Michael Zecevic spent Wednesday night hanging out at Jerry's Meats, waiting to see if someone would turn in a bigger fish than the 41.3-pound king salmon he caught May 20 near Outer Point.
Finally the clock struck 7 p.m., and one of the clerks told Zecevic, ``It's official, you won the derby.''
Zecevic's fish was big enough to claim the top prize in the Fourth Annual Spring King Salmon Derby, which ran May 1-31 and used Jerry's Meats as a weigh-in station. Zecevic won $5,000 in cash, $2,000 in airline travel and $3,000 in miscellaneous prizes -- including a bilge pump, floatation jacket and even a bone density scan.
``I'd been sitting there since 6:30,'' Zecevic said this morning, using his cell phone to call from his boat while out on another fishing trip. ``Someone called in and said they had the winner and they were bringing it in. But obviously they were kidding. It had me nervous, though.''
Zecevic works as a commercial fisherman -- crabbing and longlining halibut -- and as a live crab buyer. He said he'd just returned to Juneau from a commercial fishing trip the day before he caught his winning salmon.
``I was doing a little sport fishing on my own time,'' Zecevic said. ``I'm fishing right now.''
He and a buddy took off in Zecevic's 16-foot Lund skiff, which leaks and could use the bilge pump. They'd been fishing about three or four hours when Zecevic hooked into the winner, which he pulled in without much of a fight.
``It came up pretty easy, and it came up with its back up so it didn't look very big,'' he said. ``It was only 35 inches long, but it was fat. It was about as long as my cooler, and about as wide as my cooler.''
Zecevic stayed out a bit longer hoping his friend could hook into a fish. Then they decided they'd better boat back over to Auke Bay so they could turn the fish in before it lost any more weight.
``It probably weighed about 43 or 44 pounds when I pulled it in,'' he said.
When Zecevic turned in his winning fish it knocked a 38.6-pound king caught May 7 by Brian Russell into second place, where it held up to win $2,000 in cash, $1,000 in airfare and $1,000 in merchandise.
``There's always a chance some guy will bring in that fish that weighs 41.4 pounds,'' Zecevic said. ``After awhile, it's all luck anyway.''
The next three fish in the final standings were all turned in during the derby's final three days -- a 38.3-pounder from Delmont R. Martinson caught May 30, a 37.2-pounder caught May 28 by Jim E. Cashen, and another 37.2-pounder caught May 30 by Ryan Beason.
Zecevic said he plans to use the $5,000 cash to buy a newer used 18-foot Bayrunner. He'll use the $2,000 in air travel to go on his honeymoon after he and fiancee Shauna McBride tie the knot on Aug. 12.
Derby coordinator Leslie Isturis said the event raised about $17,000 for the Alumni Scholarship Assistance Program run by the Tlingit-Haida Central Council, which sponsors the derby. She said the derby had 550 tickets (at $30 each) sold through last week and she hoped the final count was more than 600. Last year 380 tickets were sold, raising $11,400 for the scholarship program. In 1998 the derby sold just 213 tickets to raise $6,390.
The derby committee will host a king salmon dinner at 6 p.m. June 9 at the Alaska Native Brotherhood Hall, which is open to those who fished and their families.