted from the Territorial Sportsmen's scholarship funded by the Golden North Salmon Derby in 1956. The 67th Annual Golden North Salmon Derby runs Friday through Sunday.

Ole Bartness was a charter fisherman for many years and was one of the first to win a Salmon Derby scholarship back in the mid ‘50s. He remembers when Juneau was so small you could walk down the street and know everyone you saw by name. At this point, he’s done so many derbies and is such a fixture in the community, this year’s is dedicated to him. But as many legends do, he had humble beginnings.

Bartness started fishing as a 5-year-old in Vanderbilt Creek with a piece of string and a safety pin, he said.

“The fish never got on the safety pin,” he said at Fisherman’s Bend marina. “He only got on the worm, so I usually lost him.”

Another good memory of his origin story takes him back to fishing with his father and mother when he was about 10. His mom was steering the boat, and, all of a sudden, the shaft got stuck on her coveralls.

“Just as this other boat was passing, the shaft pulled off her coveralls, stripped her right to her bloomers,” Bartness said with a laugh. Better that than the coveralls taking his mom with them, he said.

“Luckily the coveralls were old and came right off — I guess that’s luck,” he said.

Those fish tales are only a sampling of the many Bartness has collected since first hopping on a boat with his commercial fisherman father when he was 10.

“There are so many stories to tell, and they’re all good,” he said.

Bartness fished with his dad for many years before taking off for college in Oregon. This year’s derby is one of many Bartness has participated in — the only ones he didn’t do were during college — but don’t ask him how many years it’s been since he started.

“I can’t even guess,” he said.

Bartness’ daughters Kari and Kami will be helping out with the derby this year, Bartness said. He’ll be fishing with his school friend Kirk Tousley, who’s visiting for the derby from Oregon, his grandson and son-in-law, in his son-in-law’s boat, Picaroon.

Derby or not, you can usually find Bartness on the water. He said he tries to fish three to four days a week and likes to get started at dawn.

“But that doesn’t always happen; people don’t cooperate,” he said.

His favorite thing about fishing is something that might drive other fishermen crazy.

“It’s unpredictable — that’s always been the fun of it,” Bartness said. “You’ll knock them dead one day and you’ll go back to the same place the next and they’ll be all gone.”

Last year marked the end of his stint as a charter fisherman, a business he ran with his wife, Sandy, since the 1980s. Although fishing has gone from hobby to career and back again for Bartness, it will always be part of his life, and there’s no complicated reason why.

“I just like to fish,” he said.

• Reporter Katie Moritz can be reached at 907-523-2294 or at katherine.moritz@juneauempire.com.

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