COEUR d'ALENE - The 2011 Big One Chinook Derby has reached the halfway point, and already two monster salmon have been hooked, netted and weighed.
As of Friday evening, Frank Whitney Sr. of Graham, Wash., is the current Big One leader. Fishing alongside his son, Frank Jr. of Spokane, Whitney hauled in a 24.6-pound chinook.
The salmon struck a bait rig about 7:30 on Friday morning, while the Whitneys were trolling the southern waters of Lake Coeur d'Alene.
"It hit real light. It's almost like it didn't even know it was hooked," Whitney Sr. said.
As he reeled in line, the heavy chinook put up a fight. It thrashed around the boat and dove beneath the hull.
Frank Jr. readied the landing net when the powerful fish drew near.
"My son says, 'Dad, I don't want you to get too excited when you see the fish,'" Whitney recalled. "He knew if I saw a fish that size, I might get a little excited."
The hook-jawed, black-speckled salmon measured just over 36 inches. It was officially weighed at the Gateway Marina station in Harrison.
Friday's trophy "is the biggest fish that we've ever had on the boat," Whitney said. "It's an eventful time up here. We're just having a ball."
With two days remaining in the derby, there's a fair chance someone will hook another lunker. But if Whitney's catch holds up, he'll be the 2011 Big One champ.
It would be his second first-place finish: He won the 1998 tournament with a 23.5-pounder.
Roger Blackstone, chairman of the Lake Coeur d'Alene Angler's Association, is currently in second place after boating a 24.4-pound chinook. The beefy salmon smacked an artificial squid at 55 feet.
"It was an amazing fish," Blackstone said. "You just wanna get it in the boat. You can tell that it's a big fish. You can feel the weight of it."
He was trolling off Cottonwood Point, on the south end of Lake Coeur d'Alene, when the chinook grabbed his black-and-white lure.
The fish pulled off 150 feet of line on its first run, then regrouped and took another 85 feet. Blackstone fought the salmon for 10 minutes before he pulled it up.
"It was pretty exhausted," he said. "After they give all their energy, they have nothing left to give."
Blackstone brought the 36-inch fish to the Sun Up Bay weigh station. He was leading the Big One Derby until Whitney's salmon came calling.
The two 24-pounders are the largest derby fish weighed since the 1995 event.
"That's a really nice thing for us to see," Blackstone said.
Hosted by the LCAA, the Big One Derby runs until 3 p.m. on Sunday. Anglers can still enter the derby and participate for the final two days.
First prize is $5,000; second-place brings in $3,000.
Big One Derby tickets are available at Black Sheep Sporting Goods, Wholesale Sports and Fins & Feathers Tackle Shop.
Gayne Clifford won the 1987 Big One Derby with a 41-pound fish - the event's all-time record. The largest chinook ever pulled from Lake Coeur d'Alene weighed 42 pounds, Blackstone recalled.
"It takes a little bit of luck and a lot of hours out here," he said.
Anglers are catching salmon on artificial squids, organic bait and Frisky Jenny Flies, Blackstone said. Two of the hottest Frisky Jenny patterns are the Raider and the Therapy.
Generally, a good lure is "something just resembling the kokanee," he said.
More derby info, including up-to-date standings, is available online at www.lcaaidaho.com.
Current leaders of the 2011 Big One Chinook Derby, as of Friday night:
n Frank Whitney Sr. - 24.6 pounds
n Roger Blackstone - 24.46 pounds
n Bob Conrad - 17.6 pounds
n Bob Priebe - 17.14 pounds
n Rick Tipps - 17.06 pounds