Thomas Lee caught a big fish Saturday morning. So big, it stands a good chance of winning the Seventh Annual Spring King Salmon Derby and earning Lee $7,000 in cash and prizes.
Lee turned in his 42.3-pound, gilled and gutted fish at DeHart's at 11:40 a.m. Saturday. The fish was almost 4 pounds heavier than the previous leader, a 38.6-pound fighter turned in by Al McKinley Sr. on Saturday, May 17.
"We started fishing early that day, maybe 6," Lee said. He was fishing with Shaun Lewis on Lewis' boat, The Malina. "I caught a 30-pounder at the beginning of the day, then caught (the 42.3-pounder) at about 10:30."
The second fish almost pulled all of Lee's line from his reel, but soon tired and was in the boat 10 minutes after it bit. The fish is one-fifth of a pound lighter than the biggest fish caught in derby history. A 42.5-pounder won in 1999, said Leslie Isturis, coordinator for the derby.
Lee bought the $30 entry ticket for the derby at 8:30 Friday night.
If a larger fish isn't caught before 9 p.m. Saturday, when the derby officially ends, Lee's investment will have paid off. The first-place prize is $5,000 in cash and $2,000 in prizes, including tickets with Alaska Airlines, said Isturis.
Though Lee won't accept congratulations until the contest is over, his tentative plans for the prize include a trip to New York to see the Yankees play, he said.
Organizers of the derby plan to sell hot dogs and have a picnic at False Outer Point on North Douglas, a favorite derby fishing spot, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Friday.
"We'll be like cheerleaders," said Isturis, who is organizing the picnic.
A dance, with live music from the band Smoke House, will follow the closing of the derby at 9 p.m. Saturday at the Alaska Native Brotherhood Hall. Admission to the dance will cost $5.
The Spring King Salmon Derby is a scholarship fund-raiser sponsored by the Tlingit-Haida Central Council. After prize money is subtracted from the entry fees, the derby will bring in an estimated $20,000 to the scholarship fund this year, said Isturis.
In a separate derby, Genny Szymanski, 14, of Haines caught a 51-pound, 9-ounce fish Saturday near Letnikof Cove across the mouth of the Chilkat River. Her fish is in first place in the Haines King Salmon Derby, which was held from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday-Monday, May 24-26, and which will continue for the same hours this Saturday and Sunday.
The Haines derby celebrated its 25th anniversary last year, said Dwight Downer, a member of the board of directors of the Haines Sportsmen's Association, which sponsors the derby. The $25 entry fee contributes to the derby's $1,500 cash prize, as well as to the Haines Boy Scouts, the Haines Little League and Haines swim clubs.
Christine Schmid can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.