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Jensen claims back-to-back lutefisk titles

POULSBO — Local lutefisk eating legend Eric Perkins almost regretted encouraging Jake Watrous to enter Sunday’s Viking Fest lutefisk eating contest at the Kvelstad Pavilion.

Before bowing out at the three-and-a-half-pound mark, Watrous put a scare into both Perkins and reigning champion, Puyallup’s Charles Jensen. Even so, Jensen retained his title by consuming more than four pounds. Perkins literally lost his ‘fisk as he finished second for the second straight year.

“This is the best fish I’ve ever had,” Watrous said after finishing his first half pound of the lye-soaked cod. “I’ve never had it before.”

Perkins and Jensen both agreed with the rookie’s assessment of the dish prepared by Jane Spear and Tommy Thompson.

“It’s good,” Perkins said. “I think it’s better than it was last year.”

After Ross Ole bowed out in the first round, Watrous began doing what few newcomers have dared to do, finishing ahead of Jensen and Perkins in consecutive rounds.

While the two giants daintily ate their first pound of ‘fisk, Watrous took less than 60 seconds to accomplish the feat and in the process got some pretty high praise.

“He’s a natural,” Jensen said. “I’m going to have to get this guy unnerved.”

But Perkins took a slightly different view of the rookie’s success.

“Everyone always starts out this way. Wait until we get to three pounds,” Perkins said. “Then you’ll see how it’s really going to go.”

Perhaps it was newcomer’s naivety, but Watrous said he felt pretty good about making it to the three-pound mark.

“I’m still hungry,” he said. “I didn’t come expecting to win. I wouldn’t want to upset anyone.”

Watrous was the first to reach the pound and a half mark and then the two pound mark, but Perkins’ belief in the three-pound wall remained steadfast.

“We’re going to see,” Perkins said.

“Maybe I should just reach around and give me a big bear hug,” Jensen said as the competition grew more intense.

After besting the two legends to the two-and-a-half pound mark, Watrous appeared to be on the cusp of one of the greatest upsets in the contest’s history.

“I feel pretty good,” he said. “I’m not as full as I thought I would be at this point.”

All that began to change by the time Watrous managed to finish the last tidbits of ‘fisk at the three-pound mark.

“It’s still the best fish I’ve ever had,” he said.

“Welcome to the three-pound club,” Jensen and Perkins said as Watrous reached the milestone where most contestants call it quits.

With his pace slowing noticeably, Watrous found the intestinal fortitude to finish three-and-a-half pounds before proclaiming he could eat no more.

“If I eat any more, I won’t want to eat it ever again,” he said.

Then, in a scene that has played so many times before, Perkins and Jensen went head-to-head as Jensen finished his fourth pound with more than a minute to spare.

Perkins, however, appeared to flounder with time running out before the crowd began chanting, “Perkins! Perkins! Perkins!” in hopes of pushing their hometown hero to victory.

Somehow Perkins shoveled the remaining ‘fisk down his gullet before saying, “That’s it. I’m done.”

After congratulating Jensen on retaining his title, Perkins gave up the ‘fisk into a conveniently located bucket.

With his stomach relieved, Perkins calmly reclaimed his dentures and said, “It was tough this year, but I’m very impressed with Jensen, though.”

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