8-foot halibut hooked; world record gets away

Posted: Tuesday, July 13, 2004

Lost record: Janusz Kunat of Gustavus lies next to a halibut he caught Sunday near Glacier Bay. Kunat said he is 5 feet 7 inches tall and weighs 210 pounds, and the fish weighed more than twice what he does.

A halibut that could have weighed 470 pounds didn't escape Sunday from charter boat operator Janusz Kunat, but it won't be going into the record books.

While the fish didn't get away, he said, he believes a world record did. The fish was not weighed before it was cut up and more than one person helped land it.

"Next time I will know better," Kunat said.

"We assume it was over 470 pounds," he said, judging from the fact that it was 94.5 inches long. Kunat owns Wild Alaska Glacier Bay Adventure and Fishing.

Jon Lyman, aquatic education coordinator for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, said the largest halibut caught by a sport fisherman in Alaska waters weighed 459 pounds in 1996 near Unalaska. Apparently that is a world record, he said, but he noted the record for commercially caught halibut is 533 pounds.

"We've heard about a 450-pounder being caught out near Elfin Cove," he said. "We've heard stories about people who have caught huge halibut."

Halibut are so big that documenting a record catch can present a challenge.

Lyman said that although Fish and Game provides a guide for halibut, approximating weight from length, a record trophy fish must be weighed.

"It has to be whole," he said.

Sometimes huge fish are cut in half before they are weighed, he added.

He said he knows of two king salmon caught that exceed the sportfishing record for the species, but the catches weren't properly documented.

Kunat said his big halibut was easily more than double his own weight, but it was not put on a scale before it was cut up.

He said he has been running charters part-time out of Gustavus for eight years. Sunday, he went out on his boat, the Wild Alaska, for a day of unpaid "fun fishing" with four people who run the Glacier Bay Lodge. He said he wanted to impress them.

After catching halibut estimated at 90, 100 and 200 pounds, he suggested looking for something "really big."

While people were helping bring in the big halibut, someone else on the boat was catching a 100-pounder, he said.

"We have the best fishing in the state of Alaska," he said. The next time he catches a halibut that's bigger than 460 pounds, he will probably take it to Juneau to have it weighed, he added. "We blew it."

Lyman noted that for a catch to be considered a record sport fish, it must be brought in by a single person. The person making the catch can't hand the rod off to others during the struggle.

"We don't have a relay record," he said.

• Tony Carroll can be reached at tony.carroll@juneauempire.com.

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