Wayne Sutherland has caught several large fish over the years. He caught a 64-pound king salmon on the Kenai River about seven or eight years ago, several large halibut, and even a 49-pound ling cod of which he was especially proud.
But none of those fish was quite as valuable as the 36.9-pound king salmon the Boise, Idaho, resident caught Friday morning near Aaron Island, shortly after Juneau's three-day 54th Annual Golden North Salmon Derby opened for the weekend.
Sutherland's fish held off a late challenge on Sunday and, when results are certified Tuesday night, should be big enough to claim the first prize in the derby $15,000 in cash and a champion's jacket, belt buckle and trophy worth another $975.
"I only fish in Alaska," Sutherland said Sunday night after he, his son-in-law Ray Vidic and Ray's brother Bob arrived back in Auke Bay Harbor following a third day of derby fishing. "I've been in Boise for 20 years and I've never wet a line. I can't get used to 6-inch trout. I've been spoiled."
Sutherland's fish is the largest derby fish since Roger Drapeaux of Juneau won the 1990 derby with a 55.0-pound king. Sutherland is just the second derby winner to come from outside Southeast Alaska. Bob Henry of Seattle won the 1948 derby with a fish weighing 37 pounds, 13 ounces. (The derby went to decimal measurements in 1984).
Richard Wallace of Juneau caught a 36.0-pound king salmon early Sunday by Piling Point, big enough to give Sutherland a scare and to win $5,400 for second place. Ryan Beason, 11, of Douglas took third place with a 26.3-pound king caught Friday night to win two round-trip tickets anywhere Alaska Airlines flies, including Mexico, a prize worth $3,500.
Another fish, caught by Jim Whitecavage and turned into the Douglas Harbor derby station Saturday night, had been listed in second place at 28.1 pounds at derby close Saturday night and then in third place when Wallace turned his fish in Sunday morning. It was still listed in third place Sunday night when the weigh-in tickets were double-checked and derby officials discovered the fish actually weighed 18.1 pounds. That dropped Whitecavage all the way to 55th place.
Sutherland regularly comes to Juneau to visit his daughter and son-in-law, Sheri and Ray Vidic, and their children. Many of those visits included trips fishing with Ray and Ray's brother Bob on Bob's 24-foot Bayliner Trophy boat, Last Minute, but this was the first time Sutherland entered the derby.
"I usually come up about a week later, like the first of September, when the silver (salmon) run is a little stronger," said Sutherland, who first came to Alaska in 1975 to work on the trans-Alaska oil pipeline. Sutherland, a retired civil engineer, spent two years building the pipeline's marine terminal in Valdez, then came back to work on port dredging projects for the city of Valdez and in Adak and Anchorage.
Sutherland's fish, which was 41 inches long, led for most of the derby, but there were some anxious moments. Sutherland heard an announcement Sunday that a 40-pounder had been caught and his fish was in second place, but it proved to be a false alarm.
"I've been sweating it out the last few hours, but I didn't spend a lot of worrying about someone having a bigger fish," Sutherland said.
Wallace said he was surprised his fish was as close to the winner as it was. He was fishing on a boat owned by his friend Gordie Griffin. When the fish hit, they were trolling with the main engine running while Griffin tried to fix his kicker engine.
"It was like a halibut, it was running deep and it made a couple of runs, then stuck down and shook a few times," Wallace said. "I was a little surprised by how big it was. I thought it was about 32, 33 pounds. Then it went 36.8 when we first hung him up, then the scale settled down to 36.0. It was nice to be in second."
As for Sutherland, he didn't plan on a major celebration for his victory, just a quiet meal with his family. He'd planned to return to Boise on Tuesday, but now he might stick around Juneau until the derby banquet Thursday night.