While Clara Anderson remembers the countless times her husband, Les Anderson, was asked to retell the biggest fishing tale of his life, she is looking forward to hearing it again. After all, her husband holds the record for catching the world's largest king salmon.
Clara and many others still remember his accomplishment with fondness.
Still riding high on Les' 97-pound, 4-ounce catch 20 years ago, Soldotna will declare May 17, the day he caught the fish, Les Anderson Day and hold an anniversary celebration in his honor.
"I think it's very honoring for the community and the Soldotna chamber to do this for him," Clara Anderson said.
It was a cold day in the middle of May 1985 when Anderson and his brother-in-law, Bud Lofstedt, decided to try for some early season kings. Most anglers don't normally fish that early in the season, but the die-hard duo had decided to try their luck anyway. It was a good decision.
The fish hit Anderson's orange and chartreuse Spin-and-Glo baited with salmon eggs near Honeymoon Cove and immediately headed upstream. After a fight that lasted about an hour, Lofstedt and Anderson had to pull onshore near the Pillars boat launch and beach the big king because it was too big to get into the net.
After landing the fish, Anderson then 67 years old and Lofstedt did what any self-respecting anglers would do: they returned to the water and continued fishing. Neither man realized the fish might be a record until later in the day, when Anderson showed it to a friend at Peninsula Ford, where he was co-owner.
Many peninsula residents believe the fish actually weighed over 100 pounds, but that it lost weight between the time Anderson caught it and when it was officially weighed at Echo Lake Lockers, where the 58-inch-long fish weighed in at 97 pounds, 4 ounces.
At the time, Anderson recalled that he was astounded at the size of the fish. Although he'd caught his share of kings, he said he'd never hooked into one nearly as large as the lunker he snared that day in May.
"I was shocked. I was amazed," he told the Clarion at the time. "I've been fishing the Kenai for 16 years. The largest fish I caught was 63 pounds. My wife caught one 85-pounder and I could never beat her."
Anderson died in 2003 at the age of 84, his record still firmly intact.
Anderson's catch added to the mystique of the Kenai River and undoubtably helped lure the thousands of anglers who visit Soldotna each year. The city's summertime economy is based largely around the king fishery and the record almost certainly has a lot to do with that.
And so on Tuesday, the city will host an anniversary celebration of Anderson's catch. The celebration will take place at noon at the Soldotna Visitors Center. There will be a free community barbecue, a performance by Hobo Jim and the unveiling of a life-size statue of Les and the fish carved by Scott Hanson. Soldotna Mayor Dave Carey will proclaim May 17 as Les Anderson Day in the city.
To top it off, Bud Lofstedt Anderson's old fishing buddy will retell the legendary story in all its glory.
The Soldotna chamber is also sponsoring a king salmon fishing contest for the fisher who catches the largest king salmon by May 17. Fish must be weighed in at Custom Seafood Processing in Soldotna by 6 p.m. Tuesday. Anglers should note that Alaska Department of Fish and Game regulations stipulate that any king caught on the Kenai must measure less than 44 inches or 55 inches or longer to be retained. All other kings may not be kept. In addition, bait is not currently allowed on the river. For more details on the derby, contact the Soldotna chamber at 262-9814.
Clara Anderson said her husband loved to fish and she was thrilled about his catch. She also said the catch had a big impact on the community.
"It just made it more of a fishing mecca," she said.
Many people were happy it was a Soldotna resident who caught the fish, she said.
"I take pride in it because it's the biggest, it's the best (and) it came from here," said Robyn Sullens, the project coordinator for the Soldotna chamber and coordinator of Tuesday's festivities.
She added that she knew Les and said he was a fantastic guy. She said she is really excited about the event that will celebrate his legacy.
Plus, "free food is always great," she said.
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