Sherman Ampey is so excited, so thrilled, he tells everyone he meets back home in Michigan about catching a Homer Jackpot Halibut Derby tagged halibut during his summer fishing trip to the Kenai Peninsula.
“I can’t believe it,” he said. “I can’t believe I’m even in the running for something like this.”
Another 29 anglers are also in the running for the derby’s prizes, marking a banner year for tagged fish caught, said Jim Lavrakas, Homer Chamber of Commerce and Visitor Center executive director.
The derby is open to anyone visiting the Peninsula, Lavrakas said. Each year, since the derby began in 1986, local fishing captains catch, tag and release halibut two weeks before the May 15 starting date. This year 112 were tagged, Lavrakas said.
All anglers who catch tagged halibut are entered into the running for prizes. The derby ends 9 a.m. Sept. 15. A jamboree is planned at the Homer visitor center 4 p.m. Sept. 21.
Currently, with a 236.2-pound halibut, Gene Jones, of Bellevue, Iowa, is the leading jackpot contestant. Unless a larger tagged halibut is caught, Jones will win $10,000. Central Charters Captain David Bayes was chartering Jones when they caught the halibut.
Other prizes include: $250, $500, $1,000, $10,000, $50,000 and a new Ford F-150 pickup truck.
Also, new to this year, the chamber adds every 75 cents earned per derby ticket to the $10,000 jackpot, said Paula Frisinger, chamber derby coordinator.
Ampey, of Paw Paw, Mich., does not know for certain what he’d do with $50,000, never mind a new truck.
“You have all kinds of fantasies,” he said.
Maybe he’d buy a new boat. He and friends fish for salmon three or four days a week in Lake Michigan. A new boat would be nice, he said.
And if he won the truck, well, his current truck is 10 years old, he said; a new truck sure would be nice, too.
“Those are the kind of things that I have been fantasizing about,” he said.
Del Parks from Stockton, Calif., another angler in the running for a tagged fish prize, knows how he’d spend the top cash prize. The $50,000 would fund 10 years’ worth of trips back to Alaska.
“I think it’s a hell of a deal,” Parks said.
Parks caught his halibut June 21 while fishing with Tim Berg’s Alaska Fishing Adventures. Ampey caught his while fishing June 22 with Bob’s Trophy Charters.
Parks didn’t know right away what he’d caught. “I didn’t even realize it was a tagged fish until the deck hand pulled it up,” he said, “and he was extremely excited.
“It happened so fast.”
Three minutes after anchoring, Parks said his hook set.
When they docked, the captain called all the others fishing to show off what Parks had caught.
“The first thing he said is, ‘You got to split the pot with the crew,’” Parks said.
Now Parks and Ampey have to wait.
Parks said he’s nervous. Once a week, he checks his email to see who else has entered into the running, he said.
“Everyday I just keep talking about the fishing trip, the people and the whole nine yards,” he said.
Ampey’s luck in Alaska validated his nickname, “Lucky,” he said. For years now, his friends have been calling him by that name because, simply, he’s just lucky, he said.
Two years in a row, he won a one-month membership in a drawing to an exclusive country club, he said.
In other drawings he has won a golf bag, golf clubs and a collectors edition of a two-foot by two-foot signed photograph of the Redwings Hockey Team.
Now he may win big.
Yesterday, someone asked Ampey if he knew yet what his prize was, and “I said, ‘No, no. It’s not until Sept. 15.”
When Ampey and Parks return to Alaska, they both said they will buy derby tickets again.
Dan Schwartz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.