Close calls with kings

Tales from the front lines of this year's Spring King Salmon Derby

Posted: Sunday, June 01, 2003

Fishermen say this year's Spring King Salmon Derby was a reel good time.

Even though the seventh annual angling event sponsored by the Tlingit-Haida Central Council ended at 9 p.m. Saturday, the memories and fishing tales will endure for some time. The proceeds from the derby also will leave a lasting impression, providing higher-education scholarships for Native students.

The 33.1-pound, gilled-and-gutted king Arnold Weimer caught near Point Salisbury in the last week of the derby is one he won't soon forget.

Weimer said he left Douglas alone in his inflatable boat late Tuesday afternoon, heading south where there's known to be good fishing. He had his 25-pound test line in the water for about 30 minutes before the action started.

"It's not something I do every day because it's such a chore to listen to that motor for so long," he said. "I threw my line down, and caught him almost immediately."

After he hooked the salmon, it dove and Weimer knew he was in for a fight.

"It took me 45 minutes to land it," he said. "I thought it was at least a 100-pound halibut the way he fought it.

"I felt like 'The Old Man and the Sea,' " he said referring to Ernest Hemingway's famous book. "What if it turns on me and eats my inflatable, you know?" he said, laughing.

After getting the fish in the boat he knew he was in the running for the top 10.

"I didn't even put my line back down, I just headed for Taku Fisheries after I caught that fish," he said. "It was exciting as hell. It was the most exciting fish I ever caught."

Jennifer Mixson's king, which weighed in at 35.2 pounds gilled and gutted, also provided plenty of excitement.

After fishing for nearly six hours May 26 to no avail, Mixson decided to try something she had never done before - bait her own hook. It turned out to be quite the memorable Memorial Day.

Not only was it her first time hooking up the herring, it was her first Spring King Salmon Derby, on her first boat, and it landed her the first king she's ever caught.

"I love to fish and for years and years I never caught (a king)," she said. "But sure enough this year I caught one."

After baiting the line, her boyfriend and another friend both noticed it "had a nice swim." As the herring trailed behind their boat for nearly an hour, Mixson noticed the line jerk.

"I grabbed my pole and tried to reel it in by myself," she said. "We saw it jump out of the water, and then my significant other Shawn thought he should help."

She said the fish fought valiantly, slamming against the boat, when disaster nearly struck. She said she noticed the hook was just barely hanging on and she had seen kings get away in the same scenario. To make matters worse, their net broke.

"I just couldn't watch. The suspense was killing me," said Mixson.

While the handle was rendered useless, the actual netting remained functional.

"Basically they just got it in," said Mixson. "It took a couple tries to get it in, but the net was still kind of usable.

"That adrenaline rush, getting that fish in the boat, was really exciting," she said.

As for the net?: "We're buying a new one. We're not using that one again," she said.

Cleveland Burley, 75, also had luck on his side during this year's derby. Only having the chance to go out on the water once this year, he made the best of it and landed a fish that weighed in at 34.6 pounds, gilled and gutted.

"Well, it wasn't an easy catch but it took a while to bring it in," said Burley. "It was a real good time."

Like many of the derby participants, Burley decided it was best to share the wealth. He said he distributed salmon to church members and other friends who couldn't go fishing.

"I was trying to show my appreciation for those who gave me some when I didn't catch any," he said.

Like any fisherman, Burley had some advice for other anglers. "Fishing is like being patient. It has to be for you to be a good fisherman," he said. "You can't see when you're fishing; you got to feel."

As for Mixson's advice, "For first-time women getting out there, bait your own hook and maybe you'll catch something."

And Weimer's, "Take your herring and your hope and go fishing."

Eric Morrison can be reached at

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