Al McKinley Sr. was more interested in eating than winning when he headed out fishing a week ago with longtime friend Ronald Austin.
"My buddy said, 'We'll go out there and get some fish to eat, but in case we land a big one I suggest you buy a derby ticket,' " McKinley said Thursday.
He stopped at Breeze In, put down his $30 and it paid off. As of Thursday night, McKinley still led the Seventh Annual Spring King Salmon Derby with a fighter that weighed in at 38.6 pounds gutted and gilled.
"It took 30 minutes to land that salmon," said the 70-year-old U.S. Army veteran, who won the 2001 spring king contest with a 40.6-pound salmon. "We just had a ball."
Dennis Nolder also had a good time fishing about a week ago when he spent 20 minutes reeling in a king salmon weighing 44.5 pounds whole. Fishing partner Donna Herbert said she figures it would have lost 4 to 5 pounds after being gutted and gilled, which is required for derby weigh-in.
Even if the fish had lost a few more pounds it would have been a contender. But Nolder, a pilot and captain for Alaska Airlines, hadn't bought a ticket.
"The fish would have been one of the derby winners," said Herbert, who had just caught a 35-pounder - and who had entered the contest. "People need to know you have to have your own ticket."
Nolder, who is based in Seattle, caught his big fish Saturday and went out the next day to buy a derby ticket. He was due back in town today.
"He's going out again and he's determined to get a bigger fish," Herbert said.
The derby continues through the end of the month, so there's no telling whether McKinley's king will keep its lead. The current top-10 fish run from Robert Williams' 29.9-pounder to McKinley's 38.6. Most derby winners have been in the 40- to 42-pound range.
The fishing contest is sponsored by the Tlingit-Haida Central Council and proceeds go to scholarships for Native students. Tickets are available at stores around town and rules and other details are on the Internet at juneauempire.com/springking/.
McKinley said he and Austin didn't expect to catch a top salmon when they headed out to the Breadline on Austin's boat a week ago today. The two had known each other since before they graduated Sitka's Mount Edgecumbe High School in the early 1950s and liked to fish and reminisce.
"We talked about being in the armed forces." McKinley said. "We enjoy ourselves, just being together."
When the big fish bit, sometime around 5 p.m., they weren't sure if the sound was the line or static on Austin's radio. But it was a fish and it was on McKinley's gear.
"It just kept on going and wouldn't stop," he said. "Just when I was pulling the salmon in it would take off again. It just kept on doing it."
The fight wore out both fish and fisherman.
"I said, 'Hey Ron, I can't pull it in.' And he said, 'Just hold it, it'll get tired,' " McKinley said. "And I said, 'What do you mean get tired? I'm the one who is tired.' "
The king finally was brought on board. Without a scale, neither man realized McKinley's catch was heavy enough to top the derby list. As a result, they put in part of another day of fishing before they took it in to be weighed.
The big king not only made the top of the list, it made good eating, McKinley said.
"That's why we went out in the first place."
Ed Schoenfeld can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
SPRING KING SALMON DERBY STANDINGS
Here are the standings in the Seventh Annual Spring King Salmon Derby, as reported at 9:08 a.m. on Thursday, May 22. The rankings include the angler's name, weight of the fish (in 10ths of a pound), date turned in and what station the fish was turned into. Ties are broken by the earliest fish turned in. The derby closes at 9 p.m. on Friday, May 31. A more current list may be available on the Internet; a link is available at http://www.juneauempire.com/springking. The Spring King Salmon Derby is a scholarship fund-raiser sponsored by the Central Council of Tlingit & Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska.
1. Al McKinley Sr., 38.6 pounds, turned in May 17, 1:25 p.m., DeHart's.
2. John Logan, 37.3, May 16, 4 p.m., Jerry's Meats.
3. Rych Clime, 35.6, May 10, 7:20 a.m., Jerry's Meats.
4. Cleveland Burley, 34.6, May 17, 3 p.m., DeHart's.
5. Albert Cuanzon, 33.7, May 14, 6:40 p.m., Jerry's Meats.
6. Randy Beason, 32.8, May 19, 3:49 p.m., Jerry's Meats.
7. Travis Mill, 32.3, May 17, 6 p.m., Jerry's Meats.
8. Philip Sellick, 30.0, May 7, 6:40 p.m., DeHart's.
9. Larry Hays, 30.0, May 21, 5:15 p.m., Jerry's Meats.
10. Robert Williams, 29.9, May 11, 11 a.m., Jerry's Meats.
11. Ken Cesar, 29.7, May 3, 9:47 a.m., DeHart's.
12. Robert Schroth, 29.5, May 15, 7:15 p.m., DeHart's.
13. Carl Mielke, 29.4, May 6, 5 p.m., DeHart's.
14. William Blackburn, 29.4, May 15, 8:45 p.m., DeHart's.
15. Tim Stoll, 28.9, May 18, 7:18 p.m., DeHart's.
16. John T. Hamar, 28.8, May 5, 2:35 p.m., DeHart's.
17. Sean McKeown, 28.8, May 11, 2:10 p.m., DeHart's.
18. Jean Boane-Hamar, 28.6, May 10, 7:45 a.m., Jerry's Meats.
19. Shawn M. Tucker, 28.3, May 2, 9:30 a.m., DeHart's.
20. Max Mielke, 28.2, May 4, 6 p.m., Jerry's Meats.
21. Gary Berry, 28.1, May 16, 4:15 p.m., DeHart's.
22. Shannon Sweeney, 27.7, May 7, 5:35 p.m., DeHart's.
23. Reggie Demmert, 27.5, May 2, 6:05 p.m., DeHart's.
24. Richard Radie, 27.5, May 6, 7:50 a.m., DeHart's.
25. John D. Adams, 27.5, May 10, 2:10 p.m., DeHart's.
26. Bill Morris, 27.5, May 10, 2:20 p.m., DeHart's.
27. Ray Austin, 27.5, May 19, 3:30 p.m., DeHart's.
28. Mark Troupin, 27.3, May 15, 3:20 p.m., DeHart's.
29. Charles Gittings, 27.2, May 16, 12:25 p.m., DeHart's.
30. Kurt Kelsey, 27.0, May 10, 8 p.m., DeHart's.
Oldest veteran - Harold Wheaton, age 84, 18.8 pounds, May 2, 11:30 a.m.
Smallest weigh-in - Shawn McCormick, 8.2 pounds, May 17, 6 p.m.
Show us your big fish
The Juneau Empire's Outdoors page is looking for photographs of big salmon, halibut and other fish you've caught this year or last in the waters of the northern panhandle. Send your photos to: Ed Schoenfeld, Empire Outdoors Editor, 3100 Channel Drive, 99801. Or e-mail them to email@example.com. Or drop them off at the newspaper between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. weekdays. Include the name of the photographer, the name of the person who caught the fish, its size and weight, where and when it was caught and a return address so we can mail it back.