Patrick Davis is in the lead for the $6,000 grand prize with a 35-pound 8 ounce fish, but his lead far from safe. On Saturday a fisherman who wasn’t in the derby pulled up to the barge and weighed his 47-pound 8 ounce fish! (SSA photo)

After one weekend of fishing, the Sitka Salmon Derby is still a horse race — so to speak.

A 36-pounder is at the top of the leaderboard, but the smart money says there are bigger fish out there, after a non-ticket holder stopped by to weigh his 48-pound fish.

Note: The 66th Annual Sitka Salmon Derby continues over one more weekend, June 5th and 6th. John McCrehin has a special thanks for the people who helped him on the barge over the past three days: His daughters Marsha and Melissa, Randy Gluth, Darryl Ault, and Dennis from Sitka Sound Seafoods.

We all know the story of the big one that got away. But have you heard the one about the $6,000 prize check that got away?

John McCrehin is the derby chairman, and runs the weigh-in barge in Crescent Harbor. On Saturday (5-29-21), a fisherman tied up to have his fish weighed, and it was a strain to even lift it out of the boat.

“He opened up his fish box, and I could tell it was a big one,” said McCrehin. “He grunted putting it into the tote, and I grunted putting it onto the scale. 47 pounds 8 ounces. I think it was.”

But don’t hang up your fishing gear and throw in the towel just yet. There’s a catch to this catch.

“No derby ticket. He just wanted it weighed,” said McCrehin.

That nearly 48-pound fish was 17 pounds heavier than 2019’s grand prize winner. In fact, it was heavier than the winner of seven out of the last 10 derbies, and would have won three other times in the Sitka Salmon Derby’s 66-year history.

McCrehin posted a picture of the 48-pounder on Facebook, prompting a brief rush of derby ticket purchases. But rough weather probably kept participants off of some of the best drags, and by the evening of Memorial Day Patrick Davis was in the lead with a 35-pound 8 ounce fish. In overall poundage, Kerri Grey is the leader with 151 pounds, 6 ounces. Second place in overall poundage is held by 13-year old Riley Bernhardt, the only participant to turn in three kings on each of the three days of Memorial Day Weekend.

2021 Sitka Salmon Derby leaders, after the first weekend:

 Biggest Fish Leaders:
  1. Patrick Davis  35.8 lbs
  2. Renee Wheat – 30.7 lbs
  3. Keri Gray – 29.5 lbs
  4. Aaron Swanson – 27.8 lbs
  5. Brett Haavig – 36.5 lbs
  6. Allen Borbridge – 26.4 lbs
  7. Lola Haley – 25 lbs  – 7 year old
  8. Michael Smith Sr. – 23.7 lbs  – 12 yr old
  9. Larry Fitzsimmons – 23.5 lbs
  10. Matt Golden – 23.5 lbs

  Total Pounds Leaders:
  1. Kerri Grey – 151.6 lbs
  2. Riley Bernhardt – 150.5 lbs – 13 year old
  3. Brian LeBlanc – 129.6 lbs
  4. Michael Smith Jr. – 113.2 lbs
  5. Mike Pountney – 112.6 lbs
  6. Gary Bernhardt – 95 lbs
  7. Kenny Gray – 85.7 lbs
  8. Seth Charlton- 75.5 lbs
  9. Matt Golden – 66.4 lbs
  10. Aaron Swanson – 61.6 lbs

  Fish turned in – 214
  Participants – 95
  Average weight – 14.9 lbs

  “Take Vicki fishing” did great and had a lot of support

  1 participant turned in 3 fish all 3 days.  A few turned in 3 in on
  one day, but then would turn in 1 or 2 the next day.

Although there’s no prize for this, McCrehin says one woman can claim the most enviable catch, mainly because it happened in full view of downtown Sitka.

“She was trolling past the Coast Guard cutter, and she reeled in a 22-pounder,” he said.

There’s probably no better place to fish on a windy day, than in the lee of the 225-foot buoy tender Kukui.

In all, 95 participants in the first weekend of the Sitka Salmon Derby turned in 214 fish, at an average weight of just over 14 pounds.

And that 215th fish, that 48-pounder? It will land on someone’s grill rather than in their bank account. McCrehin says there’s a moral to this story.

“You know, buy a ticket,” said McCrehin. “About the time you think you’re not going to get a big one, you do.”