Juneau's anglers are gearing up for the start of the 62nd annual Golden North Salmon Derby, which begins this Friday.
Organizer Susan Listberger said the event usually draws about 2,000 people every year. She said she hopes good weather will help net a larger-than-usual crowd this year.
Among those planning to compete for the $15,000 first-place prize for the biggest king or silver salmon will be Dick Garrison, the only person thought to have participated in all 61 previous derbies.
"Never missed a one," said Garrison, who said he is "roughly" 88 or 89 years old.
Garrison said the first contest in 1947 involved only about a dozen skiffs at Tee Harbor. In the early days of the contest, the first-place winner won a car.
Despite his multiple tries, Garrison has yet to land a winner. In 1957, he said he caught a 52-pound king salmon, only to lose to a 59-pounder.
Last year's winning fish, a king caught by Steve Mielke, weighed 36 pounds.
Mielke said he will be out of town during this year's derby and won't be able to defend his title. His advice to other anglers: "Just keep trying."
Mielke said he fished in several derbies and never managed to place in the top 100 before he took home the big prize.
"It's an awesome ride, winning that thing," Mielke said.
He joined a list of winners that includes men, women, the young and the old. The reported winner in 1963 was a 5-year-old who caught a 43-pound fish.
Ryan Beason, was 12- and 13 years old when he became the first person to win back-to-back derbies.
Besides the prize for the heaviest fish, derby participants also can land cash prizes by reeling in a tagged fish. Derby organizers have tagged a dozen fish and one of them will be worth, if caught, $100,000. The other 11 fish will be worth $1,000.
Only one person, Maggie Hall, has ever won the $100,000 prize.
Derby participants can donate fish to the competition, which uses the proceeds to fund scholarships for local students. Listberger said in recent years the Territorial Sportsmen, the group that sponsors the derby, has given a number of scholarships worth about $10,000 a piece.
Garrison said he didn't have much advice to give to potential derby champions. He said one had to cover the basics and use the right bait at the right depth, but other than that it just comes down to being in the right place at the right time.
"Keep your fingers crossed," Garrison said.
Contact reporter Alan Suderman at 523-2268 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
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