After last year’s fun summer fishery in Homer, Alaska, my buddies in our fishing club decided this year to go for some bigger fish! Not that the little “chicken halibut” weren’t fun, but it only took a couple of meals to eat our entire summer’s product and we were looking for a bit more exciting bite and battle.
To that end, we booked this year’s summer outing to Yakutat, Alaska. There were some downsides to the trip. We couldn’t get our RVs there—the only way in and out is by ocean or twice-a-day airlines—and we’d lose our cellphones, but sometimes for special fishing you have to get a bit primitive, and we decided to make the effort.
We booked a roomy house for the eight of us, run by our charter-fishing skipper, John Gates. We chatted about fly-fishing with the owner of the local fly shop, Bob Miller, and headed north from Seattle.
The scenic coastal town of Yakutat has about five hundred folks living there full time, and just a few small charter boats, so the halibut tend to grow pretty big. Our group of eight booked a couple of outings, since the boat only held six fishermen, but our first trip provided the really big results.
On board were my son Steven, my college buddy from many years ago, Gene Greenwald, and his boys, Brett and Matt, and my fly club partner, Walt Weber. The skipper, John Gates, was a veteran of better than a decade of local fishing and served as our host at his Red Roof Inn.
We’d seen videos posted by previous clients of John’s, and several featured some pretty amazing fish, so we were pretty pumped up!
The water that morning was really calm as we motored the eight miles or so out to John’s favorite spot, a little ridge on the underwater mountain range, some hundred feet deep. John anchored and we got ready for fast action. We enjoyed watching dolphins playing around the boat and the view of the snow-covered mountains and glaciers and then got down to business.
Actually, we had to wait awhile. It turns out, we only got about a bite or two an hour, but they weren’t wasted! The first bumps were from halibut that were a bit less than our fantasies. We released a couple in the 25-pound range, and then Brett had a takedown in the bow of the boat that got everybody’s attention.
The big fish pulled him all the way up to the stern and brought two of the other lines with him! This presented a bit of a problem since the big weights and baits could easily tangle and saw off his line and fish! John sprang into action and managed to help us untangle everything and let Brett fight the monster to the top.
When the bruiser hit the surface, John fired a shot into its head, slowing it down just a little. The fish are so tough and primitive that it takes a long time for them to calm down, even after they get popped by a .410, but without the gunplay, the fish would be a real danger to boat and fisherman when brought aboard.
Finally a couple of meat-hook-style gaffs were secured to the fish, and it was hauled over the side. What a start! The fish would top 120 pounds and give us a leg up on a year of barbeque!
Next up Walt felt some action and wrestled up a nice lingcod of about 20 pounds. Lingcod make great eating, and was the first of two nice “long” fish that joined the big flattie in the hold.
Brett’s brother, Matt, had a bump and then a slam and got to wrestle another big fish to the surface. After it was popped and brought in the boat, we could see it was about 80 pounds, another real monster of the deep. The brown topside looked like the color of the ocean floor and the downy bottom was as white as snow.
Then we waited, and waited, and waited. Finally, I saw a rod go down hard. I picked it up and quickly figured that it would best be handled by someone with a bit more staying power. Brett gave me a hand getting it out of the rod holder, and then my son Steve took over for the duration.
This was a bit of a different fish. Steve, who had just finished a marathon and some triathlons as well, was getting thrown around the boat! This fish meant business. For a while it was unclear who had the upper edge. Finally John zipped out of the cabin with a bit of an aid. He had a fighting belt, designed for just such occasions. Once strapped in, Steve was able to get a better grip on the rod and managed to bring the big fish into view.
It was huge! The whole side of the boat was filled with fish, the ocean turned dappled brown as the whole creature emerged! After the fish was stunned with the shotgun, Brett and John put gaffs into the Moby Dick sized catch and slowly wrestled it up on the deck.
In my effort to get out the way, I got a mild slap by the tail and watched as my favorite fishing hat flew off and bobbed away with the waves. At least I hadn’t joined it! That same tail, given full force, would have easily sent me off the deep end as well.
John slid the great catch into the hold but the tail still flopped on the outside, evidence of the great white mammoth below.
After the fish were loaded up for the photo op and cleaning by the good folks at Glacier Bear Lodge, we found that Steve’s catch was more than 200 pounds, no record by any means, but a fish that none of us will soon forget!
Next up we’d put away the big tackle and rig up our fly rods. The Situk River was full of fish, and we had to learn how to catch some reds, pinks, and Dollies!
Bob Ellsberg’s column, Fishin’, appears monthly in RV Life and at rvlife.com.