Chugiak's Jerry Saunders poses next to his 358.4-pound halibut caught June 28. Three months later it won the Homer Jackpot Halibut Derby.
Photo provided by Homer Chamber
Chugiak's Jerry Saunders waited more than three months to hear if his monster halibut would hold up to win the Homer Jackpot Halibut Derby.
He got the good news last Monday.
Saunders caught the 358.4-pound halibut on his friend's boat June 28. It was the largest fish entered in the derby in a decade and will earn Saunders roughly $37,000, said derby coordinator Linda Winters.
Saunders grabbed the top spot from a 340.6-pounder caught just three days before and then watched the standings as several contenders, including a 333-pound halibut caught in August, came up short.
Saunders currently is traveling out of state and could not be reached.
Shortly after he caught the big fish, Saunders told the Homer News he was excited about the catch.
"I knew it was a big halibut, but I didn't know how big until it came up to the surface," he said. "Then it was 'oh my god.'"
Saunders was on a fishing trip around the tip of the Kenai Peninsula with his friend Ken Petska, of Homer, on Petska's private boat, the M/V Slow Going.
After some poor fishing, the duo decided to drift in between Perl and Chugiak Island.
" I thought I hung up on the bottom," Saunders said. "And then it started swimming away."
After about a 30-minute struggle, Saunders pulled the giant up from its depth of about 100 feet. The fish came up directly under the boat. When the pair found out how big it was, they realized they'd never be able to get it in the boat, so they tied one end of it onto the boat's swim platform and used a come-along to secure the other. Then the two friends made the slow trip back to Homer.
Big fish are nothing new to Saunders, who has spent every summer in Homer since 1999 after he retired from trucking.
This spring, he caught a 256-pound halibut that would have won a monthly prize of $1,000 and grabbed the early derby lead. Unfortunately for Saunders, he didn't have a derby ticket that day.
On June 28, he did.
Winters said the final amount of the prize will be announced after last-minute tickets were counted last week.
The largest fish ever entered in the derby weighed 376 pounds and was caught in 1996 by Jerry Meinders of Willmar, Minn.
The largest prize ever handed out went to Don Hanks of Sparks, Nev., in 2004. His 352.6-pound halibut was worth $51,298.Winters said ticket sales were slower than usual leading up to Saunders big haul, then returned to normal for July through September.
Another winner in this year's derby included Cassie Davis, of Anchor Point, who will pocket $1,000 for selling Saunders the ticket. For more information on the derby, visit www.homerhalibutderby.com.
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