At first, Alfred McKinley Sr. didn't think he'd caught an especially huge fish when he landed his king salmon early last Friday morning.
McKinley was fishing with his son Patrick when he hooked into the king salmon, and McKinley thought it was kind of small. But his son thought differently, finally convincing his father maybe it should be weighed for the Fifth Annual Spring King Salmon Derby.
The McKinleys headed back to Auke Bay where their car was parked. When the elder McKinley had to fold the fish to get it to fit into his cooler and a group of tourists wanted to take the fish's picture, he was convinced. They hustled down the road to a weigh-in station. McKinley's fish weighed in at 40.6 pounds, just large enough to move into first place in the derby standings.
With a week left in the derby, McKinley wasn't convinced 40.6 pounds would hold up as the winning weight. So he continued to fish, even as the end of the derby approached Thursday night. When the derby ended at 7 p.m., McKinley's king salmon remained at the top of the standings. With the winning fish, McKinley was now the proud owner of a new Dodge Neon and other prizes worth $13,355.
"I was out there fishing," McKinley said when asked how he passed the last hours of the derby. "Myself, I was trying to top 40.6 pounds. I was just trying to take my mind off things."
Paul Thomas took second place with a king salmon weighing 40.3 pounds caught on May 15, winning two round-trip airline tickets, cash and other prizes worth $2,792. Lois Nakamura took third place with a 40.1-pound fish caught on Monday, winning a fishing charter, cash and other prizes worth $1,630. Proceeds from the derby help fund the Central Council of Tlingit and Haida's Alumni Scholarship Assistance Program.
On the final day of the derby, only one fish cracked the standings' top 30 spots, which win prizes.
Randy Beason turned in a fish weighing 34.7 pounds at 4:01 p.m. Thursday, moving into ninth place in the overall standings. Romney Tupou, the night manager at Jerry's Meats, which was the last weigh-in station open Thursday, said five guys brought in a 28-pounder about 10 minutes before the end of the derby, but it missed the 31.3-pound cut and didn't make the top-30 list.
The final standings are on the sports Scoreboard on Page 10.
"It felt good to me," said Beason, who was out fishing again this morning. "It made a nice run, then went down deep. I didn't know what I had until I got it up there. It was barely hooked, so I guess I got lucky. I didn't think I'd get a fish without my boy (Ryan, age 12) in the boat. He was fifth last year, catching a fish on the second-to-last day, and he took third in Golden North. I'd given up on the derby, I was just looking for something to eat."
McKinley said this was the first time he'd entered the Spring King Salmon Derby, mainly because he's had poor health and boat engine problems in recent years. This year his son was able to keep the boat engine running through the winter, and McKinley said he's in better shape now than he has been in years. McKinley said his doctor told him he's still not supposed to lift anything larger than 25 pounds, but "in this case I pushed it a little bit."
When asked where he caught his winning fish, McKinley said, "In the mouth. In the water."
On the day McKinley caught his derby winner, he and his son got up early and they planned to meet up with a friend who keeps his boat a few slips down from theirs at Aurora Harbor. The McKinleys and their friend, Fred Hopkins, were both docked at Auke Bay, and Hopkins suggested they both head out to Thunder Bay. McKinley said Hopkins' boat is faster than his "Sea Bird," so Hopkins soon left the McKinleys behind. Once at Thunder Bay, McKinley said they couldn't find Hopkins so he dropped a line near some islands.
"Ten minutes later, bang, I had the fish on," McKinley said. "We never caught anything after that."
McKinley said he caught his fish at 5:30 a.m., but decided to keep fishing because he didn't think it was that big and because he thought by the time he and his son got back to Auke Bay everyone would still be sleeping. When the fish was finally weighed, it was three hours after it had been caught. McKinley thinks the fish lost a couple of pounds because of the delay.
McKinley wasn't sure if his fish would hold the lead, but it did and now he's trying to figure out how to pay the taxes on his new car. McKinley said his wife won a car playing bingo two or three years ago at Alaska Native Brotherhood Hall, so he knows what bite the IRS plans. But he's already planning a trip with the vehicle.
"My wife and I will drive to Anchorage," McKinley said. "This car looks like it uses less gas than my Blazer."
Charles Bingham can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.