Debbie White and her cohorts aboard the 34-foot Popeye turned in 22 scholarship fish Saturday in the 59th Golden North Salmon Derby, but their thoughts were elsewhere.
"I was wondering where the big one was," White said.
She found it near South Shelter Island just before 3:30 p.m. Sunday, with a downrigger set at 100 feet and a silver J-plug trolling lure that refused to let go.
The 32.9-pound king gave her a ride, tugging and running until there were just two wraps of line left on her reel.
She held on. Her father-in-law, Dick White, slowly backed the Popeye toward the fish. And in the end, they turned the beast into the Auke Bay weigh station at 4:04 p.m., just one hour, 56 minutes before the end of the tournament.
"It ran like hell," she said. "I've never seen anything like it."
White won $16,093.99 in prizes for the fish, including $15,000 from the Territorial Sportsmen, the derby sponsors.
Brian Prellwitz took second with a 29.0-pound king he turned in at the San Juan packer boat at 8:45 a.m. Saturday. He held the lead for more than 31 hours.
"This is a big thrill for me," White said. "It was the biggest king I ever caught."
"My father-in-law was a big help," she said. "He's the best father-in-law a girl could have. He's really been there for me since my father passed away. It's cool to see him so happy. He's like a little kid down here on the dock."
White, a realtor with ReMax of Juneau, has lived in Juneau for most of her life. Her parents ran Dawson's Bed and Breakfast for years. She's been fishing for the last 10 years and placed 27th in 2000, 97th last year. She wears a pair of diamond earrings - a prize from a previous derby - almost every day.
White was on the Popeye this weekend with Dick White; her husband, Chris; and their deckhand, Gabe Hayden. The 34-foot, twin diesel Bayliner Trophy brought in about 30 fish over the three-day derby - four on Friday, 22 on Saturday, a few more Sunday.
At about 3 p.m. Sunday, all was calm and White was even thinking about taking a nap. That's when the big one hit.
"The pole definitely went straight down like a typical king salmon," White said. "And then it went out, and the fish came right back toward the boat and got tangled on another line. Every single fish I caught this derby has gotten tangled on another line."
"I had three guys that knew how to handle the boat, so all I had to do was pull the fish up," she said. "When I told my father-in-law it was ripping the reel and I was out of line, he said he'd back up on it. He said, 'We have to get to Auke Bay, this one's the winning fish.'"
White's fish didn't start to bleed until it was on the Auke Bay scale, and it weighed 3.2 pounds more than Prellwitz's leader. It was 6.4 pounds heavier than Carol Munro's top 26.5-pound fish in 2004, but it was the second-lightest winner since 1999. White's big fish was the 42nd-heaviest winner in the 59-year history of the derby.
"It felt right," White said. "It was just patience and persistence to wear it out. You have to keep the faith and trust your captain."
"No one else is allowed to touch that J-plug," she said. "Now it's mine. It's going to be in my purse for at least a week."
For Prellwitz, the radio reports of White's fish marked the end of a rollercoaster 31 hours. An enrolled tax agent, he spent Sunday listening at home and monitoring the standings.
"It was exciting all the way down to the end," Prellwitz said. "I was getting kind of nervous. I heard a lot of big kings and cohos coming in. I knew something could happen."
Prellwitz has fished a few Spring King tournaments, but this was his first Golden North Salmon Derby. Usually he vacations during this time of the year. On Saturday, he was a guest on Mike Lesmann's 1812-foot Alumaweld.
At 7:45 a.m., 15 minutes into their day, they were hemmed in by fog at the edge of the silt line between George's Rock and Outer Point. They'd only had enough time to get one line down - a full herring, no flasher - when the 29-pounder bit 45 feet below the surface. The fish measured 41 inches long, with a girth of 26 inches.
"I knew it was a big one, but I didn't know that it would be in the lead," Prellwitz said. "We were thinking it was somewhere in the mid-20s."
Unofficial top five: 1. Debbie White, 32.9 pounds; 2. Brian Prellwitz, 29.0; 3. Rose Risley, 27.5; 4. Monica Bethers, 27.4; 5. Al Culbreath, 26.3.
Korry Keeker can be reached at email@example.com.