- Associated Press - Thursday, March 26, 2015

ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) - Kodiak fisherman Mike Olsen got to taste what some might consider a perfect fishing day in Homer on Saturday.

Sunshine reflected off Kachemak Bay. Temperatures reached the upper 40s, “like summertime,” according to the 45-year-old. And, heck, he couldn’t do any worst than the previous two days of trolling, when he got skunked.

About 11 a.m., good turned great when Olsen hooked a beefy winter king salmon, and after a thrilling six-minute fight during which the fish twice stripped out line, he had a 30.4-pound king in his boat, Sea Alaska. It proved large enough to win the $27,762 top prize in the Homer Winter King Tournament - plus another $24,000 in side bets that earned him a total payday of about $52,000 as the winner of Alaska’s biggest one-day fishing tournament.

“I was ecstatic,” said Olsen, who fishes commercially for salmon out of Kodiak in summer and does snow removal and other jobs in Anchorage during winter.

By comparison, only the top three finishers in the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race, working nearly around the clock for more than a week, earned more.

But the perfect day was tinged with sadness. His friend Duane Freeman, who is staying with Olsen, is battling cancer and fighting for his life.

“He taught me whether you catch or don’t catch, you just keep trying and moving forward with life,” said Olsen, who dedicated his trip to Freeman. “I honestly had a hard time leaving him.

“I’m still praying for a miracle. He’s already lived longer than doctors expected.”

Homer’s tournament began 9 a.m. Saturday and is an offseason shot in the arm for a tourist town that bustles during the summer and quiets once October rolls around. According to the Homer Chamber of Commerce, 1,321 anglers aboard 386 boats and seven kayaks landed 590 fish. More than $155,000 in cash was paid out to lucky anglers.

Unlike most other anglers, Olsen fished alone on his Hewescraft, an open 18-foot-vessel with no cabin.

That alone made landing the big fish quite a feat. Call him the Ambidextrous Angler - piloting the Sea Alaska, reeling in the 30-pounder and then netting the fish

“My first attempt, he was too close to boat,” Olsen said. “You get nervous. Kings start shaking their heads back and forth near the boat, and that’s usually when they get off.”

The fish stripped off line a second time, headed for deep water. Olsen reeled him back to the boat then set his rod down, grabbing the line with one hand with the net in his other hand.

“It’s a tricky maneuver by yourself, to be honest,” he said.

“I knew I had a potential winner, but I didn’t want to put that in my head.”

So he measured it and came up with 40 inches. He checked Google for a length-to-weight estimate for king salmon and came up with 30 pounds. That’s how big Kenai angler Raymond Tepp’s winning fish was a year ago (and proving that fishing is more than luck, Tepp finished third this year with a 26.5-pounder.)

Even though Olsen knew fish tend to lose water weight as time elapses between landing the fish and weighting it, he kept fishing. Although Olsen had a few more strikes, but couldn’t land another fish. Finally, by mid-afternoon, he couldn’t wait any longer and headed home.

“I was very ecstatic,” he said of his reaction as his fish was weighed. “I knew I was in the top five then. My plan was to weigh it in and start driving back to Anchorage, when one of the officials said, ‘You might win this thing.’ “

And that’s exactly what happened.

“It was very emotional for me,” he said. “It’s been a tough winter. It was my faith that drove me. When they announced it, I pointed up the sky and thanked God.”

Uncle Sam, who will get a big chunk of the $52,000, may do the same. Olsen plans to pay the IRS, pay bills and maybe take a vacation in October.

Home-town anglers had a banner day at the tournament, with Homer anglers taking seven of the top-10 spots, led by Chelsea Johnson’s runner-up, a 28.6-pound fish.

___

Information from: Alaska Dispatch News, https://www.adn.com


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