The long wait is over for Wally R. Frank Jr., and the 42-year-old vocational rehabilitation counselor from Angoon has brought glory to the rocks at False Outer Point.
After 29 days of waiting, Frank's 37.95-pound king salmon, caught at 7:30 p.m. May 3 from the barnacle-covered outcropping near Picnic Cove, was declared the winner Tuesday in the monthlong 9th Annual Spring King Salmon Derby.
Frank, 42, won $13,299.59 in cash and prizes.
"It's been the longest few days of my life," he said. "This is a nice prize. It's going to help me get new truck tires and pay off a credit card bill."
Frank's fish was the smallest derby winner since the contest was introduced in 1997. Alfred McKinley Sr. held the previous record for the low-winner with a 40.6 to 42.5 pounds. Last year, Robert Dilley won with a 51.4-pounder.
Frank fished almost every day of the derby, mostly from a spot at False Outer Point, where he's reeled since 2001, he said. The last four days, he's fished off his cousin Harold Frank Jr.'s 19-foot glass-ply boat.
On Tuesday, Frank, his cousin, and Harold Frank Sr. (the winner of the 1985 Sitka derby with a 62-pound king) caught five kings near Funter Bay. But their luck did little to quell the last few hours of anxiety.
"I haven't been real comfortable, and I'm still not comfortable with three hours to go," Frank said upon docking Tuesday evening in Auke Bay. "I've been sweating bullets."
Frank was using a 2-month-old 8-foot Roddy Gator Tail Rod with a Pen 6500SS spinning reel when he hooked the winner. He lost the combo - it fell out of his Ford F-150, along with two fish, last week near Harborview Elementary School. But on May 3, it brought him luck.
"I had caught about an 18-pound white king earlier in the day, and I was wondering if I should go and get it weighed," Frank said. "I thought I'd stay longer, and I'm glad I did."
"I thought it had a good chance simply because it weighed 42 pounds in the round," he said. "It was a pretty respectable fish, but I knew there was a month to go."
With the weighing stations closed at Jerry's Meats and Seafoods and Taku Fisheries, Frank drove to DeHart's in Auke Bay. He made it by 8:40 p.m. but was told the station was closed.
He was back at Jerry's at 7 a.m. the next morning.
"I wasn't too happy about the station being closed," he said. "I was concerned it would cost me the derby if it came down to ounces."
It almost did.
At 11:30 a.m. May 22, Michael D. Smith, a Cellular One employee, reeled in a 37.5-pound king on the back side of north Douglas Island from his friend Mark Mulkey's 24-foot boat. They made a beeline for DeHart's, where they learned it was 0.45 pounds (about 7 ounces) smaller than the leader.
"We were pretty much in shock," Smith said. "That was a lot bigger than we thought it was. I had never caught one that big. I didn't know."
The second-place king earned Smith $2,257.50, and it was just the third king he ever caught. He nabbed the second, a smaller king, at 5 that morning. It broke his net.
"We had to run back to Fishermen's Bend to buy a new net, and it's a good thing we did," Smith said.
"I've been looking at the history since we got that fish, and it seems like the last week in the season is when the big fish were caught," he said. "I just figured there would be some more brought in, and I'd get bumped down to fourth or fifth or sixth."
Neither Frank nor Smith were bumped. But as it turned out, five of the top 10 fish (30.85 pounds or more) were caught in the final weekend, May 28 to 30.
Ben Musielak, a union carpenter, was on a weekend excursion with three other boats when he caught his third-place king at 5 a.m. Saturday in Chatham Strait. It was the first day of the season for Musielak, who had just repowered his 26-foot Tullycraft with a 330-horsepower motor. The fish scaled out at a little more than 40 pounds.
"We were trying to decide whether we should run it in right away," Musielak said. "We thought it would be close. We figured we'd be in the top five. We were out there and wanted to keep fishing, make a weekend of it."
Musielak kept it iced in a cooler for two days, and brought it into DeHart's at 9 a.m. Monday, May 30. It weighed 36.85 pounds, 1.1 pounds less than Frank's.
"You never know how much weight they really lose," Musielak said. "We were thinking we should have maybe packed it and run it in. My wife (Charly) is still letting me know I should have run it in."
Musielak still won $1,894.98.
Korry Keeker can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.