HOMER - For years, Tom Youngblood has been hearing stories from fishermen at his job at Kachemak Gear Shed. Now he has one of his own.
Friday morning, Youngblood pulled in a new Homer Jackpot Halibut Derby leader, a 96-inch halibut weighing 354.6 pounds.
It's the biggest fish caught since 2007, and the fifth largest since the derby started in 1986. Only five have been more than 350 pounds. The record derby halibut was a 376 pound fish caught in 1996 by Jerry Meinders of Willmar, Minn.
Youngblood's monster fish tops the old derby leader, caught by David Moore of Gill, Colo., by 119.6 pounds. He gave a big thumbs up as he posed for photos with Capt. Ron Hurley of In 2 Fishin' Charters.
Youngblood caught his fish in 70 feet of water east of Dogfish Bay in lower Cook Inlet on the Sweet T, Hurley's boat.
"As soon as he hit it, he knew he had a big fish," Hurley said.
And yes, he had a derby ticket - and a little beginner's luck from fishing partner Linda Winters, a former Jackpot Derby coordinator. When she worked as derby coordinator, Winters couldn't enter the derby, so this was the first time she ever bought a ticket. Winters, now living in Montana, was visiting with her husband Jack Winters and brother Monty Boston.
The Winters and Boston didn't get a bite Friday. Youngblood's fish was the first one caught, and knowing he had a contender, Hurley raced back to port. It took 20 minutes to land the fish.
"It was a great day," Jack Winters said. "I didn't catch a fish, but if was a great day and I loved it."