When Homer Chamber of Commerce President Tom Stroozas called the 30th Annual Homer Jackpot Halibut Derby winner on speakerphone Monday night to tell her the big news, the assembled crowd at the visitor’s center waited breathlessly for her response.
For a few seconds, they heard only silence.
“Did she faint?” Stroozas asked.
It turned out that Linda Scott was fully conscious, the connection had just been lost.
Scott was excited to hear that she’d won $15,216.50 — the 224.4-pound halibut she reeled in on July 10 was the second fish the Bloomington, Minn., nurse had ever caught.
“I had no idea bringing that fish in how big it was — I didn’t have anything to compare it to. I just knew that it took a long time to reel it in and that my back was sore the next day,” said Scott in a telephone interview Tuesday afternoon.
“I was glad I had watched some of those Alaskan TV shows because I would’ve been totally freaked out when (the captain)‚ was yelling to go get the gun otherwise. That was really fun, that they actually do that in real life.”
It took 45 minutes for Scott to haul the fish onto the deck of DeepStrike Sportfishing’s Grand Aleutian while on vacation with her husband.
She got some help from Captain David Bayes, who also captained the winning voyage in 2013, during which Iowa angler Gene Jones reeled in a 236.2-pound halibut. Bayes will receive $1,521, 10 percent of the winning prize.
He was out of town moose hunting during the award ceremony, but his deckhand, Frank Hastings, attended to collect a sweatshirt and applause for him.
Unlike many past derby winners, Scott wasn’t counting down the minutes until the end of the competition, because she didn’t think her fish was big enough to take first place.
“I never really anticipated I would (win) because this is a really small fish to win, when I look at winners from other years,” she said. “I figured it’d be kinda fun for a week or two and then people would catch a bigger one.”
Indeed, Scott’s winning fish was the smallest derby winner ever — 110.6 pounds lighter than last year’s winner, and more than 150 pounds under the 1996 record-holding winner, which weighed 376 pounds.
It also wasn’t the largest halibut caught this year: an unidentified angler hooked one that weighed 291.2 on North Country Charters’ the Irish, but the unlucky fisherman hadn’t bought a derby ticket.
That person is probably cursing the mistake now, but maybe not as furiously as the angler who actually caught the GCI $50,000 tagged halibut in 2013 but hadn’t bought a ticket.
“So let that be a lesson to everyone: spend the $10! It’s your insurance,” said Stroozas.
At the award ceremony, he announced that 10,433 tickets were sold this year to hopeful fishermen from all 50 states and Washington, D.C. ,as well as visitors from 18 countries.
Three hundred and thirty-nine tickets were sold to children, and this year’s big winner of the kids’ prize was an Alaskan: Noah Sage, who will take $300 home to Dillingham.
The gleaming new Stanley Ford F-150 will return to the dealership without a new owner, as no lucky fisherman reeled in the fish carrying its tag. The tantalizing GCI prize of $50,000 will also go unawarded this year. But anglers caught 17 other tagged fish: 11 of the more than 100 fish tagged this year, plus six tagged in previous years that earned their captors $100 apiece.
One of those six was tagged in 2009. That year, it was less than 29 inches long. When it was reeled in this summer, it had grown 10 inches and weighed a solid 19.8 pounds.
After FedEx-ing her winning fish home to Minn., Linda Scott had to buy a new freezer to store it. She found a “Homer Halibut” cookbook online and has been enjoying seafood dishes with her family for weeks.
By the time Stroozas’ official call came around, her win wasn’t a surprise to Scott, but she says she’s still not sure what she’ll do with the winnings. She may use them for a family vacation with her children and grandchildren — maybe even back to Homer.
“I would love to come back. I just loved it there,” she said. “I have to admit that was probably our favorite spot in Alaska — maybe because I caught a big fish.”
To Melanie Campagne, the chamber’s derby coordinator, that’s good news.
“It’s really great to hear that these people are coming here to fish and then bringing the money they win back to spend in Homer,” she said.
Annie Rosenthal can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.