The final minutes seemed like hours as Ryan Beason anxiously waited for the signal gun to go off, ending the 55th Annual Golden North Salmon Derby.
Beason, a 12-year-old seventh-grader at Dzantik'i Heeni Middle School, was waiting at Douglas Harbor on Sunday night, hoping time would move faster so the 33.9-pound king salmon he caught Friday morning could be declared the winner.
"I was sweating it out," Beason said. "It made me nervous every time we went down to the boat harbor. But I guess I got the biggest fish."
Beason's 33.9-pound fish was worth $15,000 cash, plus a trophy, derby winner's jacket and belt buckle for a total prize package value of $15,950. Derby co-chair Mike Barton said Beason is believed to be the youngest derby winner since 5-year-old Joel Pasquan won in 1963.
"I have to put some into a college fund. My mom makes me. But I might get to take a little bit of the money and I might buy some golf clubs," Beason said.
The $5,500 cash second prize went to Willie Allen, who turned in a 29.2-pound king Sunday morning at Auke Bay Harbor. Teresa Moore won two airline tickets valued at $3,500 for third prize after turning in a 27.0-pound king Sunday at Douglas Harbor.
Bill Searls took fourth place with a 26.4-pound king turned in Saturday at Auke Bay, good for a roll cabinet tool chest valued at $1,600. Dominic Walsh took fifth place, good for a boat motor worth $1,295, after turning in a 26.3-pound king Saturday at Auke Bay.
On Sunday at Amalga Harbor, Brian Parker turned in the derby's second tagged fish in as many days to win a special $1,000 prize.
The victory was Beason's first in a salmon derby, but it's not his first trip to the leader board. He took third place in last year's Golden North Salmon Derby and was fifth in the 2000 Spring King Salmon Derby.
Beason said he gets a lot of his angling skill from his father, Randy, a commercial fisherman who took seventh place with a 22.2-pound fish to win $1,000 cash. Randy Beason also took ninth place in this May's Spring King Salmon Derby, giving the Beason family a top-10 finish in each of the last four major salmon derbies in Juneau.
"He has the right gear," Beason said of his father, who went commercial fishing after the Beasons turned in their winning fish Friday afternoon, and won't be back until later this week. "It's not really one hole that we go to. I talked with him by phone, and he's happy for me."
Top 10 fish caught
1. Ryan Beason, 33.9 lbs., king salmon, turned in Friday at Douglas Harbor.
2. Willie Allen, 29.2 lbs., king salmon, turned in Sunday at Auke Bay Harbor.
3. Teresa Moore, 27.0 lbs., king salmon, turned in Sunday at Douglas Harbor.
4. Bill Searls, 26.4 lbs., king salmon, turned in Saturday at Auke Bay Harbor.
5. Dominic Walsh, 26.3 lbs., king salmon, turned in Saturday at Auke Bay Harbor.
6. Max Mielke, 22.8 lbs., king salmon, turned in Friday at Douglas Harbor.
7. Randy Beason, 22.2 lbs., king salmon, turned in Friday at Douglas Harbor.
8. Dave Hildre, 22.0 lbs., king salmon, turned in Friday at Douglas Harbor.
9. Robert Shaw, 21.9 lbs., king salmon, turned in Saturday at Auke Bay Harbor.
10. Edward Williams, 21.8 lbs., king salmon, turned in Sunday at Auke Bay Harbor.
Beason said he hooked into the prize-winning fish about 11:30 a.m. on Friday, but he didn't think he had a salmon at first.
"It acted like a halibut because it went straight down," Beason said. "When I got it up to the boat, it looked like it might be 45 or 50 pounds because it was short and fat. My dad netted him pretty quick."
Beason said his father tried to put the boat into gear after the fish was landed, and the engine ran but the propellor wouldn't spin. They ended up having to use their kicker motor to head back to Douglas Harbor, and finally got a tow from a family friend about four hours later. Beason said his fish probably lost about a half-pound or so with the extra time needed to get to the weigh-in station.
Allen also had to worry about weight loss with his fish, which he said he caught at the south end of Favorite Reef on the tide change about 7:10 p.m. Saturday, just minutes after the derby scales were taken down for the night at the three main weighing stations. Allen wasn't able to turn the fish in until 7:30 a.m. Sunday, when the scales opened again.
"We had to water it down and ice it," said Allen, who has been fishing the derby since 1975.
Allen and his wife, Myrna, said they plan to use the prize money to "put a dent in some of our bills."
For the second straight day, one of the smallest fish turned in meant big derby news. Brian Parker turned in a 10.4-pound coho salmon Sunday afternoon at Amalga Harbor that was one of the derby's 10 tagged fish.
Parker said derby officials had to verify the tag was one of theirs, then had to take the tag to an office computer to see if it was the one tag worth $100,000 from Budweiser. It wasn't the $100,000 tag, but it was good for a $1,000 cash prize from Territorial Sportsmen Inc.
"I caught it on the north end of Lincoln Island," Parker said. "I didn't see it (the tag) until I was picking it (the fish) up and putting it in the cooler. It was a white tag with letters and numbers on it."
Parker said he stayed out on the water fishing for another couple of hours, then headed into shore to drop the fish off. He called his wife, Marcie, and she drove out to meet him at Amalga Harbor and even kissed the fish. Parker said he plans to take his wife to Mexico with the prize money.
"We were excited about the $1,000," Marcie Parker said. "The $100,000 was in the back of our minds, even while they were doing all the checking, but we're excited still for the $1,000. The thought of $100,000 is kind of overwhelming for those of us who don't have a lot of extra money."
Derby co-chairs Barton and M'Iva Rickey said the only tagged fish turned in before this year was the $100,000 coho caught by Maggie Hall in 1996, the derby's 50th anniversary. This year two $1,000 tagged fish were caught, including one by Sam Stockdale on Saturday.
Barton said derby officials won't know until Tuesday exactly how many fish were turned in and how much they weighed. The fish are sold to a processor by Territorial Sportsmen, and the money raised goes into a college scholarship fund for Juneau-Douglas High School seniors.
Over the years, the derby has given out more than $1 million in scholarships.
The derby's awards banquet is 7 p.m. Thursday at Centennial Hall. Anglers who finished in the prizes for the top-100 fish should bring to the banquet their weigh-in ticket, derby ticket, fishing license and (if the prize value is more than $600) their Social Security number, Rickey said.
Charles Bingham can be reached at email@example.com.