PUBLISHED: 4:07 PM on Wednesday, August 1, 2007
Beware of derby crazed mistakes

  Lee Leschper
A steady drizzle was dotting the windshield as we headed north around Shelter Island on the early Saturday morning of last year's Golden North Salmon Derby.

That's when we found them.

It was an older fiberglass boat, drifting on the gray dawn tide, clearly without power.

Aboard, three red-eyed and clearly sleepless anglers were obviously glad someone had finally stopped to offer aid.

"Got trouble?" my friend at the helm hollered.

"Out of gas," came the bleary and embarrassed reply.

While we passed over the spare five gallons from the kicker outboard on our boat, we tried to listen politely without chuckling.

"We've been fishing all night," the obvious skipper muttered. "I knew I was cutting it close, but thought we had enough gas to get back.

"Guess not."

As soon as the spare fuel was in their tank, they fired up and headed with a wave, more or less, back toward Auke Bay.

"Think they'll head back to dock, or try to keep fishing?" I mused out loud.

We didn't win the derby that day, although we did catch and turn in some nice "derby fish" for the scholarship fund. And we relearned an even more valuable lesson.

Fishing the derby can make some people crazy!

Each year thousands of anglers in Southeast Alaska fish Juneau's Golden North Salmon Derby. The fundraiser provides many scholarships for area kids and is a celebration of the fabulous fishing and life we enjoy in Southeast Alaska. This year's 61st Annual Derby runs Aug. 3-5. You can learn all about the derby at

After all, how many times do you get the chance, if even a slim one, to catch a fish worth $100,000, like the derby's tagged top prize fish? Or to catch the winning king that can earn you a check of $30,000 or more?

The excitement is contagious. Unfortunately, it can overwhelm common sense.

For many boats, the derby is the only time they hit the water all year. Same for some weekend skippers who may not have fished all year and have forgotten some of the basic rules of boating safety.

And that makes a dangerous combination that can by following one rule.

It's very simple: Be prepared.

Check out your craft top to bottom, well before you leave the dock. This includes engine, electronics, fuel, safety gear including personal flotation devices and required running lights.

Make sure your spare kicker is in good order too.

Watch the weather, and don't fish if it is more than your boat can handle.

Don't overload your craft, even if all the friends want to come along.

Don't drink alcohol on the water. Period. A cold adult beverage at the end of the day is a very acceptable way to celebrate a good trip. But alcohol, even one beer, can affect a boater's judgment just enough to make the bad decision, that makes all the difference.

Take adequate supplies, food and water, to stay out longer than you intend. Take a marine radio and know how to use it. Have a GPS on board and know where you're running. Rocks don't care if it's derby weekend.

Plan for the deadlines and don't try to cut it so close you have to make risky choices on your route back to the weigh-in.

If all else fails and bad luck finds you on derby weekend, the good news is that there will be plenty of other anglers out there.

And the most prepared will also probably be the most likely to put their own fishing aside and lend a hand. If you do see another angler in trouble, stop and offer assistance. As my friend said as we left those stranded anglers "Next time it could be us."

So do all of us a favor, be prepared and we can all concentrate on catching that big fish.

Have a great derby, but be prepared, and be careful out there!

Leschper is general manager of the Capital City Weekly and advertising director of the Juneau Empire.Send him e-mail at