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Sean McKeown knew he had a big king with an attitude on the line while fishing at Tee Harbor on Sunday.
"That fish didn't want anything to do with my boat. He saw it and just took off in the other direction," said McKeown. "It took me 20 to 25 minutes to finally reel it in."
The 30.5-pound king, weighed after being gutted, led the sixth annual Spring King Salmon Derby on Sunday night.
But Noel Algabre brought in a king this morning that tipped the scales at 32.2 pounds, dethroning McKeown.
"I didn't expect to stay on top," said McKeown. "There's a lot of big fish out there and a lot of time left. But I'm going to keep going out there. I'll be out there every day until the end."
Anglers have dodged white-knuckle winds, boat-tipping seas, bitter banter and an occasional rock since the spring king derby began Wednesday.
Some 300 fishermen have bought derby tickets so far and brought in fish ranging from 17.5 to 32.2 pounds, said derby Director Archie Cavanaugh.
Proceeds from the $30 entry tickets go to the Tlingit-Haida Central Council Alumni Scholarship Assistance Program.
Not everyone is as Zen about fishing as McKeown, said derby Coordinator Leslie Isturis.
"It's like they are in combat," said Isturis. "They stand on the beach and yell at each other and there's usually some hook and rock throwing. No one usually gets hurt, thankfully."
Isturis said the good-natured ribbing is usually confined to the "rock guys" and boats in the waters near North Douglas' False Outer Point. Since the fish are feeding close to the shore, she said, there's been some congestion from nearly 30 boaters and 25 shore fishermen looking to get this year's top prizes, which include a cash prize of $3,000, gift certificates, services and merchandise.
But out at Tee Harbor, McKeown said it was weather and a fish with a bad attitude, not other fisherman, causing a ruckus.
"We were battling the north wind yesterday," he said. "When it bit I couldn't see how big it was - the algae blooms pretty bad out there I thought I had a halibut. ... I was nervous I was going to lose it.
"There was a lot of tension on the line and it was really blowing out there, but my buddy in the boat with me helped keep the boat steady," he said.
Once McKeown subdued the flapping salmon he entertained questions from nearby boaters as to the size of his catch, which grew exponentially with every inquisitive fisherman, he said.
Though McKeown would not reveal his strategy, lure choice or exact location, fellow Tee Harbor fisherman Tom Kohan offered a sure fire way to catch the "big one":
"If you don't put your bait in the water, you won't catch any fish."
Derby tickets and rule books are available until the contest ends at 7 p.m. May 31. Tickets can be purchased at Alaska Ship Chandlers, Alaskan & Proud, Breeze In Grocery, T&H Central Council, Alaskan Native Brotherhood Hall, DeHart's, Fisherman's Bend, Harri Plumbing, Outdoor Headquarters, Rayco Sales, the Vocational Training and Resource Center and Western Auto.
Melanie Plenda can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Spring King Salmon Derby Standings
Here are the standings in the Sixth Annual Spring King Salmon Derby, as of 3:24p.m. on May 3. The rankings include the angler's name, weight of the fish (in 10ths of a pound), date caught and what station the fish was turned into. Ties are broken by the earliest fish turned in. The derby closes at 7 p.m. on Friday, May 31. A more current list might be available at http://www.ccthita.com in the Hot Topics link.
1. Sean McKeown, 30.5 pounds, caught May 5, turned into Jerry's Meats.
2. Mike Heard, 29.6, May 4, Jerry's Meats.
3. Remiano Mueca, 27.7, May 3, Taku Fisheries.
4. Tom Kohan, 24.2, May 5, Jerry's Meats.
5. Donna Bellinger, 23.2, May 1, Taku Fisheries.
6. Thomas Knuthson, 22.8, May 4, Jerry's Meats.
7. Leonard Verrelli, 21.9, May 2, Jerry's Meats.
8. Pat Buetiner, 21.4, May 3, Jerry's Meats.
9. Daren Booten, 21.1, May 4, Jerry's Meats.
10. Ole Nordgren, 20.6, May 5, Jerry's Meats.
11. Wally Frank, 19.9, May 4, Jerry's Meats.
12. Sarah Seagrave, 18.0, May 4, Jerry's Meats.
13. Walter Lawless, 17.9, May 5, Jerry's Meats.
14. Robert Dye, 17.8, May 5, Jerry's Meats.
15. Pat Buetiner, 17.7, May 3, Jerry's Meats.
16. Jennifer Johnson, 17.6, May 3, Jerry's Meats.
17. Lucas Bevegni, 17.5, May 3, Taku Fisheries.