Somewhere out in the waters near Juneau is a monster fish.
This monster fish can weigh more than 70 pounds. The question is will anyone catch it and turn it in to win a top prize worth $10,000 in cash and merchandise, said Archie Cavanaugh, the derby coordinator for the month-long Fourth Annual Spring King Salmon Derby that opened this morning.
In the first three years of the derby, the largest fish has only been last year's winning 42-pound, 5-ounce king turned in by Richard Beasley (the top fish the other two years both weighed 41-5, with Rick Lewis winning in 1997 and Marion Ezzre in 1998). But Cavanaugh feels there are bigger fish out there.
``We're very capable of catching what I call a prehistoric fish, a 72-pounder, in these waters,'' Cavanaugh said. ``Last year, the week after the derby ended, Valerie Hillman caught a 72-pound king salmon in Funter Bay, so I know they're out there.''
The derby opened at the stroke of midnight this morning and runs through 7:30 p.m. on May 30. Entrants can fish the full month of the derby for a $30 fee, with the proceeds going to help fund 50 scholarships of about $300 each for higher education students who are members of the Central Council of the Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska. The top prize is $5,000 cash and another $5,000 in prizes, including $2,000 in Alaska Airlines travel, and the top 30 fish entered will receive prizes.
During the derby anglers can fish both on a ship and from the shore, Cavanaugh said. They can also eat any fish they catch, after they've dropped it off ``in the round'' (ungutted and uncleaned) for weighing at one of two spots in Juneau - Jerry's Meats near the airport and Taku Fisheries downtown.
Cavanuagh said there are usually several hundred king salmon entered each year, with about 500 derby participants and 150 boats.
``I want to express my immense appreciation to the community for getting behind this new derby,'' Cavanaugh said. ``It's grown in leaps and bounds. It's open to everyone, and it's a famliy oriented event. We're even getting national prizes now.''
Cavanaugh said the derby boundaries have been extended south this year, from Point Retreat down to Lizard's Head. The other boundaries are north to Point Saint Mary and southwest to Grave Point. A detailed map is available on the back of the derby booklet available at several local businesses, and the booklet also features complete rules and a list of all the prizes.
Anglers also need to be aware of all Alaska Department of Fish and Game regulations for the Juneau area, especially those regarding size and bag limits. Anybody cited for Alaska sport fishing regulation violations during the derby will be disqualified.
Mark Schwan, the Juneau area sport fish management biologist for Fish and Game, said all fish have to be at least 28 inches long before they can be kept. Schwan said the current bag limit is two salmon, but that might be changed to a lower number during the derby as the region approaches its king salmon quota. He also said there is a king salmon closure near the Taku Inlet (north of Cooper Point to the mouth of Dorothy Creek).
``The last couple of years we've had low returns, but this year should be better,'' Schwan said. ``I know people are already catching fish. There are even fish in the river. The spring run peaks in late May and early June. The north end tends to be better in May and south is better in June, but that could vary.''