Lee wins king derby

Posted: Sunday, June 01, 2003

Like the winner of any major sporting event Tom Lee has one place on his mind - Disneyland.

"It's something that everyone says when they win something, but that's just kind of a joke," he said.

On Saturday, Lee won the seventh annual Spring King Salmon Derby, sponsored by Tlingit-Haida Central Council, with the 42.3 pound, gutted and gilled king he caught May 24 near the Shrine of St. Therese. Instead of scouring the seas trying to best his own fish on the final day of the Derby, Lee suited up for the Imperial Saloon in Marlintini's Coca-Cola Softball Tournament.

Lee said it wasn't too stressful holding onto the lead for an entire week, but said he did have jokes played on him.

"I've had a lot of people coming up to me telling me something bigger was caught," he said. "You just have to know how to play them."

Instead of letting them get the best of him Lee said he would turn the joke around. "I'd say, 'Yeah I heard someone caught a bigger one,' and then they'd say, 'What?'"

The first-time spring Derby contestant got the final laugh with a $7,000 payoff in cash and prizes.

"It's a lifetime dream for just about any guy to catch a 50-pounder," he said.

To make things just a little bit sweeter, Lee said he caught the winning fish on 20-pound test.

"It's kind of amazing to catch a 40-pounder on 20-pound test, but you got to know how to play them," he said. "I just kept the tension, and didn't give him a chance to spit the hooks."

This year's Derby was dedicated to veterans. A veteran and 2001 Spring King Salmon Derby champion, Al McKinley Sr., secured the second-place spot with a 38.6 pound king.

McKinley was out with his high school buddy Ronald Austin when he landed it.

"The king that I caught fought more than the one I caught in 2001," said McKinley. "It looked a lot bigger than the other one I caught."

McKinley said they stayed out fishing for a while after reeling in the lunker and suspects that it lost a little weight. Regardless, he said he had a good time and has one more fishing tale to add to his collection.

"My rod was almost like a U," said McKinley. "(Ronald) said, 'Hey buddy, it looks like you're praying,' and I said, 'Yeah, I am.' "

Stories, prizes and dinners aren't the only things that come out of the Derby. The proceeds will go toward higher-education scholarships for Native students. THCC Education Specialist Leslie Isturis said last year the Derby contributed about $23,000 in scholarships of $200 each.

"If you ask any college student going to school, they're going to say five bucks is great," Isturis said. "It's the difference between Top Ramen and McDonald's. Or it was for me," she said laughing.

Isturis said she would have liked to see a better turnout and a greater number of tickets sold, but there will still be plenty of money for scholarships.

"We've sold slightly more tickets, but not as much as I'd hoped, but we still did really good," she said. "Maybe next year we'll have a big year of support and Bill Gates will come knocking at my door."

Isturis said she has often been questioned as to why the scholarships are available only to Native students.

"We have considered it, but we still feel there's a greater need for Native students to have access to the scholarship money," she said.

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