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‘Halibut virgin’ chases whopper near Homer, Alaska
Last week, I ventured to the Land of the Midnight Sun for the first time.
It was a trip with the now future in-laws. The scheduled highlight of the trip was halibut fishing on a charter setting off from Homer, Alaska.
I was a bit worried before the trip. Although I grew up sailing on the family boat, I was informed by my fiance’s brothers that I would be violently seasick on the trip. Dramamine was out, since any sort of medicine that may cause drowsiness in normal people tends to result in a sleep so deep it borders on unconsciousness for myself. According to my dad, it’s a family trait.
So that meant seasickness meds were out. I would have to rough it and hope for the best. At this point, my traveling companions were still at the potential future in-laws stage, and I was still working on making a good impression. Puking in front of them wouldn’t have been the best impression.
Seasickness worries aside, we set off bright and early. It’s Alaska in summer, so of course by 6 a.m. it was already bright, and had been for a few hours.
We set off, racing alongside other fishing boats to get the best spot. Finally after about an hour, and 22 miles out, we dropped anchor and settled in for some fishing.
I have done some fishing before — I grew up along the DesChutues River (no, not the one in Oregon, the one is Washington. If you ever drink Olympia Beer, it’s the waterfall on the logo). So I have occasionally fished for trout. My little brother and I have also fished off the end of the docks, catching microscopic sized fish, then promptly racing back to my dad to have him free the fish so we could do it all over again.
However, nothing I ever fished for weighed more than 10 pounds. Halibut, at least the one that would fetch us thousands of dollars in the Homer Fishing Derby, weighed close to 300 pounds.
After a brief introduction to fishing for me, the only halibut virgin, we dropped our weighted lines over 120 feet to the rocks below and waited for our prize-winning fish to bite. We waited, and waited, and waited. Something on the bottom was a bait thief.
For close to an hour we waited, occasionally bringing up our lines, which was a process in itself, only to find the bait gone with nary a tug on the line.
Finally, we caught a fish! But alas, it wasn’t a halibut, but rather some red rock fish. He was tossed back, free to swim another day.
Eventually the halibut started biting, but most were small, under 20 pounds, and were sent back to their ocean home.
Finally, we started catching some keepers.
At one point, I was positive I had the prize winning halibut on the line. It was the fight of my life, and it nearly took me overboard. After what seemed like an endless struggle, my arms burning, I finally brought the sucker up, only to find that rather than my 300-pound halibut, it was instead a 50-pound skate fish.
Our captain consoled me with the advice that skates actually fight like a 200-pound halibut, and I am adding another 100 pounds to that since my skate was somehow caught by his tail, giving him a much higher ability to swim away from me.
Boy were my arms tired!
The other exciting catch of the day: A Giant Pacific Octopus, which was reeled in with much struggle by my future father-in-law. Of course, as soon as the octopus was on the deck, it seemed like everything started happening at once. The remaining five of us suddenly got a “fish on” and the octopus was temporarily forgotten. That is until, while reeling in, I suddenly felt a strange sucking sensation on my foot. I glanced down and holy cow! There is an octopus crawling on me! My canvas sneakers were no barrier against its gripping-action suckers. What to do? I couldn’t get it off myself. I had a fish on. So I did what any girl would do in that situation: I yelped. Eventually, although not soon enough — the octopus was crawling up my leg — the captain came over and removed the suckers of death from my leg with a horrible slurping sound. I was free and soon my fish came up. Unfortunately, not a keeper.
We moved onto greener pastures, or in this case fishier waters, and I caught my quota, feeling perfectly healthy and calm in the stomach the entire time, even when the waves got big enough to splash over the sides.
But that 300-pound winner? That remains the fish that got away.