Big fish have been scarce at this year's Slam'n Salm'n Derby, a downtown Anchorage king salmon derby held at Ship Creek since 2004.
The biggest fish entered as of 7 p.m. Saturday was 29.01-pounder caught by Joiji Lino, and unless someone lands a lunker in the derby's final hours Sunday, Lino's fish will make history.
"This is gonna be the smallest fish to ever win the derby," said Mike Hidalgo, a volunteer member of the derby committee.
The smallest winner to date was last year's 34.85-pounder caught by Joshua Jones, one of just two winners that have weighed less than 40 pounds. Vinney Eben's catch of 39.4 pounds in 2006 was the other.
Craig Harrison landed the biggest winner at 50.2 pounds in 2005.
The 10-day derby, sponsored by the Downtown Soup Kitchen, comes to a close Sunday at noon. Derby tickets are free, with voluntary donations going to the Downtown Soup Kitchen.
This year's derby has drawn more than 1,300 participants, compared to about 1,200 last year, derby committee member Chip Gallagher said.
"This is the nicest weather we've ever had," he said.
Lino is a derby regular and the 2009 recipient of the Andy Sorensen Sportsmanship Award. Nero Tanuvasa was in second place Saturday evening with a catch of 28.88 pounds and Felipe Martinez was in third at 23.86 pounds.
Lino got his fish Friday near the dam at the north end of the designated area at Ship Creek, Hidalgo said. In past derbies, most of the fish were caught near the mouth at the south end, but Hidalgo thought muddy water near the mouth made the kings easier to see near the dam.
"You know how fishing is -- everybody's got a theory," he said.
If Lino's fish is still atop the leaderboard at noon Sunday, he'll win a 15-foot Jon Boat with a 25-horsepower motor and trailer.
Second prize is 55-inch Vizio 3-D TV and third prize is a 49-inch Toshiba HD TV. Prizes ranging from railroad tickets to rod-and-reel combos are distributed to the top 20 catches.
Prizes are also given for the biggest fish caught each day, and there's a daily rod-and-reel combo prize for fish that might not be so big. Each day a committee member randomly selects a weight dubbed the "mystery weight," and the fish weighing the closest to that mark without exceeding it is the winner.
Saturday's mystery weight was 14.20 pounds, and it looked like a fish weighing less than two pounds was going to win until Anchorage's Matthew Chilson brought in an 8.63-pounder just after 6 p.m.
Chilson, fishing in his first Slam'n Salm'n Derby, wasn't aware of the mystery weight until he brought the fish in.
"I thought maybe it weighed a little bit more," Chilson said. "It felt heavier on my arm than what the scale said.
"That's a great fish to have. This is the only king salmon I've caught this season."
Reach Jeremy Peters at firstname.lastname@example.org or 257-4335.
Slam'n Salm'n Derby leaderboard
Top 20 as of 7 p.m., Saturday
1) Joili Lino, 29.01 pounds; 2) Nero Tanuvasa, 28.88; 3) Felipe Martinez, 23.86; 4) Rod Weaver Jr., 23.85; 5) John Fields, 23.77; 6) Peter Domingo, 23.25; 7) Otis Steinman, 21.04; 8) Pavii Tanuvasa, 20.24; 9) Karen Kinmor, 19.94; 10) Brian Way, 19.43; 11) Frank Lakisa, 18.33; 12) Michelle Bacon, 17.33; 13) Rob Richardson, 16.48; 14) Tomas Tabisola, 16.45; 15) Edgar Delgado, 15.42; 16) Bob Ulin, 13.41; 17) Oscar Jessup, 11.76; 18) Andy Murray, 10.5; 19) Nathaniel Vasquez, 10.13; 20) Tyler Robinson, 9.97.
By JEREMY PETERS