Brenda Hays may not have caught the biggest king salmon with her 29.4-pound fish during Saturday's Winter King Salmon Tournament, but she definitely reeled in the most money: $45,986.25 in side bets in addition to the $9,515 she won for taking third place in the tournament.
Scott Ross of Anchorage took the top spot at the tournament, with a whopping 38.5-pound fish worth $18,165.
With 865 anglers on 259 boats, with 132 salmon called in and 104 weighed, $64,875 awarded to the top 10 fish and $50,306 awarded in side bets, this year was one of the biggest for the tournament.
In fact, the 2005 tournament is the only one on record to top the turnout and the prizes given out this year.
Although the bulk of the anglers were from around Alaska, the tournament also drew entrants from all over the United States, including New York, California, Oregon, Michigan, Washington, Florida and Hawaii.
For the Homer Chamber of Commerce, all the hard work leading up to the tournament was continuing on Monday, even after the winners had been announced and many of the out-of-towners who made the trip to the end of the road had returned home.
"The phone has been ringing off the hook with people wanting to know what they won and when they can pick up their prizes," said Paula Frisinger Monday morning. Frisinger headed up organizing this year's tournament.
While each angler goes out hoping to land the big one, nothing is certain.
For Brenda Hays of Homer, owner of the Memory Maker, each year is another shot at the top prize, and the big prize, and she works hard to make sure that when her work pays off it really pays off.
Hays splits shares of the winnings with the other anglers on the Memory Maker.
"We take our winnings and go ahead and save up for next year, all the entry fees and the side bets, so if we make a little money we save it all up. Other than that, we divide it all five ways and it mostly goes towards bills, so that's our little stimulus package," said Hays.
Hays spent 30 years commercial fishing and has been entering the winter fishing tournament since it started 17 years ago, save for a few seasons when her wooden vessel, the Arch Cape, was socked in by ice.
Hays bought Memory Maker in 2007, after she sold the Arch Cape and retired from commercial fishing, and made Bruce Lozekar skipper of Memory Maker after he sold his boat, Mainlander.
She now runs Alaska Experience Bed and Breakfast and the business side of Memory Maker charters.
Hays caught her third place salmon at Bluff Point, her usual haunt during the tournament.
"We fish there because there are fish all over but when there are a lot of boats out there it's one of the easiest places to fish and usually the weather is a little calmer," said Hays.
For Ross, an administrative pastor at Cornerstone Church in Anchorage, this was his 16th trip to Homer for the tournament.
"Luckily, my wife and daughter were able to fly in last night so they could be with me while I fished. They were kind of my lucky charms," said Ross.
Ross landed the salmon in the early afternoon, and, realizing just how big it was, decided to call it a day and was at the weigh-in station at 2 p.m., a full two hours before lines were out of the water.
Of course he had good reason, as the nearly 39-pound lunker left the runner-up in the dust by a full four pounds and blew last year's top prize winner, Robert Say's 28.5 pound salmon, right out of the water.
Ross said that he caught the winning king salmon just off the point of Seldovia, fishing from his Glacier Craft the "Sara Nichole," which is named after his daughter who helped pilot the boat back to Homer.
Ryan M. Long can be reached at ryan.long.@homernews.com.
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