Ryan Beason still has a few years to go before he's eligible for one of the college scholarships sponsored by proceeds from the Golden North Salmon Derby.
But if the 13-year-old Douglas resident holds on today to win his second consecutive derby, he may not need any financial assistance for school.
Beason caught a 34-pound king salmon at noon Friday and turned it in to the weigh-in station at the Douglas Boat Harbor an hour later. Challengers lined up to try and dethrone Beason's fish Saturday, but the tale of the scale left the defending champ's king atop the standings as the 56th annual derby goes into its final day.
If he is still atop the leader board when the scales close at 6 p.m. today, Beason will claim more than $16,000 in cash and prizes to add to the $15,950 he won in 2001. He would also be the first two-time winner in derby history.
The size and timing of Beason's king this year were almost identical to his winner last year - a 33.9-pound king that he caught at 11:30 a.m. on Friday morning. This year's fish came in a half-hour later and a tenth of a pound heavier, leaving Beason to sweat out another full weekend of fishing to see if it holds on to the top spot.
"It was deja vu of last year," said Beason's father, Randy, who has accompanied his son both years. "We just lucked out. I can't explain it any other way."
Ryan Beason declined to reveal the location of this year's catch, but did say it was a different site than last year. He said the fish was hooked while his father was in the back of the boat baiting another line.
"It took about a 100-yard run straight out and deep," Ryan Beason said.
As the king came to the surface, the two realized the fish was just barely on the hook. There were some nerve-wracking moments as they tried to bring it aboard.
"We both knew we could lose him at any time," Randy Beason said.
On the third try, Randy Beason hauled the king into the boat and they headed back to Douglas.
Randy Beason took time off from commercial fishing to take his son out for this year's Derby, and Ryan credited his father with having the know-how to find the big fish.
Saturday evening, after returning from another, less successful day on the water, Ryan Beason said he may go out fishing for a little while tomorrow, but he's going to keep his eyes on the weigh-in stations. He also was cautiously optimistic about his chances.
"I think we might get out for a half-day, and then come back in," he said. "I think it might hold up."
Beason's closest challenger Saturday was Juneau's John Etheridge. Etheridge, fishing from the Seawind, brought in a 32.3-pound king to Douglas at about 1:30 p.m. Saturday to take second place.
Etheridge, who has fished on-and-off in the derby for 30 years, wouldn't reveal the location of the catch. But he said he knew the king had potential to be a leader when it took the herring-baited line Saturday morning.
"It peeled out the line pretty good," he said.
The fish was hauled aboard after about 15 minutes. Etheridge said his hopes to take over the top spot were buoyed by an unofficial on-board measurement.
"We had a scale on the boat, and it weighed 34 pounds," he said.
But the official scale at Douglas registered 32.3 pounds, leaving Etheridge 1.7 pounds shy of first place.
Etheridge also brought in some cohos, one of which weighed 14.9 pounds. It was a good-sized fish, but only good enough for the second-place coho of the day at Douglas at that time.
"Second place must be my story of the day," he said.
Following Etheridge after the scales closed Saturday were Carol Collins in third with a 29.2-pound king caught Friday and turned in at the Douglas station, and Charles Hakari in fourth with a 27.8-pound king turned in at Amalga Harbor on Friday.
The top coho so far this year was a 20.8-pound fish caught by Tim Stoll and turned in at Auke Bay on Friday.
Beason is not the only young angler to make an impact in the top ten standings this year. 13-year-old Cody Kullander brought a 27.1-pound king to the Amalga Harbor weigh-in station just before 10 a.m. Saturday. Kullander, out fishing with his father and uncle, said he was sleeping in the front of the boat when the fish was hooked. It was his turn to bring in the line, so he took over and brought the fish aboard in about five minutes.
Kullander said the king was somewhat of a surprise.
"We thought it was going to be a halibut because we were so close to the bottom and it was such a big hit," he said.
National Weather Service meteorologist Julia Ruthford said mariners should expect light southeast winds to 15 knots, seas of three feet and mostly cloudy skies with a 30 percent chance of showers.
"It should be nicer tomorrow," she said Saturday. "You might even see the sun."
For a complete listing of derby leaders, visit the Juneau Empire's derby Web site at http://www.juneauempire.com/salmonderby
Andrew Krueger can be reached at email@example.com.