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ANCHORAGE - Scott Stender fought for about a half-hour to land a 59-pound king salmon, chasing it upstream and finally yanking the behemoth back toward him.
Stender's fish is one of the biggest king salmon ever to be landed at Ship Creek in Anchorage.
"When it first came up, I said, 'Wow, this is the biggest fish I have ever seen.' People go to the Kenai or the Deshka or Kasilof to catch fish like that," Stender, 44, said Wednesday after returning from the taxidermist, which estimated the fish at 63 pounds when it came out of the water.
"People were saying, 'You're not going to be able to land that thing here; cut your line.' I said, 'Cut my line? Somebody must be smoking something, because I'm not going to cut that line.'"
Huge fish rarely come out of such a small creek. Rudy Fox, who owns Riverside Adventures and has run his tackle shack off the creek the past 14 years, said the only king he remembers that big is a 65-pounder caught in 2001.
Stender didn't win the IBEW Ship Creek King Salmon Derby because the derby ended Sunday, three days before Stender landed the 49-inch fish that would have beat this year's derby winner by 13.8 pounds, according to derby director Diana Arthur.
Stender has fished Ship Creek most mornings as the tide brings in waves of kings. Wednesday was no different. He arrived about 6 a.m., contemplated the water and rigged his pole at the culverts that locals call "the tubes."
I decided to use a double-hook system with a Spin-N-Glo in front. With those you normally use roe, Stender said. I do all my custom bait production, and I said, Im just going to throw on some roe here and go out.
After about 45 minutes, Stender had caught a few little kings under 20 inches and released one. Lulled into his daily routine, he cast slightly upstream using a 2.5-ounce weight, allowing the line to drift into a hole and sit there. A friend stood nearby with a net.
Moments later, he felt a jolt through the line and the fight was on. Stender and his buddy immediately began yelling, Fish on! to get people out of the way as the king took off toward the dam.
At a certain point, after about 10, 15 minutes of having this thing in front of me, it was really running upriver, and I was worried about all the people in front of me, Stender said. I had both thumbs on the reel to get it to slow the fish down, but even that wasnt working. I knew at a certain point, if he goes any farther Im going to have to cut my line.
With nothing left to lose and the salmon on its way to a traffic jam of people, Stender yanked back on his line. It went limp.
I thought, I either lost him, or its swimming right back at me, Stender said. And there it was again.
I played it and five or eight more minutes, and I saw the head come up, and it wasnt long before we were able to net it, Stender said.