On Monday morning, Robert A. Dilley caught the biggest fish recorded since the Tlingit-Haida Central Council started the annual Spring King Salmon Derby eight years ago. He reeled in a 56.6-pound king salmon south of Point Dupont. The fish weighed 51.4 pounds after being gutted and gilled.
"It took me about half an hour to get the fish out. I knew it was big, but I was surprised at how big it was," said Dilley, a 32-year-old community service police officer. The salmon was so big that it broke Dilley's net and fish club.
Dilley beat the 21-day top weight of Robert Reid, who caught a 33.7-pound king salmon in Funter Bay on May 10. The average weight of the winning fish in the derby is about 40 pounds. Last year's winning fish weighed 42.3 pounds.
"When I caught the fish, I couldn't believe I would hold the record for a week," said Reid, whose friends had been teasing him that they would go out and beat him. Reid, 71, lost first place but secured second. "I was disappointed of course, but at least I wasn't beaten by one ounce more."
In addition to Dilley and Reid, the top five winners included James Knudson (33.6), John Rust (32.2) and Reggie Demmert (31.8).
Dilley will get $9,500 in cash and prizes, including two plane tickets for travel in the United States. He said he doesn't know what to do with the money and plane tickets. After weighing the fish at Jerry's Meats and Seafoods at 12:37 p.m., he drove his red Dodge pickup truck around with the fish in a cooler to show off to his friends and relatives.
"He deserved this fish," said Dilley's wife, Shannon. "We caught a smaller fish earlier, but it was one inch under the legal limit so we let it go. Then we got this one. I think it is good karma. He did a good thing, and he got something good from the sea in return."
This year's derby was unusual.
It not only broke the record of the biggest fish ever caught in the contest's eight-year history, but also that of the highest participation. More than 1,300 people bought the $30 ticket to join the derby. Proceeds from the event will fund scholarships for Native students.
"This week was an excellent week for fishing, and the three-day Memorial Day holiday brought people out," said organizer Archie Cavanaugh.
Because of the high participation rate, the 70 recipients of this year's scholarship will get $500 per person. In the past few years, students received only $300.
Cavanaugh said he was excited for Dilley.
"I knew the run was coming from the south end," Cavanaugh said. "People were suspecting there was king salmon coming from that direction. People saw a lot of eagles and birds there, which indicates there is feed in that area."
Dilley got the tip from his father-in-law, Jim Sturrock, who caught a king salmon near Dupont last Friday.
Dilley, his wife and their 3-year-old son, Andrew, took off around 10 a.m. Monday morning. He caught the fish around 11 a.m. He struggled with the fish so long that Andrew got bored and told him to give this one up and get other fish.
"This is a once-in-a-lifetime fish," Shannon said. "Fishing doesn't get better than this."
Dilley, who started fishing when he was 6, said he didn't have any special techniques except spinning the herring around so the fish see it flash in the water.
Dilley is considering stuffing the fish, which his son named "fatty."
"This is the biggest king salmon I have ever caught and probably will be the biggest one I will have caught," Dilley said.