Hailing from Sparks, Nev. -- a city just outside of Reno -- Don Hanks is no stranger to gambling, but when he took a chance by buying a $10 ticket in this year's Homer Jackpot Halibut Derby while fishing on vacation, he never imagined he would hit the jackpot.
And that's exactly what happened.
The Homer Chamber of Commerce announced Friday that Sparks was the champion of this year's derby which ran from May 1 through Sept. 30.
"I knew it was a big fish, but since there was still 93 more days in the derby from when I caught it, it was a pretty long wait to be sure. I've been counting down each and every day," Hanks said.
His winning flat-fish -- a 352.6-pound halibut -- was landed on June 29 while fishing aboard the "Falcon" with Capt. Tony Arsenault of Falcon Charters.
Arsenault had told everyone there would be 10 more minutes of fishing and then they would have to leave. Hanks still had one fish to catch for his limit, so he still had a line in.
In that final few minutes before it was time to head for shore, his line went tight.
Initially, he thought he had snagged the bottom, but then the line started to move. Hanks didn't know for sure what he had, but he did know whatever it was, it was big.
"At first I thought it was a skate, but Tony said it wasn't acting like a skate," Hanks said.
So he did the only thing he could -- he kept reeling, and after a long, back-breaking endeavor, he managed to get the leviathan to the surface and saw for himself that he had a huge halibut.
As the derby winner, Hanks claimed more than $51,100. As captain of the boat Sparks was on, Arsenault won the captain's prize of $4,600. Donna Graham of Homer also won $1,000 for selling the wining ticket.
"It was a wonderful year," said Linda Winters of the Homer chamber.
"It was the best year in 10 years. We had a lot of people, good weather, a lot of big fish, and we sold a record number of tickets," Winters said.
The increase in tickets sales directly are related to the amount of the jackpot prize. The number of tickets sold has been increasingly annually since the derby began in the summer of 1986 as a way of promoting business in Homer and enhancing tourism for the community.
Hanks said he intends to return to Alaska to collect his winnings, which will be awarded at a banquet Friday from 6 to 8 p.m. at the Homer Chamber of Commerce Visitors Center on the Sterling Highway.
The banquet is open to the public and will recap the derby and award prizes to the winners. The drawings for the released fish prize of $10,000 and $2,000 cash also will be done.
"I'm still in shock about winning, but I'm looking forward to coming up," Hanks said.
As to what he'll do with his winnings, Hanks who visits Alaska annually, said, "I'll save it to use on a trip up next year."
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