Homer Alaska - Sports

Story last updated at 8:48 PM on Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Just one fish was all it took

Homer angler lands 30-pound king; catch worth more than $38,000

By Lindsay Johnson
Staff Writer


Photo by Larry Bain, Alaskan Photo

Mike Walls didn't mind the drips coming off his 30-pound, derby-winning king salmon as he raised it for the crowd gathered at the awards ceremony at Coal Point Trading on the Spit last Saturday. Walls, who spends 7-8 months a year at his job with Arctic Slope Telephone Cooperative, has lived in Homer for 15 of the last 30 years.

Mike Walls landed the only fish that bit a line coming off his 26-foot Hewescraft last Saturday. Good thing, because the 30 pound white king grilled up nicely for him and five houseguests, and was the biggest fish caught during the 2011 Homer Chamber of Commerce Winter King Salmon Tournament.

Walls and three regular fishing buddies were trolling aboard the Dynamike when they hooked the winner at about 10:30 a.m.

"We knew we had a contender," Walls said.

The tide rose, the sun shone and that was all.

"It's probably a once in a lifetime event. If I ever win the thing again I'll probably have a heart attack," Walls said.

The prize for catching the biggest fish of the day was $18,060, the third largest in the tournament's 18-year history. The boat's four side bets bumped the value of the catch up another $20,854.39.

Walls also won the John Hillstrand Memorial Award for being the skipper of the boat that caught the winning fish.

He said the prize money will be reinvested in his fishing habit.

"I see some better electronics in the future and the rest will go into the fuel tank," he said.

Walls' cousin, Robert Say, won the tournament in 2009 with a 28.5-pounder worth $16,683.

The last time a Homer resident won the tournament was in 2007, according to tournament coordinator Paula Frisinger.

This year, 858 anglers on 248 boats caught 135 kings — almost the exact turnout as 2010.

Homer residents claimed five of the top 10 places, Anchorage residents four and Seldovia one. All but one of the heaviest 20 fish were caught by Alaskans.

The second place fish, caught by John Lund of Anchorage, fishing with Homer friends Clay and Jackie Norvell on My Toy, weighed in at 28 pounds and earned him $12,012.

Lund and the Norvells agreed the day topped their tournament records, both for fishing and weather. The boat also won a side bet worth $3,150.

"It was by far the best day we've had not only for sunshine but no wind," Lund said.

Anchorage resident Tom Hyatt took third and $9,438 with a 25.6 pound fish.

Henryk Kurgan and three teammates caught a 25.2 pound king worth $6,864 for fourth place.

Homer resident Richard Gregoire rounded out the top five with a 24-pound chromer worth $5,148.

Mike Illg of Homer made his first money-winning catch with a 23.2-pound fish for $4,290 and sixth place.

Sara Ross, the 12-year-old daughter of last year's winner, Scott Ross, took seventh place as well as the youth award for her 23.1-pound catch. Her winnings totaled $3,732, but she seemed more happy about spending the day on the boat with her parents.

"It was nice and sunny and really fun," she said, giggling with her mom, Diane.

"We kept playing around watching the poles. Sometimes I got to drive the boat."

Ross said she had a hard time getting the pole out of the holder when the winning strike came, but once her dad got it out, she reeled it in on her own.

A record number, 33, youth ages 5-18, participated in the tournament.

In side bets, last year's big winner, the Memory Maker, won two (plus the skunk) for $5,723.14. The Margo won one worth $5,625. And the Fish Truck, without landing a fish, won the top two side bets for $1,312.

The 47 boats that brought in fish split the skunk bet, earning $98.14 each.

Zero boats sank or even called for help on the radio.

Dan Cole, who ran the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary boat, said it was just a great day on the water

"It's a little unusual that nothing happens. It's good, it means people are paying attention," he said.

One boat lost its transmission on the way back to town, but was towed in by a good Samaritan.

More than 60 volunteers helped the on-shore operation run smoothly.

At Coal Point Trading Company during and after fish weigh-ins, Frisinger estimated more than 1,000 people enjoyed beer, chowder and fried halibut.

The last day of winter gave hope that spring was just a day away.

"It's lovely to see everyone's smiling faces. Lots of happy fishermen," Frisinger said.

Lindsay Johnson may be reached at lindsay.johnson@homernews.com.