Odd as it may sound, Anchorage angler Scott Ross's biggest joy in winning the Homer Winter King Salmon Tournament on Saturday wasn't landing a beefy 38 1/2-pound king, nor picking up the $18,165 check that accompanied that feat, nor finally succeeding in the tournament he's fished 13 of its 17 years.
For Ross, an administrative pastor at Cornerstone Church of God in Anchorage, the best part was a rare chance to fish the one-day derby with his wife Diane and 11-year-old daughter Sara. His wife works for Era Aviation, and she was able to get back in town Friday night so the family could enjoy a sunny winter day on Cook Inlet together.
"Thirteen years of doing the tournament, and it was the first time they got to come out with me," Ross said by phone on Monday. "Sara got to run the boat all the way back (to the dock).
"Sara's been fishing with us since she was in a child carrier, and she was in all the pictures. She was so proud of that."
Nearly as surprising as boating the second largest king in tournament history -- a 40.89-pounder in 2001 is the biggest -- was that Ross was in position to reel it in. Ross captains the family boat, the Sara Nichole, and typically that means a lot more chores than angling time.
He must drive the boat, bait the hooks, monitor the fish finder and attend to anything else that comes up.
The big fish hit as the boat trolled near a point off Seldovia
"What are the chances of me standing in the back on the deck when the pole hits?" Ross asked. "Almost nil. That was the exciting part."
Immediately, Ross knew the king was large. Would the pole, which he'd used last fall fishing for smaller silver salmon out of Whittier, prove too light?
"He was just stripping line," said Ross, who quickly adjusted the drag.
"I knew right away I had a big king," he said. "Once I saw it, I thought it was 40 pounds easily. I was only off by a pound and a half -- but I knew that was a winning fish."
Which meant it was time to return to the dock and get it weighed before the fish lost much water weight. After all, there's no shortage of competition.
Ross was among 865 anglers, who caught 136 fish on 259 boats in a one-day burst of angling that offered $110,000 in cash and merchandise prizes.
He ended up with a comfortable 4-pound margin over second place Charlie Edwards of Homer, who earned $12,110. Third-place Brenda Hays of Homer claimed $9,515 for her 29.4-pounder.
A spring day that hinted of the summer delights ahead didn't hurt.
"It was absolutely phenomenal weather," said Paula Frisinger of the Homer Chamber of Commerce. "It was packed. It was a great day to be fishing."
Even the catching wasn't bad by winter standards. Tournament anglers nearly doubled the 70 fish landed a year ago.
And while for some anglers the fishing was good, for others the gambling was, perhaps, better.
A variety of side bets that this year totaled about $50,000 are sanctioned by the derby, essentially betting on which boat will fare best. Anglers can also place what's called a skunk bet, betting that your fishing day isn't fruitless.
Some 120 anglers put in skunk bets with the 50 winners taking home $90 apiece -- funded by 70 anglers who did, in fact, get skunked.
The boat Memory Maker -- which included Hays, the third-place angler and owner of Memory Maker Charters in Homer -- took all 10 side bet categories, earning about $55,000.
"But we didn't get a Dodge truck," joked Bruce Lozekar, a captain at Memory Maker Charters in reference to the fact the anglers earned more than Lance Mackey did for winning his fourth-straight Iditarod. "But we got to eat our fish, and that's better than dog food."
They were trolling herring just off the bottom in about 65 feet of water when the big fish hit.
Memory Maker is a boat with an enviable derby record of consistency in Homer's Winter King Salmon Tournament:
• First seven years ago;
• Third six years ago;
• Fifth four years ago;
• Second last year;
• Third this year.
"Brenda did a lot of yelling and screaming," Lozekar said. "I forgot it's been that many years since she's reeled in a nice fish in the derby."
But she wasn't alone. Memory Maker anglers caught two other kings weighing more than 15 pounds.
"We go out there for a good time, and sometimes we're rewarded by getting a getting nice fish," Lozekar said. "The atmosphere is really laid back -- and I think that tends to help."
Reach reporter Mike Campbell at email@example.com or 257-4329.
2010 Homer Winter King Salmon Tournament
Top 10 Anglers
1) Scott Ross, Anchorage, 38.5 pounds, $18,165; 2) Charlie Edwards, Homer, 34.5 pounds, $12,110; 3) Brenda Hays, Homer, 29.4 pounds, $9,515; 4) Katie Hillstrand, Homer, 28.3 pounds, $6,920; 5) Dennis Massey, Soldotna, 28.2 pounds, $5,190; 6) Lance Haggerty, Homer, 27.5 pounds, $4,325; 7) Phillip Lane, Eagle River, 24.5 pounds, $3,460; 8) Aaron Isenhour, Anchor Point, 24 pounds, $2,595; 9) Bobbi Holsman, Anchorage, 23.2 pounds, $1,730; 10) Tim Day, Olympia, Wash., 22.4 pounds, $865.
1) Daniel Rich, Anchorage, 19.4 pounds.
Winter kings derby The top five money winners, the weight of their fish and prize money: 1) Scott Ross, Anchorage, 38.5 pounds, $18,165 2) Charlie Edwards, Homer, 34.5 pounds, $12,110 3) Brenda Hays, Homer, 29.4 pounds, $9,515 4) Katie Hillstrand, Homer, 28.3 pounds, $6,920 5) Dennis Massey, Soldotna, 28.2 pounds, $5,190