Winner's Tales

What past derby champs had to say about their fish

Posted: Sunday, August 25, 2002

They'll wax eloquent about the wait, but most won't blab about their favorite fishing hole.

Recent winners of the Golden North Salmon Derby all had stories to tell. They talked about wondering whether they'd be beat, the boat they fished from and what they'd do with their winnings. Most, however, wanted to keep the most desired information - exactly where they caught their big king - a secret.

Here's some of their stories.

Ryan Beason's winning catch seemed to be something other than a salmon when it hit at about 11:30 a.m. on the first day of the 2001 derby. The 12-year-old said his 33.9-pounder dove when it was hooked.

"It acted like a halibut because it went straight down," Beason said after the derby ended. "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."

The Beason family boat had engine problems and had to turn to the kicker motor and take a tow from a friend to turn the fish in at Douglas Harbor. While the fish lost some weight, it was still big enough.

But the nearly three-day wait to be sure he was the winner wasn't easy.

"I was sweating it out," said Ryan, who planned to save some of his money for college. "It made me nervous every time we went down to the boat harbor."

Wayne Sutherland, the 2000 winner, also had a long wait.

The Boise, Idaho, resident landed his big king on the derby's first day.

"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 after the weights were posted.

Sutherland pulled in his 36.9-pounder while fishing with friends.

"I usually come up about a week later, like the first of September, when the silver (salmon) run is a little stronger," said the retired Alaska civil engineer. "I only fish in Alaska."

Bill Hartsock, the 1999 winner, had a somewhat shorter wait before if became clear his fish's weight was the biggest. He caught his 28-pound king Saturday morning and wasn't sure it was worth bringing to the nearest dock in Douglas.

"We wanted to keep fishing the tide," Hartsock said. "I did not think it was the winning fish. We didn't want to come in."

A retired construction firm owner, Hartsock spent some of his winnings celebrating with friends. He said he used herring and a flasher to catch the derby-winning salmon.

Scott Kelley, the 1998 winner, had to hold his salmon overnight before turning it in.

Kelley caught his 30.4-pounder about 7:15 Friday night north of Auke Bay. He had pulled his king salmon gear and was going after cohos when it hit.

"I just sat down and this fish tapped," said the Haines state fisheries biologist.

It took 20 minutes to haul in the king. He turned it in first thing Saturday morning at Auke Bay.

He planned on using the winnings for a family vacation.

"We're going to Disneyland - that's for sure," Kelley said.

Shane Rear placed first in the 1997 derby using a downrigger aboard his uncle Dan Rear's boat.

The frequent fisherman said he was used to trolling from a skiff.

"Through thick and thin, in skiffs and wind," joked the seasonal Fish and Game worker who won with a 31.2-pounder. "Dan Rear is the man, he put me on the fish."

He said two friends were sharing a downrigger Saturday afternoon when he caught the fish, which was brought into the Douglas harbor. Rear's grandfather Rudy Pusich also was a derby winner - in 1961.

The 1996 winner, Peter Gundersen, was another Friday fisherman who had to wait two days to know he'd won.

"Every other fish that came in my heart was pounding," Gundersen said after being declared the winner.

His first-place, 31-pound, 1-ounce salmon was caught with a glow-in-the-dark green flasher and a green hoochie north of Shelter Island from a 16-foot skiff crowded with four friends and his dog. Knowing fish can lose weight after being caught, he ran the king - still in the net - to the weighing station at Amalga Harbor.

He kept fishing all weekend, partly because he was out with friends.

"Everybody else on the boat wanted to beat that fish," said Gundersen, a baggage handler at Alaska Airlines who planned to use his winnings to pay bills and living expenses.

While Gundersen had the biggest fish, someone else had the biggest prize of 1996.

That year, Maggie Hall won $100,000 by pulling in a 7-pound, 2-ounce silver salmon carrying a special tag sponsored by Ranier Brewing Co. Hall said the money would likely go toward a trip, car repairs and cabin renovation.

Empire reporters Ed Schoenfeld, Charles Bingham, Kristan Hutchison and Eric Fry contributed to this article.

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