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As a fisherman, Ron Repplinger said he had caught "nothing big" before he pulled in a 30.8-pound king Sunday, the biggest turned in for the weekend's 60th annual Golden North Salmon Derby.
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"That'll help buy my house," said the 74-year-old retired watchmaker from Beaverton, Ore., who plans in a matter of weeks to move into a home he recently bought in the Mendenhall Valley. The winning salmon is worth $15,000 from derby organizers Territorial Sportsmen Inc. and $1,265 in additional prizes.
The results remain unofficial until Territorial Sportsmen certify them at noon Tuesday, said Mal Linthwaite, a co-chair for this year's derby. The organization also will determine whether to certify him as a $1,000 winner for catching a tagged fish.
"See, I proved it could be done," he said, referring to speculation at the long odds of catching any of the 12 tagged salmon, including one worth $100,000 that eluded the hordes of anglers this weekend.
Prizes will be awarded at Awards Night on Thursday at Centennial Hall, Linthwaite said.
Repplinger said Sunday was a long day, beginning at 3 a.m., but he has been fishing every day for the couple of weeks he has been in Juneau. He has two children and seven of his 12 grandchildren living in Juneau.
On a 24-foot Osprey with three generations of family, he said he was surrounded by good fishermen, including Carl Mielke, who is married to his daughter Mari Mielke.
Repplinger recalled fishing in one previous Golden North derby years ago. Carl Mielke said he has fished in 20 or 30. Carl's father, Glen Mielke, also on the boat, said Repplinger didn't seem at all excited with his catch. "I got excited, and I caught a million fish as a commercial fishermen," the elder Mielke said.
Juneau resident James Johnson said he was excited earlier Sunday when he turned a 30-pound king in to the weigh-in packer. "Oh, man, first time placing that high," he said. "It was fun while it lasted." He said it was heartbreaking to finish so close to the top, though. "I thought, why couldn't it have been 35 pounds?" he said of Repplinger's king.
Second place is worth two round-trip tickets anywhere Alaska Airlines flies, or the winner's choice of prizes further down the list, except for special prizes for the 60th and 100th top fish. Johnson, a 44-year-old database specialist, said he was considering the outboard motor from Allen Marine or a prize package from Nugget Mall merchants worth more than $1,700.
"I wasn't even going to go out," said Johnson, a veteran of "a good 15 derbies." He has had the flu, but his friends insisted on him taking them out in his boat, he explained. He also said he never fishes 150 feet deep either, as he did when he caught the king. "I thought I was going to run out of line. That 15-minute fight was the best I felt all weekend."
The leader everyone was chasing when the boats headed out Sunday morning was Sonny Ashby, the 26-year-old co-owner of Alaska Plumbing & Heating. He ended up finishing third with the 29.1-pound king he caught Saturday.
Linthwaite said Sunday night he couldn't say how many fish were turned in to raise money for scholarships, but it was a successful derby, even though his boat didn't catch anything big. "We're not in the top 100 by any means."
The tagged fish was a small coho, he said. When his fishing partner saw the blue tag, Linthwaite knew it was one of the special fish his organization released, although he didn't know what they looked like or where they were put out.
Had it been the $100,000 fish, he knew he would not have been ineligible, he said. That award would be paid out by an insurance policy taken out by Mendenhall Motors.
But one of his favorite memories from this year's derby will be something that happened involving a tagged fish two days before the derby started when Territorial Sportsmen heard from a man who said he caught one of their tagged fish.
"He turned it loose," Linthwaite said. He expects Territorial Sportsmen will reward the man's honesty.
Tony Carroll can be reached at email@example.com.