KENAI - When it comes to halibut fishing, anglers are never entirely sure what they will bring up from the depths below. Occasionally an Irish lord, a large skate or dog fish may end up on the sharp end of the line, but an angler fishing out of Seward last weekend caught something even more unusual.
"It was the first shark I've ever caught," said Mat Rude of Anchorage, in regard to a seven-foot-long, roughly 300 pound salmon shark caught near Montague Island with Pro Fish-N-Sea Charters.
Salmon sharks occur throughout the North Pacific, feeding on salmon as their name implies, but also on halibut, sablefish, squid and other aquatic creatures. They have a dark gray to black color over most of their body, with the exception of their white undersides.
This combined with their stubby nose and large, black eyes gives them an appearance similar to a great white shark, which is a close cousin.
"It was pretty amazing and created quite a stir at the Seward dock when they brought it up to be weighed. It weighed 266 pounds hanging on the dock after it had been bled out and gutted, so it is estimated that the live weight would be 300 to 350 pounds," Rude said.
While the day ended well, it started out simply, he said. They weren't targeting toothy predators by any means.
"We were just fishing for halibut with herring and salmon bellies, not much was going on until I saw my line starting to run away from the boat," he said.
Halibut can make runs, but typically opt instead to shake their heads from the bottom, so Rude knew right away it wasn't a flat fish.
"I thought it must be a skate," he said.
That is until he saw every sailor's worst nightmare.
"It started circling the boat," he said.
Rude continued to fight the fin-backed, non-fish for 40 minutes before he got it up to the boat, but toothy characters such as salmon sharks can't come in the boat alive. The risk of human injury is just too high, so the captain asked Rude to make a decision to either cut it loose or kill it.
"I wanted to keep it, so we did what we had to do to get it onboard and brought it back to the dock," he said.
Adding to the catch, Rude said he also got his limit of halibut and even managed to catch a sea-bright king salmon on the way back, despite targeting silvers.
Still, he said the shark was the catch of the day.
"I've fished in Alaska since I moved here in 1985, and I've caught quite a few fish, but this is a once-in-a-lifetime catch," he said.
Rude said he has saved the head and jaws of the shark and is currently shopping around to find a taxidermist to create a head mount of the animal. He brought the rest of the shark to a processor and has so far been pleased with the meat.
"I got about 100 pounds of shark steaks. I've already barbecued some up and they were delicious. It was similar to a swordfish steak. It didn't really have a fishy flavor. It was more like a really juicy pork chop," he said.
Rude said he still hopes to wet a hook a few more times before winter comes, but he said it will be a long time before he tops, or forgets, that day on the water.
"All in all, it was an amazing day and an amazing charter," he said.