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Halibut: Alaska Halibut Fishing For Barn Door Sized Fish

Standing on deck allowing the wave action to bounce your weighted herring or plastic lure off the bottom a hundred or more feet below is called ringing the dinner bell. Halibut will travel hundreds of yards to investigate the thumping of your lead lure as it will swallow the noisy lure… The recognized tug, tug, then a strong pull begins the underwater rodeo. The heavy one pound lead nose on a split tail white scampi bounces off the ocean floor actually calling the halibut to the lure. At 200 foot deep the ocean is totally dark. But a white lure seems to be the best color for halibut. A 20-pound “chicken” halibut fights likes a 60-pound salmon.

The huge flat surface is added resistance teamed with muscle for a fish that is determined to stay on the bottom. The normal is three trips to the surface and two trips back to the bottom before you can land a 40-50 pound halibut. Just as the halibut nears the surface where a net or gaff awaits, all that muscle turns the fish toward the bottom and the line screams off the reel. The Alaska halibut will not stop until it reaches the bottom again. Now you know what you have and you pray your equipment stays together.

Captain Jerry threw out the anchor on the lee side of a spit in 150 foot of water. The tide was just beginning to come in, the “Dancer” was bobbing as the tide began to race back in. With 18-foot tides, a lot of water is displaced every 12 hours. The sandy bottom was ideal for halibut to wait for the tide to bring in the next meal. The sound of the anchor hitting the bottom had rang the dinner bell. The 55-foot cabin cruiser had pulled the slack out of the anchor chain and lined out facing into the incoming tide. Dan dropped his one-pound lead nose white scampi lure over the side and waited for the reel to unspool. The foot long plastic lure hit the bottom with a thump. The slack was taken out of the spider wire line so the lure could be bounced on the bottom to create an underwater thump that seems to lure halibut from hundreds of yards away. Alaska halibut fishing had always been a dream, too far away to even imagine.

From the day of decision it had been over 11 months of planning, preparing and dreaming for this day of fishing for halibut off Prince of Wales Island. A minute had passed then 5 minutes; Dan was thinking “the bite” hadn’t started yet. Then it happened. Small yank, yank then he set the hook. Dan had caught several “chickens” so he knew it was a halibut. Suddenly the short stubby deep-sea pole formed a “U” and Dan began to lift the rod and reel down. The familiar yank, yank, yank as the fish refused to leave the bottom did not deter the stout built 6’ 1”, 30 year old as muscle warred with muscle until the cry was heard from the skipper on the flying deck, “my God the boy has hooked a keeper!” The fish looked slightly greenish brown and appeared to be gliding at an angle towards the boat but 6 to 8 feet under the surface. At 3 feet from the surface the addled fish saw the boat, bright sunshine and an excited angler all at once and did an about face heading back to the bottom. The Penn reel screamed as every bearing surface and brake rebelled as the 5 foot behemoth slipped out of sight. That foray had taken 20 minutes, Dan called for help.

6’ 4” brother Paul with arms as big as a man’s thighs said “let me have that!” In the April Alaska cool, beads of sweat poured down Paul’s face, the yank, yank, yank, reel up and scream down had taken its toll. Weakly he said “I’m gonna need a break!” Dan grabbed the short stubby “U” shaped pole and began to reel. Paul had lasted exactly twenty minutes only to have a brief glimpse of a shadowed recluse before the line screamed and the halibut returned to the deep. The fishing pole had fibers that were releasing long ways on the rod, the famous reel was making a strange squeaking sound as it reeled up and a disturbing grinding sound as the break squealed off line. The halibut was coming up but Dan gave out in 10 minutes. Paul grabbed the rod and manhandled the rod, fish and reel. 10 minutes later he hollered “it should have been to the top by now, what is happening?” The brake on the reel had completely failed and as the line was reeled in the fish took back at its’ leisure. Dan took the next watch. Within 5 minutes Dan yelled, “I see color!” Captain Jerry was standing on the bow with a 22 rifle. Just as the halibut broke the surface Captain Jerry fired and dispatched the 124-pound giant halibut.

Alaska allows the dispatching of large halibut on the surface due to the tremendous power a halibut has after coming on board. These fish have been known to break the fisherman’s arms and legs contributing to several deaths by the flailing powerful tails. Alaska halibut fishing doesn’t get any better. From a “chicken” to a keeper the thrill is always the same. It starts with the same question “Have I hooked the bottom?”.


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