When conditions are right - little or no wind or current - I like to fish for halibut on a ridge about an hour's run from Tee Harbor that rises up out of 800 feet to about 400 feet.
I've almost always had good luck there but the fishing is tough: I can't anchor so I have to drift, and the ridge is so small that after just a few minutes of drift, I have to wind up, motor to the other side and drop down again. Just cranking up from the bottom can be tiring. And it's frustrating when fish steal my bait, or I hook a cod, turbot or other undesirable. Still, after such a bad king salmon season, I was ready for my first halibut trip of the year.
On my first drift about two weeks ago, I felt a tug on the 16-ounce jig I'd tipped with some squid. When I set the hook I knew I was into a nice fish. I was fishing alone so when I got the fish up about 10 minutes later, I had to loosen the drag and put my rod in the rod holder so I could grab the harpoon. Everything worked as planned and I soon had a nice fish in the port side fish box. Well, almost in the box: The fish wells in my boat are only 44 inches long so about 5 inches of the 50-pound halibut were sticking out. No problem; I'd just fish on the starboard side of the boat on the next drift.
I drifted the ridge a couple times before I got another strike. When I set the hook I didn't feel much except weight. I knew I had to have a good fish but it just wasn't fighting much. I put my back into it and cranked to get it up. I couldn't believe what came up from the deeps: It was, by far, the largest halibut I had ever seen, 7 feet long if it was a foot. And there it was, holding just under the surface ready for me to sink a harpoon. Well, almost ready.
I normally release all of the halibut I catch that are more than 100 pounds because they are the spawning females. But something got into me: This fish was huge and I wanted to keep it. The problem was that I had to lead it around the outboards to the port side where I had the rod holder and harpoon ready. Remarkably, the fish cooperated and let me lead her around the boat. She looked every bit as long as my boat is wide.
Then I went through my routine: I loosened the drag, put the rod in the rod holder and picked up the harpoon. But just as I raised the harpoon, all hell broke loose: The fish started thrashing, got me soaking wet - and spit the jig I was using for bait. Then she did something I'm sure I'll never see again: She hit the jig and hooked herself - then dove to the bottom. I put down the harpoon, and got to work.
I got her almost all the way up a couple of times but she keep pulling out line and going back down. Fish that big are strong enough to do pretty much what they want. It took me an hour to get her up again, and by that time I had regained my senses. I leaned over, removed the jig and watched the biggest halibut I'll ever see swim off. I had plenty of halibut for the freezer. And I was tired.
Bill Brown is an avid angler who runs a reel repair business. He can be reached at 789-2448 or firstname.lastname@example.org.