It was an unprecedented year for the 56th annual Golden North Salmon Derby. Unofficially, 2002 saw the first two-time champion, winning in back-to-back seasons, in a year that brought in more "scholar-fish" by the end of the second evening than all of last year's event.
Ryan Beason, 13, reeled in his second championship in two years with a 34-pound chinook he turned in around 1 p.m. Friday.
"I really didn't think I was gonna win, but I did," Ryan said after the final gun-shot signaled the derby's end. "It feels good. I was really excited to be the first person ever to win twice."
In similar fashion to last year, Ryan took over the leader board on the first afternoon of competition and had to sweat out the remaining two days of the event to take home the top prize - $16,075, including $15,000 in cash, a winner's trophy, jacket and belt buckle. Ryan comes from a family with a strong fishing background and said "they're really excited and supportive. They're excited to know someone semi-famous"
He and his father Randy, a commercial fisherman and experienced derby angler, anxiously awaited the final shot across from the Douglas harbor by the rock dump.
"I think I've just got lucky," Ryan said. "We just got the right fish at the right time."
The Beasons remain tight-lipped about where they caught the prize-winner. After the bite, the 34-pounder darted down, and it took about 15 to 20 minutes and three attempts to net.
"We were really excited. We just threw it in the boat ... left it in the net and rushed to town. The hook was still in its mouth," Ryan said.
He and his family knew the importance of getting the fish weighed as soon as possible. They needed a tow last year when a failed motor left the Beasons stranded for several hours with the 2001 winning fish on board.
Ryan said he would like to buy a Sony Playstation and a few other small items with his winnings, but expects his mother will make him save most of the money for college.
Now he is the unofficial double champion, Ryan is already feeling pressure from his friends.
"They want a big loan now," he joked. "They think I have lots of loose change."
As for his chances of being a three-peat champion, he said, "I hope so, but I doubt it."
In addition to the double win, 2002 will be remembered as the year of the "scholar-fish," a term used for fish donated to the derby and sold to a processor to fund college Scholarships by Territorial Sportsmen, the group sponsoring the event.
"We got more fish on Friday than we did for the whole derby last year," said derby fish chairman Nick Yurko.
Yurko said he was excited "seeing all that fish coming in and knowing that it was going to be a good derby." He said their unofficial "guestimates" of scholarship fish were 13,500 pounds Friday and 15,000 pounds Saturday. Officials did not have an estimate for Sunday's poundage by the Empire's midday deadline. Last year the total of fish sold was 17,800 pounds.
Even though the quantity of fish was so high, Yurko said that due to salmon prices being so low, the money provided for scholarships "won't be a record number, but it will be a good number."
Many derby volunteers were impressed by the number of fish participants were donating. Dan Gaber, along with his family crew of daughter Willow, son Zach and father Dominic, turned in 18 "scholar-fish" Saturday and 21 more on Sunday.
"Being with my two kids and my dad, it was just a terrific time," he said.
Dominic Gaber has traveled to Juneau from Pueblo, Colo., for 11 of the last 12 derbies to fish with his family. The family fished off the Uncle Mink, a boat named after the family nickname.
"In the past, every fish we've ever caught we've turned in because that's what the derby is all about," Dan said. "It's good for the community."
Derby Co-Chairman McKie Campbell said he was very grateful and pleased by the work of all the volunteers.
"The volunteers are the ones that make it," he said. "It's a great bunch to work with."
The unofficial top-10 Golden North Salmon derby winners are:
1) Ryan Beason, 34 pounds
2) John Etheridge, 32.3 pounds
3) Art Dunn, 30.2 pounds
4) Carol Collins, 29.2 pounds
5) Charles Hakari, 27.8 pounds
6) Cody Kullander, 27.1 pounds
7) Max Mielke, 26.3 pounds.
8) Bill Audette, 24.4 pounds
9) William Hartsock, 24.2 pounds
10) Johan Dybdahl, 23.9 pounds
For a complete list, go to the Juneau Empire's Salmon Derby Special Section.
Campbell estimated volunteers averaged about 36 hours of work, with some working up to 17 hours a day.
"I think it's been a great derby. The fish were really in," he said.
Campbell said this year's derby went off with out a hitch and he didn't know of any major problems.
"What I heard, people were using some sense out there."
An official winners' list will be printed in the Empire on Wednesday, and an awards banquet will be held at 7 p.m. Thursday at Centennial Hall.
Eric Morrison can be reached at email@example.com.
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