A longtime commercial fisherman from Homer and a 7-year-old Anchorage boy were among the big winners of the 2006 Winter King Tournament Sunday. Homer resident Billy Pepper netted a 33.48-pound king and a $17,619 check, fishing aboard the F/V Anna Lane.
Anchorage’s Jake Blankenship, fishing in only his second derby, caught a 28.82-pound king that was good enough for fifth place and $5,334 in prize money.
Pepper was a crew member on the F/V Anna Lane in 1988, the year Drew Scalzi, a fisherman, Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly member and Alaska representative from Homer bought the boat and named it after his grandmother.
Scalzi died in 2005 after a 10-year battle with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, but Pepper said he had a hand in catching the big fish Sunday.
“It’s his boat,” Pepper said. “Believe it or not, he was with us today.”
Wearing a jacket with the boat’s slogan: “Member of the fishing industry since last Wednesday,” Pepper said he planned on donating a portion of the winnings to the Drew Scalzi Memorial Maritime Scholarship.
The $1,000 scholarship was set up recently by the Scalzi family and the North Pacific Fisheries Association, and is designed to nurture young adults who are pursuing careers in the maritime field or who come from fishing families.
Pepper’s top prize was second only to last year’s $21,819, won by Kenai’s Keith Kline for his 35.32 pound king salmon. According to the Homer Chamber of Commerce, the organizers of the event, this year’s payout would have rivaled last year’s, but stormy weather Saturday delayed the tournament until Sunday. Roughly 200 anglers decided to pull out of the event instead of staying the extra day.
Prize money is determined by participation, with 21 percent of each angler’s $100 entry fee going to the winning fish.
Pepper said the rough weather Saturday five-foot seas and 25-30 knot winds in the bay wouldn’t have hurt his chances on the 63-foot F/V Anna Lane, but postponing the tournament was the right call.
“They made it early to give people time,” Pepper said. “It gave the small boats a chance to play.”
When the awards were announced Sunday night, Jake, and his father Ted Blankenship, seemed happy they had decided to hang around the extra day.
Jake already had won the youth trophy and the Bill Thompson Memorial Youth Prize of $300 for catching the biggest fish by a kid.
As each fish size and corresponding cash prize was announced, the Blanken-ships stood by waiting to hear their name.
Ted seemed surprised that Jake’s fish came in fifth.
“He caught it pretty early,” Ted said. “Then he was sick the rest of the day, wanted to come back in.”
But Jake said he thought he had a chance to win.
Nine anglers under the age of 18 entered the tournament. Four of their fish landed in the top-20, earning them cash or merchandise prizes.
All told, 240 boats and more than 800 anglers entered the tournament, and 210 fish were caught despite the postponement.
The weather improved considerably on Sunday. The seas dropped to 2-3 feet and the sun poked through the clouds for much of the afternoon.
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