Dick Garrison’s passing marks end of era for derby

Fishing in every derby until their deaths, “The Five” — Richard “Dick” Garrison, Rudy Pusich, C.E. “Chuck” Porter, Ray Nevin and Bill Byington — had seen it all.

They were there during the derby’s postwar early days, when the competition restarted every morning with seemingly the whole town lined up in small skiffs, waiting for an explosion to signal the start of the day’s competition. They were there when people still strip fished, anchoring up outside kelp beds, pulling in line with their hands. They were there in 1963 when 5-year-old Jody Pasquan won the derby and in 1971 when Gary Hedges landed the record 59 pound, 8 ounce fish.

The Five were as integral to the derby as rain on water. The 70th derby, which starts Friday, will have to carry on without them. Garrison, the last surviving member of The Five, passed away at the Juneau Pioneer Home on July 12 at the age of 97.

Pusich passed away in 2005, Porter in 2000, Nevin in 1998 and Byington in 1993.

As the years went on, Garrison and Pusich would joke about who would last the longest in the derby. Garrison’s health prevented him from from competing in the 2015 derby, but he took it in stride.

“He wasn’t that disappointed. He knew,” son Jeff Garrison said.

Garrison was known as one of Juneau’s best fishermen and a “fine gentlemen,” according to an old acquaintance. Porter and Garrison were close fishing buddies; they had worked together on a troller, the FV Charlie Brown, for 15 years.

“Him and Chuck (Porter) were probably two of the finest sports fishermen,” son Gary Garrison said. “If there was a fish around, they would catch it. We would go out with two fishing poles and knowing what my dad knew about how to catch fish, we would outfish a troller and we would catch bigger fish.”

Garrison came to Juneau after fighting for the Army in World War II. He was an electronics wiz who used the money he made fixing an entire Navy fleet’s watches in the Aleutians to buy a house on Highland Drive for $6,000 dollars. It’s now appraised at $365,000.

He built an electronics shop, Juneau Hi Fi, played trombone in a local band and fathered four sons. Both his wives preceded him in death as did his son Chris.

Garrison almost always won something in the derby but never caught the big fish. He came closest in 1957 fishing a brand new, 16-foot Bell Boy boat — “the fastest boat in Juneau,” according to his son Gary — powered by two 35 horsepower Johnson motors. Garrison caught a 52-pound, 8-ounce king on the second day of the derby.

“He thought he’d won it,” Jeff Garrison said. The next day Henry Tacholsky’s 59-pound, 3-ounce fish took the top spot.

Garrison’s 1957 second-place fish is still the third biggest fish ever caught in the derby. Though he didn’t win that year, he did take home the top prize. The first prize was a ‘57 Mercury Monterey, second prize, a boat, motor and trailer. Naturally, Tacholsky picked the boat, motor and trailer, leaving Garrison the Mercury, which he later sold to a cook at the Baranof Hotel.

“It barely fit in the garage,” Gary Garrison remembered.

Garrison practiced a now-forgotten technique called “strip fishing,” which used to be popular but has fallen out of style in favor of trolling. Strip fishing entails pulling the line in by hand which allows more control over bait movement.

His sons still swear by it.

“We would anchor off a kelp bed 50-75 feet and cast over and let the bait come down right in front of the kelp bed,” Gary Garrison explained. “Then when you were stripping it in by hand, you could feel every single little nibble. My dad, he’d get so happy, he’d say ‘son, I got a nibble,’ and he’d just tease the heck out of that fish until he’d pull it a little bit and make that herring spin — loop loop, loop loop — and just tease the salmon. Finally the salmon would say ‘this is just too easy,’ and he’d come and grab it. … Nobody knows how to do that anymore.”

Garrison was highly involved in the community and popular around town. He played trombone in a local band and held dance parties at his house. He was the grand marshal of the Fourth of July parade in 2014.

He kept Juneau in communication for many years, fixing the town’s radios.

“He’d do it for free,” said Gary Garrison, who spoke to the Empire by phone while taking the ferry back to Hoonah with a truckload from his father’s electronics shop. “You’d bring something in that would cost you 150 bucks to get it fixed somewhere else, and you’d come back and ask him ‘how much?’ and he’d say ‘well, 20 dollars in parts and well… 25, 30 dollars in labor.’ He’d just do it because he enjoyed it, something to do everyday.”

• Contact Kevin Gullufsen at kevin.gullufsen@juneauempire.com or call (907) 523-2228.

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