When whiteouts swept across the Homer Spit last Friday, Greg Lindhartsen and his wife Gloria Adkins hunkered down for the night aboard his 36-foot wheelhouse troller.
"Bring it on," he thought to himself. As long as the weather wasn't bad enough to cancel the 10th running of the Winter King Salmon Tournament scheduled to kick off last Saturday morning the fortunes aboard the F/V Snake River Red might rise amid a smaller field, Lindhartsen thought. Potential entrants with smaller boats likely wondered if they would be lucky enough to get out of the harbor in such nasty weather.
But Saturday turned into a sunny bluebird day, and a record fleet of 167 boats carrying a record 588 anglers took to Kachemak Bay, hoping to the last soul they might have the luck to land that top, money-earning fish.
Around 9 a.m., that luck came calling on a line trailing below Lindhartsen's boat. When it was finally landed, it came in the form of a 28.58-pound king salmon, earning the Soldotna couple a $13,524 payday.
Given that last year's winning fish weighed in at more than 40 pounds, nobody was more surprised than Lindhartsen.
"I thought it was a nice-sized fish," he said. "I thought it would be top 20, but really we had no high expectations."
While this year's fish weren't breaking any records, the Homer Chamber of Commerce-sponsored derby itself made the most of its 10th birthday. As the anglers began to trickle in with their catch, the weigh-in site at Coal Point Trading Co. became a busy place.
"We've broken all kinds of records," chamber director Derotha Ferraro said Saturday afternoon as derby officials weighed in the last of a record 261 entered fish. "It was just a great day out there."
Because the purse is directly related to the number of anglers entered in the tournament, the cash payouts for the top 10 fish was also a record, with more than $61,000 in prize money changing hands.
The boat side bet category, which allows anglers to bet on which boat will bring aboard the most fish, generated more than $15,000. F/V Arch Cape took high-liner honors, reeling in $6,600 in side bet cash.
Floyd Hutton of Anchor Point earned $8,820 in second-place money for his 27.78-pounder. Garrett Sitenga of Homer was third, with a 26.6 pounder and $7,056 in winnings.
In addition to his top cash prize, Lindhartsen was presented with the newly created John Hillstrand Memorial Award, in honor of the Coal Point Trading Co.'s founder and Spit pioneer who passed away last year.
Each year, the winning angler will have his name inscribed onto the handsome plaque, which is adorned with a barometer. It will hang in the Coal Point shop.
As usual, the turnout for the 2003 winter king tourney came predominantly from Homer and the other Kenai Peninsula towns, followed by Anchorage and other areas of the state. Another 25 anglers made the trip from Outside.
In hind sight, Lindhartsen said he was glad to have them all along for such a beautiful day, noting the irony in the fact that he'd been wondering if he might benefit from bad weather and low turnout.
In the end, the former Homer commercial fisherman said the record crowd of boats dragging gear off the bluffs along Kachemak Bay might have actually played a role in his good fortune, as he was forced to fish at a depth he would not have normally chosen.
"I think all that traffic pushed the fish out of that 60-foot line," Lindhartsen said of the mark that he usually finds his success. "It forced me to fish differently."
As for how he planned to spend his earnings, Lindhartsen simply mentioned a daughter who was just finishing up law school. The day before the derby she'd called to say she'd experienced some car trouble.
So the timing for a stroke of financial good luck couldn't be better, Lindhartsen said.
"We're just thrilled."
Sepp Jannotta is a reporter for the Homer News. He can be reached at sjannotta@homer news.com.
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