ANCHORAGE - A North Slope oil worker is in the lead to win the Homer Jackpot Halibut Derby after hauling in a monster fish weighing more than 340 pounds.
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Actually, the halibut that Dan Prisaznuk of Homer pulled in Monday weighed 340.6 pounds.
The fish dashed the hopes of a few others who had hauled in some pretty big fish, including Jesse Swayne of Lakewood, Colo., who was leading the derby with a 232-pounder caught on June 11.
The Homer Jackpot Halibut Derby is the state's richest derby. The winner is expected to collect between $40,000 and $45,000. The derby ends Sept. 30.
"This is a once in a lifetime event," Prisaznuk said of catching the big one. "When we got him back to the weigh station, people were stopping, getting out of their motor homes, coming to take pictures. I was causing a traffic jam on the (Homer) Spit."
Now, when Swayne drives by derby headquarters where the leaders are posted, he doesn't quite believe his eyes.
"It's something to see your name up there," he said.
Born and reared in Buffalo, N.Y., Prisaznuk was lured to Alaska in large part by the fishing, but he never thought he'd hook into something like this - not even when it happened.
"I knew it was big," said Prisaznuk, whose largest fish before Monday was a 116-pounder. "But I didn't know it was that big. I knew it was over 100 pounds, but I didn't think it was over 200.
"It was a concrete block. I'd do five cranks (on the reel), and she'd spin off two or three. She wanted to go back down."
For more than an hour, Prisaznuk fought the big hen halibut before getting a look at her. About 15 feet behind the boat in the clear waters of Cook Inlet, he saw what looked like a mottled gray dining-room table for six.
"I'd never seen anything like that," he said.
The fish would eventually measure an inch over 8 feet in length.
"When we had him at the boat," Prisaznuk said, "everyone was whoopin' and hollerin,' and, I said, 'Hey wait, let's get him in the boat first.' "
Though Prisaznuk's fish is big enough to have won 14 of the 21 Homer derbies to date, it wouldn't have won last year's when a 341.8-pounder caught by Anchorage's Duane Olson unseated a summer-long leader.
Nor would Prisaznuk's fish have won in 2004 or 2003 or 2002. The new millennium has seen a bounty of halibut over 300 pounds being dragged up the docks in Homer.