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The one thing fishermen everywhere don't lack is fish stories. Behind every fish that is caught, got away or is imagined, there's a story to go along with it.
Rych Clime, the end-of-the-week leader of the 7th Annual Spring King Salmon Derby, is no exception. His 35.6-pound gutted and gilled salmon has held the top spot since May 10, when he bumped Phillip Sellick's 30-pounder, which held the lead for a mere three days.
"I'm happy where I'm at," said Clime, an employee of the Alaska Department of Corrections and a volunteer firefighter, on Thursday.
Clime caught his fish on the back side of Douglas Island on Friday, May 9. He said it was getting late and he was about to pack it in and go home when his downrigger popped and his line ran out. After a 20-minute fight and a couple of good runs, he managed to land the salmon that weighed a respectable 42 pounds in the round.
But it wasn't that simple.
Before Clime caught his fish, he had just tied a new leader with a treble hook and right after he got the fish into the boat, the leader snapped right above the hook.
"If I stay in first place, it's going to be the story of the little hook that could," he said.
He saved the hook, which he now considers a good luck charm. If his fish stays on top for the last half of May, it will be placed with his winner's trophy so the story can be told for years to come.
The likelihood of Clime's fish staying in first place is questionable. Ever since the derby was started in 1997, the winning fish always has surpassed the 40-pound barrier. Last year, David Julian won with a 41.8-pound king; in 2001, Alfred McKinley won with a 40.6 pounder; in 2000, Michael Zecevic took top honors with a 41.3 pounder. Rich Beasley's 42.5-pound king claimed the 1999 derby; Marion Ezrre won the 1998 contest with a 41.4-pound fish; and Rick Lewis won the inaugural Spring King Derby with a 41.4 pounder.
But that doesn't mean Clime doesn't have a chance. Several long-time Juneau fishermen predict the bigger kings will show up later in the month, but whatever happens, Clime is assured to have one of the top fish, and claim a respectable prize. On Thursday, Clime had a scare when Albert Cuanzon weighed in a 33.7-pound king to put him in second place.
The secondary categories could be tougher to beat than Clime's fish. Harold Wheaton, 84, has held the Oldest Veteran contest top spot since May 2 with his 18.8-pound king. And Robert Beierly III's 8.9-pound king weighed in May 8 will almost certainly claim the Smallest Weigh-In award.
But with almost half of a month of fishing left, anything is possible. Good luck to all the fishermen out there. The derby winner is still swimming around. All you need to do is catch it.
Jeff Kasper is a freelance writer and former Empire sportswriter. He can be reached at 209-7427.