It takes more than a big fish to win the Spring King Salmon Derby. As Carlton Johnson learned, it also takes a derby ticket.
On Sunday Johnson caught the heaviest king turned in so far for the spring derby, a 37.5-pound king. Johnson was in Juneau visiting family when he caught the fish. He bought a derby ticket at 4:45 p.m. Saturday, then weighed his fish in 15 minutes later.
Johnson enjoyed four days at the top of the standings before derby officials realized he reeled in the king before buying a derby ticket.
"He purchased the ticket after he caught the fish," said Leslie Isturis, the derby coordinator. "At this point he is disqualified."
The Empire was not able to locate Johnston for comment. Isturis said she think he's no longer in Juneau.
The change moves John Boddy's 34.7-pound fish up to the top spot. Boddy and his wife Karen braved Saturday morning's stormy weather to catch his king, launching his Lund from Amalga Harbor at 4 a.m. to beat the minus tide.
"It was blowing and snowing on us," Boddy said. "It was horrible weather."
Boddy lost the first fish that bit the line, and was beginning to wonder if that was the kind of day it would be. Then they moved a little farther off the beach and the line snapped into action. Karen was ready with the net as he hauled in the 34.7 pounder.
"It was a miserable day, but I'm happy," said Boddy, who will now collect the $100 prize for fish of the week. He's enjoying his moment at the top, but doesn't expect to stay there.
"There will be a lot of fish caught and bigger ones," said Boddy. "That fish will probably place, but it won't stay in the lead for very long."
That's the way king of the derby goes. Boddy's fish bumped Patrick Morrissey's 33.2 pounder into second place. Morrissey's was the first fish entered in the derby, and the first salmon he's caught in several years. He went trolling with a friend in Tee Harbor at 4:30 a.m. May 1. As they were heading back to the dock, Morrissey's line went tight. At first he thought he'd snagged the bottom, but the line shot out the other direction.
"It came up to the surface pretty quick. We could kind of see the flasher and the weights," Morrissey said.
He had no idea how hefty the salmon was, but his friend had an inkling and warned him not to horse it in. For the next 25 minutes they let the king tow the 14-foot boat around.
"I couldn't get it off the bottom for a long time," Morrissey said.
When they finally reeled the king in it took three tries to net the fish and both of them to haul it over the gunnel.
"It was just neat catching a fish that size," Morrissey said. "That was the biggest king I've ever caught."
George Montero knows the thrill.
"I'm on top of the scale and it feels good," said Montero, who caught the third place fish for the week.
After casting and reeling with no luck from the shore, Montero finally fixed his boat and got it in the water on Saturday. With the heavy rain, he knew the fishing would be good.
"It kind of brings the smell of the river, the creek," Montero said. "It just brings the smell of the mountain down that the fish originally smell."
Montero headed out from North Douglas at 4:30 a.m., with half a tank of gas, one pack of herring for bait, and his fishing buddy, Roberto Aceveda. They had their regular bet: Whoever catches the first fish of the day doesn't have to clean them.
"Usually I'm cleaning the fish," Montero said. But not Saturday.
All around them lines were going taut. Montero and Aceveda just stared at their poles, willing fish to bite. Then Montero got a nibble. He fed out a little of the herring and when he felt the fish bite, Montero set the hook. After a 20-minute fight he pulled in the 32.9 -pound fish.
"He would have been bigger," Montero said, but a seal had taken a large bite.
"It was a good day of fishing," said Montero, summing up the general mood at False Outer Point, where about 33 fish were caught that day.
"Pretty much Picnic Cove, over at False Outer seems to be the main spot," said Scott Perkins, manager at Jerry's Meats, where most of the derby fish are weighed. "I would think Tee Harbor would do all right too."
False Outer Point is no secret. About 25 cars were parked in the lot Saturday and 50 people were fishing, many from the shore.
"It's split between the ship and the shore for the most part, what's being turned in," Perkins said.
Kenai-style combat fishing from the shore is part of the lure of the spring derby, said Greg Isturis, an avid fisherman who also happens to be Leslie's brother.
"I find that to be more fun," Isturis said. "Everyone's just throwing hooks. Nobody wants to net the first guys fish."
The fish all seem to bite at once and fishermen constantly vie for the best spot, Isturis said.
"Everybody's wanting to bump you off your spot on the rock."
The competition is all good-natured though. Fishermen joke, barbecues blaze on the beach, and occasionally someone opens a bottle of champagne to celebrate a good catch.
The 31.8 pound fish Isturis caught hooked him back, and he took It to be weighed with the fish hook embedded in his index finger. Isturis is still in fifth place in the derby, but he's not satisfied. In past years the winning derby fish has usually tipped the scale into the mid-40s.
"I imagine I'm going to get bumped way back. There's some big fish to be caught and It seems like It's early for big fish," said Isturis, who's been fishing mornings and evenings. "I've got the whole month yet still; I'm not going to give up yet."
The other derby contestants keeping trying too. Montero's been trolling for "the top dollar fish."
"I know there's more to be caught," Montero said. "I know there's a bigger one out there, because the run gets bigger, the run gets thicker toward the end of the season."
Kristan Hutchison can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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