by Kelley Lane for Seward City News-
This year’s Silver Salmon Derby ended last Sunday, with the excitement continuing right through to the end. Unlike 2016, when there were few silver salmon to be caught, this year’s Derby brought in more than 2,500 individual fish weighed at the Derby station. The average fish size was approximately 7.5 pounds, slightly smaller than some years but in higher numbers. There were many prizes awarded for fish weight, first fish caught each day as well as the tagged fish that was redeemable for a 2017 Chevy Silverado truck. The first place fish came in at 15.20 pounds, caught on Thursday, and remained the heaviest fish through the end of the Derby. But the second heaviest fish title was captured by Blake McBain on the final day of the Derby, weighing 14.92 pounds.
I had the opportunity to meet McBain and his parents on Sunday afternoon at the Awards Ceremony, hosted by the Seward Rotary Club at the Breeze Inn. McBain was smiling with joy and excitement at his $5,000 earnings and trophy. His second place also earns him the fish’s weight in Silverhook Kaladi Brothers Coffee. He graciously accepted the check from the Seward Chamber and posed for photos with his fellow winners. The McBains had driven down from Anchorage on Friday night, amidst the pouring rain that enveloped Seward for most of the weekend. They continued on through town, heading for Lowell Point’s Silver Derby Campground, the name proving a perfect description for why they’d come to town.
McBain grew up fishing, from the young age of 3-4, with his dad. The family would use their cabin located near Homer as their base, spending a couple of weeks each summer fishing from the family’s boat, most recently, a 21 foot Thunder Jet. “At first, I didn’t like it [fishing] because of the 6 foot rollers and pouring rain, but when I started to catch silvers and snag reds, that was fun.” McBain is currently in his senior year of high school at Service High School in Anchorage, where he attends morning classes. In the afternoon, he attends King Career Center, where he’s learning and practicing welding, which “will be my career for sure.” The program allows McBain to get a head start on developing his marketable skills. “He’s a mature kid for his age,” said his dad, Larry McBain. McBain plans to continue his welding studies next year at University of Alaska Anchorage (UAA).
Blake and Larry McBain fished all day Saturday, amidst the pouring rain, using blue brine, which the fish weren’t biting. A friend of theirs told them that green was working better, and they began to try it, with more bites coming from the change. On Sunday morning, they were back at it again. They got their boat in the water before 7am. Blake had opted to buy a Derby ticket, just in case, telling his dad “it’s just ten bucks.” Within 20 minutes of getting their boat in the water, they were trolling, reeling in fish consistently, about every 30 minutes. By 8:30am, McBain was standing inside the boat’s cover, trying to warm up. “My fingers were prunes, I was covered in fish guts and water and shivering.” That’s when the middle line “ditched down” with a fish on. McBain jumped 8 feet to the pole and yanked it up, to set the hook. The line was at 70 feet when the fish bit the line, and McBain reeled in and let the line go about 10 times before the fish came along beside the boat. When it saw the boat, it tried to run away. Prior to that it had easily allowed itself to be reeled in, feeling more like an 8-10 pound fish based on its fight. When Blake brought the fish up near the boat, Larry netted it and brought it to the middle of the boat. That’s when they began to realize what they had caught. “That might be a money fish,” said Larry. They thought that it might be in the top 10 in terms of poundage, but still thought it was likely just in the 12 pound range.
The two decided to continue fishing, and that they would stop by 11am to bring in their big fish. Blake explained that “we were out there to catch fish, and it costs quite a bit to bring the boat down.” They caught a few more fish, endured the rain and 50 degree temperatures and then motored back to C dock in the Harbor to turn in the big fish at the Derby booth. “It was pretty miserable, but worth it.” As the fish weighed in and the scale’s numbers continued to rise, the crowd began to clap. The poundage confirmed that McBain was in second place, and as the remaining fish were weighed, his fish kept its second place standing. “I was shaken for a good hour after that.”
McBain was starving, having only eaten a breakfast burrito early that morning. They spent the afternoon breaking down their campsite and then returned to the Breeze Inn for the afternoon’s Awards Ceremony. When the grilled silver salmon came off the grill, McBain was grateful. “I was really happy with that meal.” McBain’s $5,000 earnings are substantial for a high school student. Next year’s tuition bill at UAA will be about seven thousand dollars, and McBain plans to save the money for his college fund and give some to his church, “because when you get a blessing, you need to tithe a portion.”
A full list of Silver Salmon Derby winners can be found at: http://www.seward.com/welcome-to-seward-alaska/seward-silver-salmon-derby-august/