Ben Cheeseman of Juneau said he got lucky Sunday morning in Resurrection Bay when he hooked the winning fish in the 66th annual Seward Silver Salmon Derby.
He caught the fish with about two hours to spare in a nine-day derby that ended at noon, and it weighed in at 14.03 pounds -- a fishing lure or two heavier than second-place Lynn Hohl’s 13.94-pound coho, the derby leader since Wednesday.
“That’s a pretty skinny margin,” Cheeseman said.
And what a difference 1.44 ounces makes. Cheeseman will pocket $10,000 for his fish. Hohl will get $5,000 for hers.
Third place and $2,500 went to Anchorage angler Krissell Crandall, whose 13.88-pound fish was less than an ounce lighter than Hohl’s.
Nearly 17,000 pounds of silvers were entered -- 2,531 fish that weighed a combined 16,925.51 pounds. A total of 1,828 anglers participated, derby officials said
Cheeseman, 35, works for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in Juneau. He grew up in Chugiak, and he and his dad, Bill Cheeseman, share a boat they keep in Seward.
Cheeseman was out Sunday morning with his dad and a couple of friends from Florida for their third day of fishing. They hooked a dozen cohos in a few hours, none bigger than 10 pounds.
Cheeseman was fishing with herring at the head of the bay near the Seward Sealife Center when the winner bit.
“We were surprised how big it was when we got it in the net, and we thought we should get it in to weigh it,” he said.
“It was as surprised as we were when we netted it. I don’t think it realized it was hooked. I’ve had fights with 10-pounders that put this one to shame.”
Cheeseman said he’ll split the prize money with his fishing partners and get the fish mounted.
By derby standards, Cheeseman’s fish is small -- the second smallest on record, in fact. Last year yielded the smallest, a 13.61-pounder caught by David Frenier of Anchorage.
The derby record is the 22.24-pound beast hooked by Shirley Baysinger in 2002.
While silvers are measured in pounds, derby winners are often decided by ounces -- and sometimes by grams. In 2019, the winning silver weighed 15.99 pounds, second place weighed 15.97 and third place weighed 15.96.
Seward Silver Salmon Derby
5 smallest winners
13.61 — David Frenier, 2020
14.03 -- Ben Cheeseman, 2021
15.01 — Jesse Morrison, 1958
15.04 — Gwenevere Hudson, 1965
15.08 — William Kupfer, 1956
5 biggest winners
22.24 — Shirley Baysinger, 2002
21.25 — Taro Rich, 2013
20.59 — John Westlund, 1994
20.14 — Bill Bixby, 2000
19.79 — Renee James, 2004