Last year's Spring King Salmon Derby champion David Julian predicts a big May for this year's derby, since he already has caught about 10 kings in the past month.
"I've caught some large fish," said Julian, who was unwilling to divulge the exact weight. "I caught one that was 44 inches."
The seventh annual Spring King Salmon Derby sponsored by Tlingit-Haida Central Council begins Thursday and runs through the end of the month. Tickets cost $30, with all proceeds going toward higher-education scholarships for Natives.
"Catching the big one is all about luck if you ask me," Julian said. "It's the right time in the right place ... 99 percent luck and one percent effort."
It's looking like the Juneau area will be the right place and this May will be the right time for catching spring kings.
"We expect catch rates in May to be fairly similar to what we experienced last year in the Juneau area," said Rob Bentz of the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.
"Last year was very good," Julian said. "If it's better this year than last year, it will be phenomenal."
The 2002 derby saw a great number of salmon biting as well as a record number of participants.
"We sold 800-plus tickets last year," said Archie Cavanaugh, who directs the Tlingit-Haida Alumni Scholarship Assistance Program. "We're hoping to hit 1,000 this year."
Cavanaugh said the proceeds from last spring's derby provided more than 90 scholarships of $200 each.
"$200 scholarships isn't a whole lot, but it will put some Top Ramen and maybe some bananas on the fridge, and to a college students that's a lot," he said.
For rules, the prize list, places to get tickets and other details on the Internet, check out www.juneauempire.com/spring/king.
Cavanaugh said this year is different for more than just the expectation of a large salmon run.
"The derby is dedicated to the veterans, all the men and women who have served our country and who defended the freedoms and liberties that we have today," he said.
The spring derby's 1997 - and first - champion Rick Lewis also said 2003 should be a fishing year to remember.
"I think this is going to be a great year. There's going to be a lot of fish turned in," he said. "There's already a lot of fish being caught and it's still April."
"It's like playing baseball or cards. There's lots of wild cards," said Bill Searls, who caught a 30-pound, 9-ounce king last spring, placing in the top 30. "If you catch a 30-pound salmon you might not even place, when in August you would probably win the (Golden North) derby."
Last year, Julian won about $8,000 in cash and merchandise, and this year looks to be equally lucrative.
"I've watched this thing and it keeps getting bigger and bigger and the prizes keep getting better and better," Searls said. "Each year the prizes seem to go up."
Cavanaugh said the prizes are similar to last year and are made possible by generous contributions from the community.
"What really makes this successful is the community support with businesses and sponsors and people who donate to the program," said Cavanaugh. "We are very, very thankful to them."
Opinions vary on where the winning fish will be caught this year. So far, numerous fisherman have been having luck at Outer Point and in Auke Bay.
"I think most of the fish that are caught aren't caught south, but the top few fish will be caught south," said Lewis. "There's supposed to be a good Taku run, and those are some big fish."
As for advice from the defending champion, Julian said, "People probably shouldn't take it too serious ... you need to take it lightly.
"If you go out with the expectations of making money at it, you'll probably be disappointed," he said. "Of course if you don't buy (a ticket), you know you'll catch the big one."
Winning aside, Cavanaugh said the Spring King Salmon Derby is all about fishing and family.
"This is a family-oriented event. We support families and their children," he said. "We want everybody to be safe out there."
Unlike August's Golden North Salmon Derby, which collects fish for sale to raise scholarship funds, Spring King derby participants get to keep their catch.
"We encourage fisherman to share their catch with less fortunate people, like the elderly and handicapped," Cavanaugh said.
Julian doesn't expect back-to-back victories, but he's going to try.
"There's only one thing better than winning the salmon derby," he said, "and that's winning it two years in a row."
Eric Morrison can be reached at email@example.com.
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