This is my friend Andy Sorensen who I met on Anchorage's Ship Creek around year 2000. Andy was a consummate outdoorsman, but his love was fly fishing. He's holding a 42-pound king salmon he caught on a fly rod in what is probably the toughest combat fishing situation in all Alaska. Ship Creek starts in the Chugach Mountains northeast of Anchorage and runs right through its major downtown area where it's semi-industrial and not really photogenic.
But after fishing with Andy a few years, I came to actually love the river, most likely because I came to know the river: it's holes, it's mud, it's hot spots, it's surprises. Andy was right beside me in 2004 when I hooked a 45-pound king to win the salmon derby run at the creek every June. He cheered me on, like he did for others, always helpful, positive and a great sport.
Andy died in 2008, suffering a heart attack from an undiagnosed heart defect and I was devastated. In an effort to remember him I came up with the idea of starting a sportsmanship award in his name and that year convinced the derby committee to make it part of the event. His friends at the Alaska Fly Fishers Club put up the $300 cash award, one of the club's board members made the beautiful perpetual trophy you see in the photo below, and I put together a goofy take-home trophy for the winner made from one of my old fly reels painted gold, and mounted on a cut-down 4x4 post.
That's Andy's family holding the trophies in the photo below: his sons Erik and Jake, and wife Rebecca, who were in Anchorage this month to close on the sale of their former home here.
"The Andy", as it's now known, is in it's 7th year. Anybody witnessing an act of sportsmanship along the creek during the 10-day derby can nominate a derby angler for the award. This year it was a "regular" (a denizen who frequents the creek), Togia Faatiliga. But it's also included people who have been seen doing a remarkable act that stood out. From Kirby Schurtz, the first winner, who dove in the water to grab a runaway fishing pole, to Tom Baker, who showed up a half hour after the derby ended with what would have been the winning fish ( and was ribbed mercilessly by other anglers, but took it in stride and just showed such grace), each Andy winner helps foster "the qualities Andy always showed on Ship Creek: Friendly, Helpful, Respectful, Ethical".
Taking part in The Andy the past seven years has been my way of keeping my friendship with my wonderful friend strong and fresh. He made me a better person.
For more on the Slam'n Salm'n King Salmon Derby, run by Anchorage's Downtown Soup Kitchen, click here.