Great-grandmother, 93, wins fishing tournament in Alaska

08/18/2011 11:14 AM

08/18/2011 11:51 AM

Lenore Groundwater, who lives in a retirement home in Green Valley, Ariz., reeled in a 16.58-pound silver -- her son netted the fish, but all involved say Lenore hooked it and reeled it in -- to win the one-day derby.

She topped a field of 789 to win $1,000 plus a bunch of prizes, including the silver tiara annually awarded to the winner of the popular just-for-women derby, now in its seventh year. The tiara matches Groundwater's silver hair -- and her fish, for that matter.

"Somebody called me a silver belle," she said in a phone interview.

Groundwater drew laughs, cheers and applause at the awards ceremony when she was crowned queen of the derby Saturday night at the Valdez Civic Center, a moment captured in a three-minute video that is at once charming and hilarious.

The tiara on her head and a bottle of water in one hand, Groundwater sat on a makeshift throne in front of a lively crowd of 500 as emcee Laurie Prax of KVAK Radio interviewed her.

Asked if she was enjoying the attention, she replied, "Well, it's probably not helping my high blood pressure."

Asked which is more important when fishing, luck or skill, she answered without a moment's hesitation. "Luck," she said, bringing down the house, and then adding, "And that's the same thing about living so old."

Groundwater has plenty of experience fishing in Port Valdez. Her son, Lance Groundwater, has been an Alaskan since 1975 and works for Alyeska Pipeline Service Co. in Valdez, and Lenore's summertime visits almost always include a couple of fishing trips aboard Lance's boat Walrus.

On Saturday, Lance took four generations of Groundwater women -- mom Lenore, wife Paula, daughter-in-law Shannon and 16-month-old granddaughter Lily -- to Potato Point, just south of the narrows. Lance said the spot was only about three miles away from the place near Shoup Bay where, in 2006, Paula Groundwater hooked an 18.42-pound silver that went on to win first place and $15,000 in that year's overall derby.

Things went well from the get-go for Lenore.

"I got the first fish," she said, "so I won a dollar."

It was a 10-pounder, but bigger things were still to come. Lenore said she was sitting down and Lance was at the back of the boat when the winner took her lure baited with herring and a green-painted flasher.

Though silvers are known to be good fighters, Lenore's didn't make her work very long or very hard.

"He made one tiny dash away from the boat just before Lance netted him," she said. "I've had 'em where they fight longer or jump higher."

Her arms didn't even hurt from reeling in the big fish, though Lenore said there's a reason for that.

"See, I have a hard time getting up, so my muscles in my arms are quite strong," she said. "If you get into a low chair at this age, you need power to get up."

Lenore's 16.58-pounder gives her a shot at another victory, because the catch currently leads the overall silver derby in Valdez. If she's still the leader when the derby ends Sept. 4, she'll collect $15,000 and the Groundwaters will boast two overall derby winners in six years.

Lance credits his father -- Lenore's husband Lyle, who died eight years ago -- with starting the Groundwater fishing dynasty.

"We owe it all to him," he said. "He bought me the boat, and he taught me how to fish when I was a kid in Washington."

Lenore said the winning fish is filleted and ready to be shipped to Arizona, and the $1,000 cash prize is headed for the piggy banks of her grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

And the tiara? It's quickly become a go-to accessory.

The day after the derby, when the Groundwaters went out for Sunday breakfast, Lenore wore her crown and was shocked by the reception she got at the restaurant.

"The whole room waved and clapped," she said.

"I live in a retirement home and I think the first time I go down to dinner, I'm going to wear my fishing vest and my tiara. Give 'em the full treatment."

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