Ryan Beason is only 12 years old, but he's already developing quite the fisherman's resume.
On Friday afternoon, Beason turned in a 33.9-pound king salmon to take the lead in the 55th Annual Golden North Salmon Derby. Beason's fish was still leading the derby when scales closed Saturday night. The fish could earn Beason $15,000 if it holds up through the derby's close at 6 p.m. today.
"I hope I've got a pretty good chance," Beason said of winning the top prize. "I like catching fish."
Beason's angling success goes beyond Friday's outing south of Douglas. Beason won $1,000 for third place in last year's Golden North Salmon Derby for a fish weighing 26.3 pounds, plus he took fifth place in the 2000 Spring King Salmon Derby with a fish weighing 37.2 pounds.
"I'm surprised," said Beason, who will be a seventh-grader at Dzantik'i Heeni Middle School. "There's a little luck, but the rest of it is being in the right place at the right time."
Beason gets some of his angling skill from his father, Randy, a commercial fisherman whose 22.2-pound king was ranked in fifth place after Saturday's action (down from third place on Friday). Randy Beason took ninth place in this May's Spring King Salmon Derby, with a fish weighing 34.7 pounds, giving the family a top-10 finish in each of Juneau's last four major salmon derbies.
"My dad's been fishing for 30 or 40 years. He's a troller," Ryan Beason said Saturday. "My dad's commercial fishing right now and won't be back until Thursday. It's just having the right gear and knowing where the fish are. Sometimes it's good luck."
Beason may be young, but he's already developed the classic fisherman's attitude of keeping the best fishing holes secret. When Ryan was asked where he caught his fish, his reply was, "In the mouth."
Beason's mother, Laura, said Ryan has been in about six Golden North Salmon Derbies. She said if his fish holds on to win the big prize, the money will go into a college fund. She also said the fish might have even been bigger, but boat problems kept the Beasons on the water longer than planned and the fish probably lost some weight in transit.
"He caught it at about 11:30 (a.m.)," said Laura Beason, who was working Friday and wasn't on the boat. "But on the way back to Douglas, the outboard motor broke down. They had to use the kicker to get back in, and it took about four hours before they finally got towed into Douglas Harbor."
Beason's fish was more than seven pounds ahead of the next two fish in the derby, which were both turned in at Auke Bay on Saturday morning. Bill Searles was in second place with a fish weighing 26.4 pounds, and Dominic Walsh was in third place with a fish weighing 26.3 pounds. Max Mielke, who took the early lead Friday morning, was in fourth place with a 22.8-pound fish turned in at Douglas Harbor. Randy Beason's fish was in fifth place.
Leaders through Saturday
1. Ryan Beason, 33.9 pounds, king salmon, turned in Friday at Douglas Harbor.
2. Bill Searles, 26.4 pounds, king salmon, turned in Saturday at Auke Bay Harbor.
3. Dominic Walsh, 26.3 pounds, king salmon, turned in Saturday at Auke Bay Harbor.
4. Max Mielke, 22.8 pounds, king salmon, turned in Friday at Douglas Harbor.
5. Randy Beason, 22.2 pounds, king salmon, turned Friday at Douglas Harbor.
Track all the salmon derby action at the Empire's Derby page.
Also be sure to check out the official Golden North Salmon Derby Home page.
One of the workers at Auke Bay said the scales initially showed 26.3 pounds when Searles' fish was weighed, but then settled to 26.4 pounds. She said they told Searles they'd give him the higher weight, and he replied thanks, but it probably wouldn't mean much. He left the dock and the next boat to pull up for weighing had Walsh's 26.3-pound fish.
Most of Saturday's derby excitement dealt with one of the smallest fish turned into the scales. Sam Stockdale turned in one of the derby's 10 tagged fish when he brought a 5.9-pound coho salmon to Auke Bay on Saturday morning. Stockdale waited at the dock for about an hour while derby officials called their insurance company to see if his fish had the special numbered tag worth $100,000 from Budweiser, only to find out it was one of the nine tagged fish worth $1,000 from Territorial Sportsmen Inc.
"Under our contract with the insurance company I can't disclose what the tag looks like, but it has a unique number and it'll be obvious," derby co-chair Mike Barton said.
"Everyone was more excited about it than I was," Stockdale said. "I thought I had a shaker king, but then my dad said it was a coho so I decided to bring the fish on board the boat. My nephew said there's a hook in the back. I looked and there was a white, spaghetti tag off the dorsal fin. It was really long and it was obvious."
Stockdale said he caught the fish off Point Retreat, and he said the reason he disclosed the location was because the coho "was a small one and it's not where I go to catch the 33-pounders." Stockdale said he figured he didn't have much of a chance at the $100,000 tag, so he was happy with the $1,000 consolation prize.
Barton said Stockdale's tagged fish was only the second time he can remember a tagged fish being caught during the derby weekend. The other time was in 1996 when Maggie Hall caught a 7.9-pound coho that had the special $100,000 tag. He said there were some tagged fish caught after the derby ended, and possibly a tagged fish in the late 1970s or early 1980s, but Stockdale's tagged fish was only the second time in recent years.
Saturday's derby weather featured occasional showers, with some rougher seas near Point Retreat and Cordwood. Similar weather is predicted for today.
Still, there was steady action on the derby grounds as thousands of anglers tried their luck using boats of various shapes and sizes, from large cabin cruisers to canoes. One angler, Wally Olds (whose father Bill Hartsock won the 1999 derby), left Douglas Harbor on a Sea-Doo with a large halibut pole mounted on the back.
"I've been catching halibut, but I haven't caught any salmon with this," said Olds, who also used the Sea-Doo last year. "If I get the 50-pounder, I guess I'll have to goose it and tow him in."
"The fishing's been better than last year," Barton said. "It's definitely not as bad as last year, which was one of the worst years in derby history. Last year there weren't many fish and they were all small. This year there are more fish and they're bigger."
Charles Bingham can be reached at email@example.com.