The champion vest fit a bit loose, and at 92 pounds Andrew Marley, 10, needed some help from his family to hoist his winning 25.62-pound winter king salmon. But when he accepted his trophy and posed with previous Homer Winter King Tournament winners on Saturday, Marley had a smile as big as they come.
Returned after its cancellation in 2020 because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the annual spring tournament broke records with 1,562 angler fishing in 455 boats. Spread out in the cruise ship bus loading area at the Deep Water Dock, about 400 people attended the awards ceremony on Saturday.
A youth angler landing the top fish set a new first: the youngest fisherman ever to win the tournament. It follows on the 2019 first of champion Shana Perry being the first woman to win the tournament. Marley also took first place in the youth angler division and first in the A.J.’s OldTown Steakhouse White King competition. With the side tourney prize, Marley won $87,027 total. Total prizes handed out are estimated at $238,306.
In another new for the tournament, the first all-women crew on the Misty competed.
In fourth grade at West Homer Elementary School, Marley fished with his parents, Jay and Erica Marley, and older brother Weston on the Fly Dough. Coy about where he caught the fish, Andrew waved his hands in the direction of Kachemak Bay and said “out there.”
Andrew credited his family with helping him land and net the fish. His mom drove the boat while Weston worked on the downriggers and his dad helped net the king salmon. He fished with herring.
“The fish was fighting pretty hard,” Andrew said when he first hooked it. “My dad was about to net it. It dove super deep down. After we got him back, my dad netted it. We hauled it home.”
They put the fish in water to keep it fresh.
“We were pretty sure it would be on the board somewhere,” Andrew said.
His dad said the boys hung around the weigh-in station watching as fish came in.
“I thought, this is going to be pretty close, but then it was under 2 pounds,” Andrew said of one fish he saw come in.
The second-place fish caught by Nick Garay, fishing on the Eno, was 2.5 pounds under at 23.14 pounds.
Jay Marley said his boys have been fishing since they were in diapers. The oldest son, Zach, missed the tournament because he had to help with a Mariners baseball fundraiser.
“They love going fishing for king salmon,” Marley said of his sons. “They love any sort of fishing. They have become young, professional fish assassins.”
Marley recalled going fishing when Andrew was just 2.
“We laid into a monster. It was peeling line faster then we could do anything,” he said. “The waves were coming over the back of the boat.”
All of a sudden Marley looked back and saw Andrew heading to the back of the boat to help land the fish. Fortunately, Andrew had a personal flotation device on and didn’t go overboard.
When he heard about the prize money, Jay Marley had one comment.
“Wow,” he said. “I think his parents are thinking quite a bit of that is going to go to college tuition.”
Marley said some money will be set aside for his sons as a treat.
“We’ll probably let them choose some special nice thing that hopefully will be around for years and years to come that they can remember the tournament by,” Marley said.
Andrew Marley said he’d like a pair of Nike Monarch 4 sneakers he’s been eyeing. NOMAR also will make him a champion vest his size.
As people gathered for the award ceremony Saturday evening, Andrew Marley stood by his champion fish hung on the rack by the stage. With a huge smile he posed for photos and pointed at the fish, basking in the glory of a kid who caught a king salmon 27% of his weight.
“I’m still shaking from me fighting the fish, me winning the derby,” Andrew Marley said. “It’s all too much for me.”