Seward's annual Silver Salmon Derby set

Posted: Thursday, August 09, 2001

FAULT POINT, Alaska (AP) -- Fresh from the heat of a scorching Midwest summer, 11-year-old Eric Bloebaum shivered in the rainy dampness of the chilly Alaska gulf and was happy.

A grin not to be denied had taken over his young face and refused to leave. The reason for all of this was obvious in two words:

''Fish on!''

The first fish -- a silver salmon of 6 to 8 pounds -- Bloebaum lost. One minute it was battling at the end of his line. The next, it gave a flip of its tail and could be seen to disappear into the clear, blue-green waters of the north Pacific Ocean.

The second fish was not so lucky.

Overpowered by Bloebaum, it was scooped out of the water by the net of a deckhand on the M/V Legend. Moments later, it was flapping on the deck.

Bloebaum stared at the 7-pounder with eyes the size of saucers.

''How deep were you?'' asked an angler standing next to him on the Seward-based party boat.

''What?'' Bloebaum said, having obviously caught nothing of the question.

''How deep were you?''

He had no answer. He didn't really know. And it didn't much matter.

The silver and occasional pink salmon feeding in the mouth of Day Harbor, 30 miles southeast of Seward, seemed to range broadly in from eight to 30 feet of water.

The one that grabbed the green, plastic squid and chunk of herring at the end of the line held by 18-year-old Jennifer Heutel could be seen as it came climbing up through the ocean.

The loose line of the unsuspecting angler hung from the mouth of the unexpecting fish until all slack was gone. Then the salmon felt the hook and exploded, and the angler, realizing it was her turn to struggle with a silver, leaned back into the fishing rod.

It took the Naval midshipman but minutes to wrestle the salmon into the boat with the help of slashing net work by deckhand Scott McIlroy, a former hockey star at Chugiak High School. Heutel confessed she'd caught fish before, but ''nothing that big.''

Her father, Jim, the only angler on the boat who sported a real fishing vest, was proud. Her 22-year-old brother, Pete, largely ignored the commotion. He was preoccupied with catching more salmon.

At one point, Pete was the luckiest of 14 anglers on the boat. The day had started slow and then exploded. At 11 a.m., the silver catch for the day stood at Pete, 2, the rest of the boat, 1.

What's the secret? he was asked.

''You got me,'' said the resident of St. Louis, Mo. ''I don't know. I'm not really much of a fisherman back in Missouri.''

Until his trip to Alaska, the biggest fish Pete had caught were Florida snook. All that changed on the charter out of Seward. Led by Pete, the entire Heutel family caught fish.

In fact, everyone on the boat caught salmon -- everyone but tour coordinator Alison Fairman. The 26-year-old from St. Louis hooked some salmon but couldn't land them.

''I never was much of a fisherman,'' Fairman said.

The same could be said for 72-year-old Don Jacobson, a 40-year resident of Grand Rapids, Minn.

''I fished for two years after I moved there and didn't catch anything,'' he said. ''So I quit.''

For the past 22 years, he'd been more interested in aerobics than angling. Once a serious marathon runner, the retired teacher has in recent years backed off to the 13.1-mile half marathon.

Jacobson said he's too busy in retirement to find enough time to train for the marathon. But he'd found the time to take a tour north with his wife and his son Tony's family.

On Monday, it was boy's day out. Don and Tony went fishing while mom and grandma stayed back at the Alyeska Prince Hotel with two small children. The guys enjoyed every minute of it.

''Fish on!'' Don shouted.

''Keep that tip up, Dad,'' advised angler son Tony.

A silver salmon shot spray as it raced across the surface of the ocean. It shimmered silver even on a rainy day as it shot skyward. It moved one step closer to becoming dinner when deckhand Joe Williams scooped it up in the net.

Most of the other anglers on the 50-foot boat paid no attention. They were too busy with their own fish, or too busy trying to catch their own fish.

At the stern, Eric Bloebaum's younger sister, Emilie, and her dad were into silvers at the same time. Eric was marveling over a dogfish shark he'd just hauled on board.

''I've never caught a shark before,'' Eric said.

Dad Jim put down his rod to try to get video of Emilie with her fish.

''What you catch Emilie?'' he prompted. ''Silver salmon?''

The little girl bundled up against the cold and covered with a transparent, disposable raincoat smiled from behind her glasses. It was much like tour coordinator Fairman had described earlier in the day.

''This is my first trip to Alaska,'' she said. ''You hear stories, but it's kind of different when you're here. It's surreal in a way.''

A full-time travel director for Maritz Travel Co. in St. Louis, Fairman organizes trips for corporations.

On this trip, she'd brought 198 people associated with the Ford Motor Co. to Alaska.

''Not all our trips are as great as this one,'' Fairman confessed.

Cute little murres diving for herring, capelin or other baitfish, popped in and out of the water near the bow of the boat. Gulls fluttered and squawked overhead. Rollers coming in off the North Pacific smashed up against the rocky cliffs that rose up out of sight into fog and rain.

And silver salmon attacked.

All an angler had to do was hang a chunk of herring over the side of the boat, wiggle it around a bit, and sooner or later a fish would be there.

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