Despite fishing nearly three or four times a week since he moved from Fort Riley, Kan., to Alaska in early May, Joshua Jones didn't catch a fish until Saturday.
He made his first catch count, landing a 34.85-pound king salmon at Ship Creek to take the lead in the Downtown Soup Kitchen's Slam'n Salm'n Derby.
"I knew what I needed to get to," Jones said. "I was just hoping it was enough. I had a little scale down on the river that I used, and it said 35."
Jones hopped on the back of his truck with the fish and a friend drove him to the official Derby weigh station just a few minutes away from where he made the catch. The previous leader was a 33.3-pounder caught by Nick Cavoulas on June 8, the Derby's first day.
Jones, a 25-year-old construction equipment mechanic for the Army will have to wait until noon Sunday for the conclusion of the Derby to see if he wins the first-place prize of a 14-foot boat, 25-horsepower motor and a trailer. He doesn't plan to do any more fishing, so Saturday's catch will have to be good enough.
"If my wife lets me out of church, I might be out here," he said. "My wife puts up with me fishing all the time and I love her for it."
The boat would come in handy, said Jones, who doesn't own one.
"I definitely would love to have it," he said. "I told my friend today as I was walking down to the creek how much I would love it."
Jones said he has been fishing all over the Eklutna and Eagle River areas this spring but hasn't enjoyed any luck. He began fishing Saturday around 2 p.m., only feeling a few nibbles before hooking the prize king around 7 p.m.
"I took about two steps back and it took off, and all I kept hearing was everyone screaming to set the hook," Jones said. "I think it took about 15 minutes to get him in."
The fish was officially caught at 7:35 p.m., with weigh-ins still available until 11 p.m. The official winner will be announced Sunday at 1 p.m.
Catching his first fish in Alaska was a big thrill for Jones, who said he has been an avid fisherman all his life.
"My dad took me fishing since I was a newborn baby," he said.
Reach Jeremy Peters at email@example.com or 257-4335.