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The fishermen, and women, were lined up at the Douglas Harbor Derby Station more than 30 minutes before today's 7:30 a.m. official opening time, patiently waiting to get their Golden North Salmon Derby tickets validated so they could start a long weekend of fishing.
Many of them already knew how they'd spend the derby's first prize $15,000 in cash, plus a trophy, belt buckle and jacket worth another $950 even though the prize won't be awarded until after the derby ends at 6 p.m. Sunday. Others were hoping to catch the $100,000 tagged fish, which has been caught only once in the derby's history.
But others were just happy to be getting out on the water on a relatively nice Indian summer day, one where the moisture was below the boat, not above it.
"In Juneau, freedom is getting out on the water, being able to get around the corner and away from town," said Rick Lewis, who spent Thursday night gassing up his skiff and getting his gear ready. "It's freedom, even if you don't put a pole in the water."
"We just play, we're having a good time," Ed Sasser said.
JoAnn White, who supervises the Douglas derby station, said 123 fishermen had validated their tickets by 8:15 a.m., and more were coming down the ramp to load their boats. She said she used to keep a book with the past seven years worth of stats, but the book disappeared from the station after last year's derby.
"We don't have a packer on this end, so I think we should be busier," White said.
John Barnett and his fishing party mother-in-law, wife and nephew were boarding the "fishing sailboat" Airloom for a day on the water. Barnett said his mother-in-law, Patty Spencer, had three daughters and three grandkids fishing in the derby, which he called a "family deal."
"We've placed in the derby before, 12th I think it was, a couple of years ago," Barnett said. "We usually bring some big cohos in. Sailboats troll real nice. They're slow by design. We use our kicker (engine), but Chris Burns has caught a lot of fish under sail. And on a sunny day, when there's no fish, we just raise the sails."
Alicia Smith came down the ramp lugging her infant son, Justin, while her friend from Salem, Ore., (Staci Lieuallen) carried bags of supplies. Smith said she hoped to catch the $100,000 tagged fish, but if she couldn't catch that fish she wanted one larger than her son.
"He's just bait. He's only 18 pounds," Smith said. "We're going to get the tagged fish, but we'll take any we can get."
Last year's winner, Bill Hartsock, was among those leaving Douglas this morning. Hartsock, whose winning fish last year weighed in at an even 28 pounds (the third smallest winner in derby history), said he planned to fish in the same place he did last year. Before he caught his winning fish on Saturday, Hartsock turned in a smaller fish on Friday that had him 27th in the standings.
"I think Douglas will do very well," Hartsock said. "This is my first time out this year. I've been gone all summer. But I'm going to give it the old college try."
As always, Dick Garrison and Rudy Pusich were among those hitting the water from Douglas early Friday. Garrison and Pusich are the only remaining fishermen who have fished in all 54 Golden North Salmon derbies, said derby co-chair Patty Ann Polley.
Garrison's wife, Peggy, was working as a ticket validator at the Douglas derby station, one of three land-based derby stations around Juneau. She said she doesn't fish, but she's worked the derby every year since 1963. Over the years, both Garrisons spent a year or two each acting as derby chairperson.
Peggy Garrison said her husband caught a 54-pound king in 1957, but he didn't win the derby because Henry Tacholsky caught a 59-pound, 3-ounce fish. Tacholsky had the choice of a boat or a car. He picked the boat, so Garrison won a car that was too big for their garage.
A third person, Chuck Porter, had fished in every derby until this year. But Porter and Ladd Macauley were killed in a car wreck near Seward earlier this year, and the 2000 Golden North Salmon Derby is dedicated to both fishermen.