Rudy Pusich left from Auke Bay on a boat owned by his son-in-law, John Rear. Dick Garrison left from Aurora Harbor on a charter boat skippered by Jeff Grant.
By getting their derby tickets punched and going fishing this morning, Pusich and Garrison kept alive a 55-year tradition. Pusich and Garrison are the only two fishermen left who have fished in every Golden North Salmon Derby since the event started in 1947.
What keeps bringing him back?
"That's what I wonder," Pusich said.
Some years, like this one, Pusich and Garrison go their own ways. Other times they'll fish together, as they did last year when they took off from Douglas Harbor. But somehow the two anglers have found a way to keep their streaks alive.
"It's quite unprecedented, Rudy and I have never missed a one," Garrison said. "Last year, Rudy and I fished together. We might fish together the second or third day, depending on how the fishing goes."
"I'll go out and continue the streak," Pusich said. "There used to be others, but they've been dying off. I sold my boat this year, so I'll have to get a ride from my son-in-law."
Pusich won the derby in 1961, when he caught a king salmon weighing 43 pounds, 15 ounces. Pusich's grandson, Shane Rear, also is a former derby champ, winning in 1997 with a king salmon that weighed in at 31.2 pounds. (The derby changed its weight system to decimals in 1984.) Garrison's best finish is second place.
"In 1957 I caught a 52-pounder," said Garrison, who lost that year to a fish caught by Henry Tacholsky weighing 59 pounds, 3 ounces. "That year we turned in two of the biggest fish ever in the derby, and in just about any other year I would have won. There were two main prizes that year, a boat and a car, and the guy who caught the 59-pounder wanted the boat. I ended up with a Mercury Monterey."
Until he died of lung cancer two years ago, Chuck Porter (Garrison's commercial fishing partner) was another angler who'd fished in every Golden North Salmon Derby. Last year's derby was dedicated to Porter, who won in 1952 with a 43-pounder, and to the late DIPAC Hatchery founder Ladd McCauley. This year's derby is dedicated to Robert Hinman, a longtime state Fish and Game staffer and Territorial Sportsmen volunteer who died last year.
"Chuck and I used to figure we'd been to the top-10 in 10 or 15 years," Garrison said. "I figure I've netted a couple of the winners."
This year's top fish will bring the winner $15,000 in cash, plus a trophy, winner's jacket and belt buckle for a total prize value of $15,950. Last year's winner, Wayne Sutherland of Boise, Idaho, isn't entered this year because of work commitments, son-in-law Ray Vidic said.
While Pusich and Garrison have the top streaks right now, there were other local anglers keeping their own derby traditions alive this morning. Many of the fishermen leaving Douglas Harbor said they have streaks going that are at least 20 years long.
"I've been doing the derby since 1976, what is that, 20-something years," Kelly Corrigan said. "The best I've done is 17th place and I won a smoker. I'm still using it, too. They've got another smoker this year as a prize, and it's worth about $850."
"I've been doing it for about 28 years," Rick Lewis said. "You just never know, you might get lucky. I've been aboard a boat where about five people got prizes, but not me."
Shawn Hartsock, whose father Bill Hartsock won the derby two years ago with a 28-pound king, was heading out with Todd Kirtley. Both anglers said they've been fishing in the derby for years.
"I remember growing up, doing the derby," Shawn Hartsock said. "We still have fun. It's for all a good time."
"I've been doing this maybe 20 years," Kirtley said. "We're broke and we need the money. It (a big fish) is out there, you've just got to go get him."
Rich Clime and Don Vanderheyden have shorter streaks, but Clime said this is the 50th anniversary for Vanderheyden's boat, the Roter Kter (the Red Dog in German).
"I used to avoid the derby because it was too crowded," said Vanderheyden, who is in only his third fishing contest. "But it's three days of fishing and a chance to get away from work. We've always got the one-that-got-away stories."
"It's been six or seven years for me, I've been going out a lot," Clime said. "We turned in a lot of stuff two years ago, but they were mainly scholarship fish. We've got tougher line and tougher leaders. We like doing the derby."
The derby is sponsored by Territorial Sportsmen and the money raised funds college scholarships for Juneau-Douglas High School graduates. The derby runs through 6 p.m. on Sunday.
According to the National Weather Service, this weekend's weather report includes a 60 percent chance of showers on Saturday and a chance of showers on Sunday, with temperatures in the high 50s and variable winds to 10 mph.
Charles Bingham can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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