More than 2,500 people are expected to hit the waters for the 57th Golden North Salmon Derby this weekend, including a teenager who will be trying to bring in the biggest fish for the third straight year.
"A lot of people forget that in 2000, I came in third place," Ryan Beason, now 14, said this week after returning from a commercial fishing trip with his father.
Beason said some people have told him they're pulling for him to bring in the fish again this year. Others have told him it's time for a new winner.
The derby is set to begin at 7:30 a.m. today. The closing signal bomb is scheduled to sound at 6 p.m. Sunday. In each of the last two years, Beason has pulled in his big catch on opening day.
Jim Truitt of the National Weather Service is forecasting showers today in the derby area, with southeast winds up to 15 knots and seas up to 3 feet.
Truitt doesn't see any showers for Saturday or Sunday. Saturday's outlook calls for north winds of up to 15 knots, with seas of up to 3 feet but generally 2 feet or less. Sunday could be breezier. The extended forecast calls for south winds at up to 20 knots.
Susan Listberger, whose volunteer duties include the title of publicity chair, said that among the anticipated 2,500 participants, there may be 30 to 50 people from outside the state. That speaks well for the reputation of the event, she added, considering that non-Alaskans have to pay for out-of-state fishing licenses in addition to derby entry fees.
Prizes have been donated for the 100 top catches. This year, the top fish will be worth $15,000 in cash, donated by derby sponsor Territorial Sportsmen, plus a first-place trophy, a sterling silver belt buckle and a winner's jacket. Territorial Sportsmen also is donating $2,500 for second place.
Last year's prize-winning catches weighed from 34 to 17 pounds. Some in the top 100, and even some that don't make the cut, could qualify for other special prizes. Those include cash for the largest coho weighed in each day and for the largest fish caught by children 12 and younger.
Additionally, one of 10 specially tagged salmon could be worth $50,000 if it is caught.
Beason said he has been in the derby for six years, and has been around it all of his life. It's a special event he doesn't want to miss.
"It's the competition," he said, describing how the boats race around with their catches. Catching what could be a prize salmon means hurrying to have it officially weighed, because fish lose weight after they're taken from the water.
Peggy Garrison, the derby's dock chairperson this year, said that for the people working ashore, there is always a buzz about the biggest catch and boats coming in with fish that could challenge the leader.
"Everyone hoots and hollers on the docks," she said.
She is one of those who is pulling for a new derby winner. She said her husband, Dick Garrison, will be one of two participants to have fished in every derby.
But the Golden North Salmon Derby isn't just about competition, she said. "Everyone participates in the community."
Garrison has been volunteering since 1960 and is responsible for seeing that the docks have all the supplies they need. She also recruits volunteers.
"But it's easy," she said.
"We don't do it just for the free food," she added, referring to the food donated to feed the volunteers.
Malcolm Menzies, a co-chairperson for this year's derby, agreed it is the people of Juneau that make the event special.
"To me, it's the community spirit of togetherness," he said.
Some volunteers are working up to 15 hours a day to see that everything runs smoothly, he said.
Listberger said more than 200 volunteers work to make the derby a success.
Nick Yurko said that last year he put 500 miles on his car during the three days of the derby. He started volunteering as a fish cleaner in 1974, and for the past few years he has been the fish chairperson, hiring the fish cleaners and making sure everyone has enough ice.
Most of the fish cleaners are professionals from Taku Smokeries, Yurko said. The fish are sold to raise money for scholarships.
"Juneau really likes to help out kids," he said.
Listberger said that in addition to the fish that are brought in and weighed for potential prizes, people are encouraged to donate smaller fish. People donating these "scholarship fish" also will be eligible for prizes.
"The prizes help," said Listberger, who grew up in Juneau. But she said the people who started the derby "did a great job in making it part of the community."
Beason said "it would be cool to win" another derby, even if he doesn't bring in the biggest fish this year. As for how big this year's top fish will need to be, "you just never know," he said.
"I bet a bigger fish wins this year," he added.
Tony Carroll can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.