The salmon derby that got away

Posted: Thursday, August 16, 2001

Earle and I moved to Juneau in the fall of 1981. But the fishing was way different than the Kenai. We had a 16' boat and tried the trolling bit a few times, but were so bored, we sold the boat! The summer of 1982, folks were gearing up for the Salmon Derby, which we didn't take very seriously - in Anchorage, the Derby paid about $100 for the winning fish. We had no idea Juneau was any different.

We thought all those folks would be out there, together, just boat shoulder to boat shoulder, trashing water and getting a fish every 42 hours. We didn't care to join them. But we still wanted to fish. So off we went to one of our favorite spots, the rocks by the Shrine of St. Terese.

It was overcast and about 50 degrees, with a little breeze blowing, just enough to move the mosquitoes away. We were using cut herring and a flasher and casting far out. We caught a couple of small fish and let them go. Some boats came in pretty close to us, which we resented. After all, we were on the shore to avoid people!

I felt a bite and started setting the hook. It felt like a substantial fish, and I started the exciting part of fishing - playing the fish. After a while, I started hearing yelling from the boat nearby. I realized they wanted my fish! They said they could see it and it was big - would I let them catch my line and get the fish? They yelled they would share the prize with me, that you can't get a prize if you catch a fish from the shore. I yelled back that if they touched my line or fish they were dead! I said, we fish for the food - and fun, we didn't give a hoot for prizes.

Well, they were a bunch of disappointed guys, drinking beer and swearing, but they left my line alone. I pulled the fish to Earle, who had the net ready, and we hauled it in. Using his portable scale, we figured it to weigh about 35 pounds. Not bad. So I cleaned it and we waved at the boat and went home. We had barbecue salmon for supper.

The next day, the Empire said the winner of the Derby was a 28 or 29 pound fish, I forget which, but definitely less than mine. When I saw the size of the prize, I nearly fainted! I had no idea. ... And that's the closest I ever came to winning the Salmon Derby.

Ellen Northup has lived in Alaska for 30 years and now runs the Senior Center downtown. She lived many years in the interior with her husband, who was an Alaskan game guide out of Slana.

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