The 72nd Golden North Salmon Derby is dedicated to
Memorial Dedication - Florence Mynarski
On March 9th of this year, Juneau lost an adventurous friend and long-time supporter of the Golden North Salmon Derby.
Florence Mynarski came to Alaska in the 1950s. Drawn to Alaska’s rugged beauty, she traveled across country and north in a new Oldsmobile convertible with her pet dachshund as company. An avid outdoors person, Florence was an accomplished skier and figure skater, and member of the Juneau Ski Club. She especially enjoyed fishing, hiking and camping, which led to her interest and support of the Derby for many years as a dedicated dock volunteer.
In 1971, Florence weighed in the all-time biggest King Salmon ever caught during Derby days at 59 lbs 8 oz. The impressive fish was caught by Doctor Gary Hedges – aka “the world’s greatest fisherman” who is also being honored this year.
In 2008, Florence was selected Queen Regent by the Pioneers of Alaska, Men and Women’s Igloo No. 6 or Juneau. She was a life member of the Pioneers of Alaska - Igloo #6, and the Epsilon Sigma Alpha International Sorority. For more than four decades, Florence was employed with the US Fish and Wildlife Service in Juneau.
The Board and volunteers of the Territorial Sportsmen are pleased to honor Florence Mynarski for her many years of dedicated service to the Golden North Salmon Derby.
2018 Derby Volunteer Dedication - Dr. Gary Hedges
Meet the World's Greatest Fisherman
After 45 years, Dr. Gary Hedges still holds the record for the biggest derby king
|Dr. Gary Hedges
Dr. Gary Hedges holds up a picture Tuesday showing him with his winning king salmon of 59 lbs., 8 oz. in the 1971 Golden North Salmon Derby.
The World’s Greatest Fisherman has more important things to do than answer the phone. Even at 81, Dr. Gary Hedges still defends his title, so it’s no surprise that when you call him at home, all you get is a recording.
“You’ve reached the home of the World’s Greatest Fisherman,” his recorded voice says after a few rings to his Juneau home. “We can’t come to the phone right now but if you leave a message, we’ll call you back when the fish stop biting.”
Hedges, a retired local surgeon, still holds the record for the biggest derby king ever entered in the 70-year history of the Golden North Salmon Derby: a 59-pound, 8-ounce fish caught in 1971. He says he’s gotten “a lot of mileage” in bragging rights out of the fish, which he caught on the second day of the derby fishing North Pass between Shelter and Lincoln Islands.
“I knew it was a big fish,” Hedges said in a recent interview with the Empire. “I probably only had one other fish that big that year hand trolling. I saw it three or four times before we could get it in the boat and I could tell it was big.”
Hedges caught the fish while anchored outside a kelp bed on the Shelter Island side of the pass. It fought him for 45 minutes. Derby rules required fishermen to turn their entries in by 6 p.m., but luckily Hedges landed the whopper early in the day.
“The fish was pooped and I was pooped when we finally got him in the boat,” he said. “But I couldn’t keep my adrenaline down. I was high on adrenaline going into Tee Harbor. We ended up at Amalga in the fog but we had a lot of time to get back to the dock because it was still early in the day.”
Hedges was fishing with old friends Sue and Jim McKeown.
“I always kid him (Hedges) that I prayed it in because that’s all I could do was sit in the bow of the boat and pray,” Sue McKeown said. “It was huge, they always look bigger in the water, but then when we got it in the boat it was pretty amazing.”
On their way back to the dock the group ran into McKeown’s father, Hugh Wade, the first lieutenant governor during Alaska statehood. McKeown remembers thinking her father must have thought the boating party was inebriated.
“We were stopping to say hi to all our friends along the way to show off the fish. We were hooting and hollering,” said 79-year-old McKeown, who has fished every derby except two. “When we saw my dad, we looped around to say hi to him. He must have thought we were drinking because of the way we were acting but number one, it was too early in the day and number two, it wasn’t the first thing on your mind during the derby.”
The group had the rest of the derby to wait and see if Hedges’ catch would hold up as the winner; they were pretty certain it was going to.
“In a way it was a much bigger thing back in the day,” Hedges said of the derby’s early days. “There are probably just as many people fishing in today’s derby but back then there were only 6,000 people living here and 1,000 to 1,500 would fish the derby.”
Hedges remembers 75-pound kings being a seasonal occurrence on the Taku River. He says you don’t see fish like that anymore.
“I don’t know why they don’t seem to catch them anymore. Maybe from global warming, but whatever the reason they just aren’t being caught,” he said.
Hedges still fishes both May’s Spring King Derby and the Golden North. He likes to row out in Tee Harbor for a few hours and see what he can get. As the World’s Greatest Fisherman, it remains Hedges’ role to pass out sage advice to Juneau’s young anglers. He keeps it simple.
“The main thing is to be lucky and keep the hook in the water,” Hedges said. “It’s always better to be lucky than good.”