Jason Gasper thought he was prepared when he went fishing last May and hooked into a 53-pound king salmon as he trolled near the False Outer Point rocks.
The Douglas resident had his fishing license and his king ticket, but he was missing another important piece of paperwork. Gasper didn't have a ticket for the Spring King Salmon Derby. So Gasper ended up with a big fish, but it was Michael Zecevic who went home with the derby's $10,000 cash top prize. Zecevic's fish only weighed 41.3 pounds, about 12 pounds smaller than Gasper's king.
As the Fifth Annual Spring King Salmon Derby gets underway today, Gasper said he's prepared for the derby this time. He's already purchased a $30 derby ticket, and he plans to go fishing several times before the derby ends at 7 p.m. on Tuesday, May 31.
"My mom did the same thing a few years ago with a halibut derby near Homer, so you think I would have learned my lesson," Gasper said Monday night. "She hooked into a 300-pound halibut that would have been a $3,000 fish. It was 1995, I believe, and she'd bought derby tickets for my dad and myself, but she hadn't planned to fish. It was definitely an expensive lesson."
Gasper said he's still living down the infamy of catching a big fish without buying a derby ticket. He's been helping the Alaska Department of Fish and Game do some research on salmon sharks, and when he was working in Cordova people there knew about his blunder. To compound matters, a few days after he caught his 53-pounder Gasper said he hooked into another big fish, a 38-pounder that would have placed among the top five in the derby. But he still hadn't bought a ticket because he was still mad at himself for not having one with the 53-pounder.
"I had two fish that probably would have both been in the top-20," Gasper said. "I probably won't be winning the derby this year. But I can't complain. I caught a beautiful fish. It was a fish of a lifetime. We ate off it all winter."
This year's top derby prize will be a Dodge Neon valued at $13,205. The winner also wins a plaque worth $150. The second prize is two round-trip Alaska Airlines mileage tickets worth $2,000, and other cash and smaller prizes worth another $792. There are prizes for the top 30 king salmon.
Leslie Isturis, the coordinator for the derby, said this year there is a new set of weekly prizes worth $100 cash for the week's top fish as of each Sunday night. She said she's hoping the weekly prizes encourage more fish to be turned in for weighing. Anglers bringing fish for weigh-ins are allowed to keep the salmon, instead of having to leave them at the weigh-in station like in other local salmon derbies.
There is also a new weigh-in station this year at Alaska Seafoods, on Shaune Drive near Costco. Alaska Seafoods joins two other weigh-in stations from previous years -- Taku Fisheries downtown and Jerry's Meats and Seafoods near the airport. Taku Fisheries and Alaska Seafoods will take weigh-ins from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. on Monday through Friday, while Jerry's Meats and Seafoods is open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. seven days a week.
"Everything else is pretty much the same as last year," Isturis said. The derby boundaries are north to Point St. Mary at Berner's Bay, east to the City and Borough of Juneau boundaries, south to Lizard's Head just past Funter Bay and southwest at Grave Point. Booklets with exact details of the derby are available at a dozen locations around Juneau where derby tickets are sold.
The derby is sponsored by the Central Council of Tlingit and Haida's Alumni Scholarship Assistance Program and all the money raised by the derby is used for college scholarships for Tlingit-Haida enrollees.
Charles Bingham can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.