After filming a segment of the TV show "Fishing Expeditions" near Sitka last year, Steve Carson and Ronnie Kovach decided the waters were worthy of an international tournament.
This year they returned with 40 competitors for the first Penn International Alaska Grand Slam tournament May 17 to 19 at Kingfisher Lodge in Sitka.
"A lot of places have good fishing sometimes and if you hit it right you're fine and if you hit it wrong you're dead," Carson said. "There are very few places like Sitka in the world really."
The tournament rewarded fishermen for catching a king salmon, halibut, lingcod and rockfish every day, and many of the fishermen did. During the tournament contestants caught 13 halibut over 100 pounds each, capped by a 349.5-pounder caught by Ken Frisk of Carson, Calif. But he was beat by the overall winner, Paul Berinson of Temecula, Calif., who tallied the Alaska Grand Slam of halibut, salmon, lingcod and rockfish each of the three competition days. That brought him 300 bonus points, enough to outscore Frisk.
"The fish knew they were under the spotlight," Carson said. "It's like they knew and they just cooperated."
The tournament was mostly catch and release, though it wasn't a requirement as it is with many international tournaments. Fish were caught using several techniques. Standard halibut tactics had anglers soaking a large gob of salmon guts on the bottom and waiting for the fish to zero in on the scent. The "secret weapon" for halibut anglers was the 8-inch Berkley Power Grub in glo or white colors. The grub was presented via a 6- to 16-ounce leadhead, or as a trailer on a 7- to 20-ounce Crippled Herring Jig. The halibut were particularly aggressive toward the Power Grub, frequently taking it 20 or more feet off the bottom.
The majority of salmon were caught trolling in the vicinity of Vitzscarri Rocks, but good scores were also seen by moochers in Grandpa's Hole. The favored trolling setup was a chrome dodger trailed by a green/red/white hoochy skirt at 120 feet on a downrigger.
All the tackle and techniques had to fit within the international tournament rules.
"They are kind of a uniform set of rules that apply all over the world," Carson said. "They allow anglers that don't even speak the same language to compare catches and know they're kind of on a level playing field."
Throughout the tournament Kovach and Carson were filming another episode of "Fishing Expeditions," which will show on The Outdoor Channel in four to five months.
The first tournament was so successful it's sure to become an annual event, said Carson. Already everyone who competed this year has signed up to return for the 2002 tournament May 18 to 22.
Kristan Hutchison can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.