Marsha Montag developed a passion for boating as a young child while sitting on her dad's lap and assisting him at the helm. Having been born and raised in Juneau, she operated a charter business for about 14 years and has faithfully participated in the Golden North Salmon Derby for her entire life.
She and her husband, Bob, have placed in the derby many times. In 1996, Bob took 12th place with a 23.5-pound king. In 2008, Marsha set a personal best with an 8th place 23.8-pound king, but the fish didn't come easily.
It was afternoon, in the final hours of the last day of the derby. The Montags had gotten a late start, so they weren't expecting to land the big one that day.
They headed to their favorite spot, nicknamed "Marsha's Reef" after a previous fishing trip - the two were so engrossed with the 52-pound king salmon that Bob had hooked, no one was watching the wheel and their boat nearly ran aground. Luckily, disaster was averted in that case.
On this derby Sunday, Marsha had a different struggle at hand. She was recovering from foot surgery, which put her in crutches and cam walker boots. It was difficult enough for her to walk down the ramp to the boat, let alone the strenuous task of balancing poles, crutches and steering wheels. But it didn't stop her from trying.
"Miracles happen," she said.
The Montags had been fishing in one spot for a while with no luck, but on Bob's suggestion they moved over to a different section of Marsha's Reef.
"My husband said to me, 'There's a couple of salmon over there waiting for us,'" Marsha said. "We moved and sure enough, the minute we let our lines down, there were two of them side by side that jumped and one of them immediately got on my line."
Though they didn't get to take the prize-winning fish home for dinner, the Montags do enjoy cooking their non-derby catches on the barbeque.
"Persistence pays off," Marsha offered as advice to this year's derby participants. "If you put in the time, you'll get one."
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