Friday, August 14, 2009

Big Halibut Update!

Batman goes for a swim 8/13/09

Today I got to take guests Mike and Gordon fishing, all day, lunches packed with loving care by the PM kitchen staff. (Thank you!) I knew these guys had big halibut on the brain because I was lucky enough to guide for them on Tuesday. We tried for about an hour and half to catch halibut on the Main but it was a little too breezy with a bit more current than the Olympia could handle without filling the well up with water. Today was a different story though. We fished for salmon around area 2 for about two hours waiting for the tide to fall. We had a bunch of short strikes and picked up a few pinks but we knew we were just killing time before the main attraction. When I announced it was time to move on Gordon pulled out two special order halibut jigs made by “Kodiak Custom Fishing Tackle”; and said, “We want to use these today.” No problemo. I must have been thinking short term as I tied one of them to the power pro when Gordon dropped a little bomb, “Yeah, we pulled up a pigtail last year and lost a BIG fish ‘cause of the knot he tied.” The bell goes off in my brain as I cut the knot I had just tied and got some leader and swivels out and reached deep into my skill set to get these two jigs set up with the right stuff. NO pigtails on my boat! (I hope).

I pulled up to the spot I think they would like to try out between 180 and 250 feet right after we checked out the young eaglet testing his wings at the edge of the nest. “We want to fish farther up, in 350’ of water”, Mike pipes up. “Yeah, this looks nice but let’s fish up there”, Gordon says. I don’t know of any holes to fish at 350 feet anywhere along here but they are pointing to an area called the “Honey Hole.” “Well, there is a hole up there we fish where the trough is about 315 feet deep”, I say, “we can go check that out…” “YEAH, YEAH, that’s the one!” So we set up and figure which way the wind and current is pulling and the lines with the special jigs go down, 315 feet. I am sitting on troller and Mike and Gordon are busy pounding the bottom. These guys know how to fish, neither one of them is sitting down; they are standing against the gunnel jigging up and down, up and down, up and down, up and down, letting line out and taking up the slack as the bottom changes. Gordon is on first, reeling, reeling, reeling and more reeling. Whatever it is it isn’t very big and he pulls up about a 12 lb halibut, we call ‘em “chickens”. “It goes back in” he says as I shrug my shoulders and release the ‘lil ‘butt back for another day. Mike is on a couple of minutes later, reeling, reeling, reeling, and more reeling, this one might be a little bigger as he pulls it up to the side. “Let’s keep this one”, he says. So I get the gaff out, stick it and haul it in the boat. WHAP, WHAP a couple times between the eyes with the club and slide the “chicken” into the well to keep the pinks company. Gordon is on next and he releases his, then he hooks up again and we release the next “chicken”. This goes on for about another hour and more; Mike, then Gordon, back and forth these guys are cranking in the small halibuts with a turbot or two mixed in. All told in that hour we released 8 chicken sized ‘butts and two or three turbots. I am starting to yawn. Mike looks at me and says, “What? Is the tide changing or something? It feels a little different down there.”

His line starts that err, errrrr, rip, ripp, rip and he goes to set the hook but the rod raises only about a foot. Gordon mutters something about the bottom and snags but the motor is in neutral and the line is still coming off the reel err, err, URRRRR UURRRRR RIP RIP RIP and the fight is ON! Mike is holding onto the big rod with both hands trying to get the fish to turn or at least stop ripping out so much line. Finally he gets one hand on the crank and starts pulling up on the rod and reeling down. It takes so much longer to pull up than it does to reel down, this is one BIG fish! The rod stays well bent all the way up on every pull, I am coaching but that is like preaching to the choir. “You could tell me to just shut the hell up,” I say with a smirk on my face. “No, no, that just shows that you care,” he grins back at me. “Well how about DON’T YOU LOSE THAT FISH!” I try. He says, “That works too!” Just then the ‘butt senses the pressure change as he rises against his will and starts his first run.

I tell Gordon that it is time for him to reel in his line so we don’t get them tangled up during the fight and he starts cranking in, fast. I look back at Mike and he is shaking his head, holding on to the rod for all he is worth and the halibut is still peeling drag in spurts. The halibut slows down and Mike starts taking up line again. L o n g pulls and crank down, more l o n g pulls and crank down. My back is starting to hurt just watching. I get the harpoon ready and unravel the rope on one of the shark hooks. The halibut makes another run! Not as long this time and Mike takes up a little more line but is wearing out. “Are you ready?” he asks Gordon and he passes the rod to him very carefully. Now Gordon is cranking away, long pulls, crank down. We offer him the belt and he complies but says that the plug on the bottom of the rod doesn’t work real well in the belt. I look at the belt and figure that if we can get the long screw out that the notch on the butt of the rod is supposed to fit into out that it would work the way it is supposed to. I get the fishing pliers and hand Mike my Swiss Army knife to look for the screwdriver on it and between the two of us we fix it so Gordon can wear the belt and we get it snapped onto him. Now all we can do is watch and give encouragement. “Do you see color yet?” I ask hopefully. Gordon gives me the “Not yet” and a little shrug of his shoulders when the halibut sees the light and makes yet another run. The runs are much shorter now, this BIG ‘butt is starting to wear down just a bit. “COLOR!” , Gordon shouts a few minutes later. “Where? Where?” I ask as I grab the harpoon and start to get antsy as my work is about to begin. “Oh my GOD! Look at the size of that MONSTER!!” both Mike and I shout at the same time. This damn halibut looks to be MORE than a hundred pounds.

“Alright, alright, now you have to get it to lay flat just under the surface of the water so I can get the angle on it and stick him with the harpoon,” I explain. Gordon does it just perfect and the ‘butt is just laying there as I wind up with the harpoon slam it down on the fish! The damn thing just glances off the side of this gargantuan fish AND pisses it off so that it goes tearing across the top of the water at 50 MPH or better toward the stern of the boat and Gordon is holding on to the rod as best he can losing yards of line every second. “SHIT!” I jam the troller in reverse and start to chase after the big bitch of a fish so Gordon doesn’t have to pull as hard to get it back to the side of the boat. Whew! The hooks and knots all hold! The fish is back boat side and I am ready with the harpoon, again.

I have to do a lot better this time, I know it. Gordon gets it laid out perfect again and I wind up and drive the harpoon into the halibut like a pile and hold it there. The halibut feels the pain and races away from the boat, I am still holding the stick when the inflatable ball that is attached to the rope on the point of the harpoon comes flying out of the bucket I put it in and slams me in the back and gets stuck between me and the downrigger! The end of the harpoon bends and goes slack and the halibut goes flying off into the deep, again, leaving me with the ball at my feet and holding the stick with a bent tip. “SHIT!” I jam the troller in reverse so Gordon doesn’t have to pull as hard to get it back to the side of the boat. Whew! The hooks and knots all hold! (Didn’t I just say that?) I am starting to look as bad as I feel! This is getting ugly and now I have a bent harpoon shaft. Gordon reels the fish back to side of the boat, again.

We have a plan this time; Mike is going to hold the ball while I really slam the harpoon into the side of this nasty halibut. I am ready with the bent harpoon and Gordon is trying to get the ‘butt to lay flat so I can get the angle. I am NOT going to rush this time and I am absolutely positive I am not going to get another chance with this slimy bitch of a ‘butt. Gordon is walking back and forth from one side of the boat, raising and lowering the rod tip, taking up slack and letting line out to give me the best shot. “I GOT IT! HERE GOES!” as get my final chance at the side of the halibut laying in the water. I really put my ass into it when I plunge the harpoon deep into the flesh of this fish and pull the stick out of the “needle” as fast as I can. The ball goes out of Mike’s hands like a meteor and crashes into the water and disappears. The only sound is the drag peeling out of the reel as we are all too stunned for speech, the ball is STILL under water, no sign of it at all. Just as I am starting to wonder if somehow the ‘butt got away and took our ball with it, the ball pops back to the surface about 50 feet away. We get the ball and the fish to the side of the boat and stare at it for a moment. We pull the ball into the boat and I stab the fish with my little bait knife to bleed it out a bit, two deep cuts into the flesh just below the gills and stab it into the gills several times. “We need to get the shark hook into it, quick!” hollers Gordon and I snap out of it and grab the shark hook I had gotten ready what seemed like hours ago. I pry the ‘butts mouth open using my fingers and the hook, trying like hell to get it right the first time. Feels like it is taking way too long as I wiggle the hook in the get it lined up with the soft part in the jaw. When I punch it through the skin the halibut goes nuts, again, thrashing about and shaking it’s head, no, no, no, NO, NO! I am holding onto the rope attached to the shark hook for all the world, I am not letting this fish away from the side of the boat ever again! Gordon told me later that as soon as I stuck the halibut with the shark hook and it started thrashing the jig with the hooks came flying out of its mouth right past my ear; I was wondering about that.

So now we have this halibut, Mike is hanging onto the rope still attached to the harpoon in the side of the fish, I have the shark hook in the mouth of the fish, and Gordon decides he wants to use the other shark hook and rope to tie around the tail. The ‘butt is still in the water, saying it’s prayers I imagine, while Gordon is doing his rodeo number on this poor halibut. (He is from Texas you know) We all look at each other and wonder if we can get it over the side of the boat before it revives too much. We all start to pull on our respective ropes, harder, pull harder, ummpff, errrrrrgggh, ARRRRGGGGGGGGGGGG, unh, FLOP! It lands on the deck. We quickly debate what to do next and I just start to take the rope on the hook in its mouth and bow the fish up to wrap the rope around the tail one, two, one more, three times and a quick two half hitches, DONE! We are still pumped up, congratulating each other on a great team effort on getting this big, ugly, flat monster in the boat. We start speculating on the weight of it, anywhere from 80 to 120 lbs.

We break for a leisurely lunch, still buzzing from the adrenaline pumping through us. One of the other boats pulls up and we just smirk, knowing that they are puzzled by our lackadaisical posture. We try to put the trussed up fish into the well but it won’t quite fit, its big ugly head, mouth agape with a shark hook in it sticks out of one of the hatches. We empty all of the ice out of the cooler and fill the well with water to preserve the flesh, and then we throw a wet towel over its ugly mug. As we pull out we flash the smaller chicken at the other boat, showing off, snickering at each other.

“BATMAN TO THE DOCK”, I call on the radio. No answer. 2 minutes later, “BATMAN TO THE DOCK”, no answer. 2 minutes later, “BATMAN TO THE DOCK”. “GO AHEAD BATMAN”. “At the dock in 20 minutes, need a camera”. “Roger that Batman.” We are pulling up to the dock and we see Kevin coming down the ramp to the dock. “Oh boy, here comes the boss!” When we pull up to the dock Joel secures the dock lines to the boat. Kevin comes walking up, “You guys better have some kind of nice fish to be coming in early.” “NICE FISH, HOLY COW, WHAT A NICE FISH!” I have never seen Kevin so happy…. Gordon and Mike get out of the boat with REALLY BIG grins. I am left in the boat all by myself to wrestle the monster out of the well alone. Joel sees the dilemma and hops in to help. Between the two of us we can get it out of the well but are struggling to get it over the side onto the dock. Dewey jumps up, “Here’s how you do it boyz”, and grabs the rope and pulls the beast onto the dock by his lonesome! We get the rest of the fishes, the pinks and a Coho we got on the way back in a smaller bucket and head to the scale. Joel and Dewey heft the halibut by the rope that hogties it onto the scale, ONE HUNDRED FORTY ONE POINT THREE POUNDS!!!! Oh my God!! Kevin has a grin from ear to ear, Mike and Gordon and I just look at each other with knowing smiles, really as much in awe as everyone else. Everyone is telling me about how I have to go swimming ‘cause of some silly Yes Bay Lodge rule. I don’t want to go swimming and think it is a stupid rule. Mike, Gordon and I head back out in the boat to fish some more. We are all strangely silent, each lost in our own thoughts, playing back the memory of the big fish. We have a hard time catching any salmon and try fishing for Yellow Eye with great success and come back to the dock at 5:30. We are heroes, everyone wants the story and all of the details. I pulled off my flannel shirt when we got to the dock and had already emptied my pockets just in case anyone had any ideas of trying to throw the Batman in the drink… We got all of the afternoon fish cleaned and stored, the guests had all gone upstairs to the lodge and it was just the crew finishing up on the dock. I stripped out of my boots and jeans, down to my underwear and made it down to the plane dock before anyone knew what was happening. Someone grabbed a camera and the crew headed my way. “Here I go!” and I turned, ran and dove into the water off of the plane dock, COLD!!!! I sputtered to the top and swam back to the dock, damn it was cold. Joel helped me out of the drink and I sat on the dock ARRRRRRRRRRRRGHHH!!!!!!

Funny, I don’t see it as some silly rule now. It is a rite of passage to the YBL 100+ club.

Thank you Gordon and Mike for making me a better guide!

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