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An Australian fishing contest that has for nine years been wooing anglers to the Northern Territory with the promise of a $1 million payout has finally crowned a winner, after a 19-year-old local fisherman became the first person in the decade-long competition to catch a barramundi fitted with a special grand prize tag. 

Million Dollar Fish has been offering the prize since 2015-16, releasing more than 80 fish during that time carrying red tags worth $1 million. No one had caught one until April 28, when Keegan Payne, of Katherine, NT, hooked a 26-inch barra on the Katherine River while fishing with friends and his 11-year-old sister, Addyson. 

It was Addyson who spotted the telltale marker. “They didn’t see the tag, but I did, and I said: ‘What’s that sticking out of it?’” she told Australia’s ABC News. “Keegan turned it around and was like, ‘No way, now way.’ He was jumping around, screaming.”

There’s no entry fee for the contest, but anglers have to register each season to be eligible for a payout. In a typical year several anglers reel in fish carrying the more numerous $10,000 prize tags, but the lack of a grand prize winner in almost a decade led contest organizers to extend the season—which traditionally runs from October 1 to March 31—by one month in hopes of producing a $1 million winner this year. They also released a map showing where fish were released across the Top End’s five main fishing regions. 

Keegan Payne says he wasn’t chasing a prize tag, but instead thought the barra would make a nice meal for his large family, which includes his parents and several siblings. Media reports noted that the payout comes after a tough time for the family: One of Keegan’s brothers was killed in an automobile crash in 2020.

“This is crazy for us. We’re a big family. There’s eight of us,” Payne said after the win. “This is more money than we could ever ask for. It means so much. This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for me. I’m happy, really happy.”

Payne said he looks forward to buying a new boat and helping out his parents with the mortgage. He also plans to use his windfall to right an old wrong. During a live interview with Sky News, Payne was confronted with a claim that he and a friend had stolen ATVs from a former employer. He’d already agreed to repay his boss by working weekends, but the plan fell through after business slowed. A couple of days after he became an instant millionaire, Payne reached out to his old boss, Bob Cavanagh, to promise restitution. 

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“They were only 16, you know. There’s not too many of us go through life without stuffing up somewhere along the line,” Cavanagh told the Daily Mail. “If you can be given a second chance, that’s what I was prepared to do for those two boys. I hope they have made the best of it. There’s no point going through this life carrying grudges.”