FAIRBANKS - To hear charter captain Dennis Petre tell it, the 340-pound halibut that Jim Adams of North Pole caught on his boat last Saturday was "an accident."
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"He hooked the thing and backed off completely on the drag and the line went slack," said Petre. "He handed me the fishing pole and said, "The pole's not working; the drag is gone and the fish is gone."'
Petre grabbed the rod, tightened the drag and gave the reel a few cranks, fully expecting the fish that had been on the end of the line to be history. He was surprised when he met resistance.
"I cranked it up a couple cranks, felt the fish and handed it back to him," Petre said. "The fish didn't run; it just stayed there."
With some instruction and coaching from Petre, Adams managed to reel the fish up.
"Once I got him going he was OK," Petre said of Adams. "It all worked out for the best."
It sure did.
The monster catch puts Adams in position to pocket $15,000 as the winner of the Valdez Halibut Derby if his fish remains atop the leader board for another month.
It's the second-biggest halibut ever caught in the Valdez derby, ranking only behind the 343.6-pounder caught by Kevin Lincoln, also of North Pole, who won last year's derby.
It's also the second 300-plus pound halibut caught in Valdez this summer, a derby first. Adams' catch knocked a 328-pound halibut caught by Rob Rachow of Wisconsin on July 17 into second place.
Petre wasn't sure how much the fish weighed when Adams caught it but he knew he had a potential derby leader. The fish measured 90.5 inches.
"When it came up to 340 we were happy," Petre said of the scale.
The day didn't start out looking like it would be a good one, said Petre. The first spot he stopped to fish produced only some yellow-eyed rockfish and black bass. The next three spots he tried turned out to be infested with dogfish, small sharks that are a nuisance to halibut fishermen.
"I was looking at getting skunked," said the 55-year-old Petre, who has been fishing with a cast on his leg for the past month and a half after slipping on the dock in June and breaking his leg.
The last spot he tried proved to be a hot one.
"We sat there for 20 minutes and didn't have a bite," said Petre. "Then a 50-pounder hit. Then we got a 100-pounder. Then this 340-pounder hit."
For the day, Petre boated six halibut that weighed over 100 pounds.
"It was just one of those lucky days," said Petre.
Though he has come close with a 290-pounder, Petre had never landed a 300-pound halibut on his boat. This was the first 200-pounder he landed this season.
"The biggest one I had before this was 175 pounds," said Petre, who brought in the third-place fish in last year's derby, a 262.3-pounder caught by Derek Nahinu of North Pole.
Adams' 340-pounder was the 11th halibut weighed in this year in Valdez that was over 200 pounds, according to weigh-in coordinator Bonnie Woods, who brought in a 274.5 pounder on June 25 and is holding onto third place in the derby.