Editor’s note: As of Saturday evening, according to the Golden North Salmon Derby website, the biggest fish caught was a 27.9-pound king by Max Mielke. The second-largest fish was a 21.3-pound king caught by Larry Hays. Barbara Daugharty was in third with a 20.3-pound coho.
The Bartnesses know fish. So much so that last year’s entire Golden North Salmon Derby was dedicated to life-long Juneau resident Ole Bartness. But the derby couldn’t even get off the ground without another Bartness — Kami, Ole’s daughter and longtime derby volunteer coordinator.
Bartness family fishing history goes way back — “ever since we could walk, we were commercial fishermen,” Kami Bartness said from her post at Statter Harbor on Friday. Kami and Kari, her sister, helped their father on his commercial fishing boat for years growing up. He later ran a charter fishing business with his wife, Sandy.
“It’s definitely a family thing,” Kami Bartness said.
Kami turned her family’s love of the industry into a personal tradition. Every year for 10 years, she’s coordinated the dock volunteers and runs Statter Harbor operations during the Golden North Salmon Derby. On Friday afternoon, she was greeting boats that would pull up to the dock, weighing fish and validating tickets of newcomers.
“It’s kind of my thing,” she said.
Why Statter over the other harbors?
“I just kind of took it over,” Kami said, laughing.
Her sister, Kari, has also helped run the derby, and she used to run the Amalga Harbor operations. This year Kari was out on the water fishing with her husband.
“Her husband was giving her a hard time,” Kami said. “He wanted her to go fishing.”
Her father was also out on the water this year with a group of friends. He sold his own boat after his wife passed away last fall, Kami said.
Kami’s son carries the derby tradition into the next generation for the Bartness family. For the past two years, he’s caught the largest coho in the competition.
“He’s the coho killer,” she said.
This year, though, he has to miss out on the derby because of football practice. Her son is going to be a freshman in high school and practice has gotten a lot more intense, she said.
“He’s really bummed,” Kami said.
But Kami’s back at Statter this year, rallying the troops of volunteers. She’s on the Territorial Sportsmen, Inc. board and said her family owes a lot to the organization, which coordinates the derby each year. Ole, who has fished every derby except for the ones that occurred while he was away at college in Oregon, was the third person to ever receive a Territorial Sportsmen scholarship.
“He wouldn’t have been able to go to school without it,” Kami said. “His family didn’t have the money.”
She said she loves everything about the derby.
“Seeing how beautiful fish come in, how (fishermen) are taking care of them, the friendly competition ... I love when it’s hectic at the end of the day,” she said. “Everything about it, I love it.”
Other families were out on the water Friday, developing inter-generational traditions of their own. Lars Gregovich was filing some hooks as he waited with his daughter, Anna, for a fish to bite a few miles away from Auke Bay.
“Gotta keep ‘em sharp,” he said.
Gregovich said the area was a prime fishing spot.
“Traditionally, there are a lot of fish here,” he said. “There’s a lot of feed stacked up. It’s a deep channel.”
Although they hadn’t caught anything yet, Anna Gregovich has already benefitted from the derby. She won a Territorial Sportsmen scholarship in 2012 to attend Western Washington University.
Roland Peterson, 8, was fishing with his dad Friday morning and had already reeled in “two big fish” by 11:35 a.m. He said it was “hard” to reel them in, but it only took “about a minute.”
By about 2:30 p.m. that day, about 900 men, women and kids were out on the water for the derby, Kami said. Friday is usually the slowest day in the derby because people are at work, she said. She anticipated that by the end of the weekend, about 1,800 people will have participated.
“Everybody has some fish on board,” she said of the vessels that had returned to Statter Harbor late Friday. A lot of them were coho salmon. “Within the last week, (cohos) really came in.”
The salmon brought in from the derby are gutted and cleaned on the spot, and hauled off by Alaska Glacier Seafoods, Inc. The company has purchased the derby’s salmon for the past five or six years, said company owner Mike Erickson, who was helping out at Statter Harbor. He said the partnership is mutually beneficial.
“It benefits us as more raw product to go through the facility,” Erickson said.
He pays market price to Territorial Sportsmen for the fish, which can range between $1.50 to $5 per pound of king salmon. He said the market price is a little lower this year than last year.
Last year, the company purchased between 15,000 and 20,000 pounds of king and coho salmon caught in the derby. The money goes to Territorial Sportsmen’s annual scholarships for Juneau high school graduates.
• Reporter Mary Catharine Martin contributed to this report. Contact reporter Katie Moritz at 523-2294 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @katecmoritz.