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For many fishermen, fishing in Alaska means one thing....Halibut. I love Halibut. Especially steamed and grilled, with a tasty baked potato and an ice cold beverage! As far as fishing for Halibut, well, that is a different story, mainly because I had never done it. Now, most people I had talked to that had ventured out to sea to catch Halibut, have likened the experience to reeling in a "barn door" from the ocean floor, which doesn't exactly conjour up thoughts of epic battles with leaping Marlin. For me, I somehow had the vision of wrestling with an oversized mattress up a narrow flight of stairs. A lot of colorful language and struggling. With their sizes ranging anywhere from fifteen pound "chickens" to four hundred pound--or better-behemoths, the "door" selection was more varied than the homebuilding section at the Home Depot. Still, Greg and I were in Alaska, and to pass up a Halibut trip out of the self-proclaimed Halibut capital of the world- Homer-- would be like traveling to China and not seeing the great wall. Our trip was booked well in advance, back in June, and was set up with Captain Scott. I know what your thinking, and NO he did not have a first mate named Spock,Kirk or Zulu!! When we arrived at the docks, I was somewhat disappointed to find that our thirty foot, twin dieseled cabin cruiser was not named the ss Enterprise, and that the "Mako" was the boats given name. This would certainly mess up my plans to spend the day asking for Captain Scott to "give us more power Scotty". Probably just as well. When it comes to ocean fishing-- size matters, and for my taste--smaller is better. I know, go figure, but if I have a choice between fishing on a cattle boat or something like the "Mako"--which basically holds six fishermen-- I'll take the smaller boat every time. Unless of course we are heading hundreds of miles out to sea and harpooning Sperm whales, in which case give me the Queen Mary every time.
It is early morning, and Captain Scott arrives at the boat toteing various boxes of herring for bait. If he'd brought crackers and some sour cream I might have sampled the bait myself just to get the day started right. We met our other fellow fishermen, and women for the day. A couple from Ohio who have fished with Captain Scott before, and some acquaintences of his from Fairbanks. They have come to the coast to get out of the smoke and fires that are burning in the interior. They have also fished with the good Captain before. This is a good sign, since I always figure that "guides from hell" don't get much repeat business!! It doesn't take long before we are out of the harbor and on our way. The weather forecast is for a beautiful day and it is starting out that way. Captain Scott pulls out his Homer Jackpot Halibut Derby ticket book and gets us all entered into the five month contest that gives out some healthy cash prizes. He doesn't exactly threaten to throw us overboard if we don't enter, but one does not want to upset the Captain so early. Especially when he has a shotgun over in the corner. We travel about an hour out of Homer. The ride and scenery is of course spectacular. Captain Scott gives us some history and geography lessons on the Kachemak bay area as well as talking about how the fishing has been going, telling us how many years he has been fishing for Halibut and some other interesting Homeresque tid bits.Things like: he is coaching his son in football, (which he says is the last thing he ever expected to be doing);how he moved here over twenty years ago from California, and talking about people and places around Homer which brings a touch of personalization that makes you feel like he knows every citizen in Alaska. This of course is a stark contrast to "Oscar"- the Silver fishing guide from hell- and helps to restore my faith in guides. At least so far. Halibut fishing in these waters is all about tides and currents, and today is supposed to be some of the most radical tides of the season. Figures!! Scott pulls out our rods, which basically feel like pieces of re-bar, and have stout reels that have... like eight-thousand pound test on them with thin rope for leaders. We're not fishing for Grayling anymore!! The first spot is a bust, and I begin to fear the "good weather-bad fishing" jinx that so often happens in the fishing world. The next spot I hook what appears to be a small Halibut, but lose the small "cabinet" door, somewhere between the bottom and the surface. Losing my first fish is what happened while Silver fishing, so I get a little worried I might have a tough day at sea. Not to worry though,
because at our next stop a couple of us hook up and land some small twenty pound "chickens" that help us to get the skunk off the boat. Captain Scott pulls out the "marlin" belt now that he is feeling more confident that we are going to find fish. Just in case we hook into one of those three hundred pound derby fish. Halibut, are just about one of the goofiest looking fish you will find. Luckily,having a five year old daughter that plays with playdough all the time, makes it look fairly normal to me. Now I realize she is one of the youngest Halibut sculptors around, and the flattened "patty" like fish with eyes both on one side makes perfect sense to me. You kind of get the feeling that these fish are like sea dwelling couch potatoes, laying on the bottom of the ocean, not willing to get off their "butts" growing large in one direction.( Kinda makes me wonder what future x-box players will "evolve" into??) It looks like if you glued two fish together on their flat sides, you might have a fish that looked somewhat whole and normal. Nonetheless, they sure are tasty, although I am told that once they go over seventy five to eighty pounds they are not quite good to eat. The fishing is by no means easy today, and we have to work to catch our fish. It seems we are always just missing the optimum tides and reaching our new fishing spots either at full flood or completely void of current. Still, we all catch some twenty pounders and add ling cod, rockfish,dog shark, and some silvers to our Alaskan sampler plate. The belt and the shotgun remain unused. For those of you unfamiliar with Halibut fishing, you are probably scratching your head wondering "what the heck does a shotgun have to do with Halibut fishing?" Although, Halibut don't put up much of a fight when first rousted from their couch potato existence,when they are tossed into a boat things change. Suddenly, when brought aboard a boat after being hoisted from the sea--usually by gaff-- the Halibut begin to thrash and kick about, as if someone has stole their Cheetoh bag, or the remote control has dropped to the floor. NOW, there is reason to fight!! With the smaller fish it usually is not a problem, but after the Halibut reaches about one hundred pounds, the thrashing and flopping has been known to break legs,knock people down and wreak general havoc and chaos aboard a boat. Thus, the handy shotgun, usually a .410 or a .22 caliber rifle, is used to put an early end to the thrashing. Preferably in the water. Of course, there have been some on board shootings that have taken place, which as a general rule have a tendancy to cause more damage to the boat then harm to the Halibut.
Things get pretty slow for awhile and it looks like it will be a pretty slim day. Captain Scott is getting a little frustrated and tired of re-baiting and untangling crossed lines and begins to look like a guy who is thinking of football plays. Finally, I hook and land a thirty five pound fish that at least puts a small bend in the re-bar rod. Then after a few more small fish caught by Greg, I hook into a fish that actually makes a small run and feels much bigger. I keep reeling and pulling up as sweat begins to spew. Definite barn door. One of the gals asks if I need the "belt" and not knowing whether I have a tire or a big fish I say "not yet." I'm getting a little tired, but still the fish is making some progress as he goes into door mode. We see the fish coming to the surface and he is much bigger than all the other fish we have been catching. Everybody gets pretty excited and the usual helpful instructions of "easy now", "get him over here" , "don't lose 'em", and "maybe that mattress will fit if you stand it on end" are shouted about the boat. Thanks for the advice. Captain Scott tells me to hang on a second and he goes to fetch the shotgun--hmmm must be close to one hundred pounds. Either that, or he has taken a supreme dislike to me. One shot and the fish is properly assassinated and ready to be gaffed and hoisted onto the boat. Whew. Turns out the fish is only seventy two pounds--but that is enough for me, I can't imagine what a three hundred pound fish would feel like. I'm pretty sure if I hooked a fish that big it would probably out live me, because halfway through the battle I would croak and be tossed into the ocean to make room for the fish. I just can't imagine what a 450 pound fish--the Alaskan state record-- would feel like, I'm just glad it wasn't me that had to haul it in. Our day is quickly coming to an end, and Captain Scott starts talking about a quick trip to the "711" to pick up a few more chickens. I look around and see nothing but water so I am a bit perplexed--but when he motors into a well known area that is fully stocked with twenty pound fish and cattle boats, I know what he means. We get there, drop our lines into the water, spend a quick five or ten minutes in a fast fury catching four or five more chickens, and it is time to head for the barn. We have our meat. The ride back to Homer has us all basking in the late afternoon sunshine, discussing -yet againthe art of tipping your fishing guide, and how best to transport our bounty back to our homes. We offload at the docks, and are told that the "buttwhackers" will be by shortly to grab our fish and turn them into filet-o-fish. Just in case you are wondering, The Buttwhackers are the fellas who
"whack,stack and sack" your fish so all you have to do is stand there and look like the great fish slayer that you are, while the fishing Paparazzi snap off memories of your adventure. The boys make it look easy as they "ginsu" their way through over three hundred pounds of fish in about the time it takes me to clean a half dozen trout. Then it is off to Coal Point Seafoods for flash freezing and packing for the flight back home. While the fish are being packed we have no choice but to head to the legendary Salty Dawg Saloon, to toast our trip and read the thousands of "dollar bill" messages and names that are tacked up on the walls. The "dawg", was one of the first buildings built in Homer-back in 1897- and has survived many changes, moves and different owners to now serve as one of Homers modern day landmarks. The fish packers at Coal Point have got it down to a science and our fish are cut, packed and frozen with enough dry ice to make it home. Yes, it is time to head home. Eleven different types of fish, one hundred pounds of fillets, and a lfetime of memories from only one weeks worth of fishing.
A.J. Klott Author, writer of fishing humor, and "fly tack" peddler. A.J. writes about the people, characters, and modern day events that surround the fishing world. His first book is due out in December of 2005. If you need a laugh or a fun gift, visit his website at: http://www.twoguyswithflys.com
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