The boat is anchored several miles from the nearest land in the middle of Sumner Strait. Here a series of reefs and shoals provide habitat for many creatures, including our target… Halibut.
Conditions are perfect, rather odd on this large body of water. The sea is a sheet of rippled glass reflecting a few clouds. Bright sunlight warms the day. This is not exactly the bitter wind, waves, and rain that comes to mind when Alaskan fishing is mentioned.
A few hundred yards north a pair of sea otters keep a wary eye on us, noisily eating something lacy and bright orange. Along the shoreline south a humpback is breaching, the white splashes visible miles away.
This is halibut fishing. Pick a likely spot, anchor the boat, drop lines to the bottom, and wait. In the meantime you can simply enjoy the day, listening to the spouts of whales passing by.
As for the halibut? One modest fish is in the cooler, the others remain elusive. Not that anyone is too worried. The day is nice enough to enjoy any excuse to be out on the water.
Ten days on the boat out of Juneau, our annual family trip fishing in Alaska is complete. This summer it was an all family affair… My mother and father, my brother and his wife, and their grandson Andre. Add Deb and myself for a total of seven aboard the Nordic Quest for ten days of fishing and exploring. The plan was to head south of Juneau, down Stephen’s Passage for the Frederick Sound area.
First stop was Taku Harbor for the night with the following day spent attempting to fish salmon in Stephen’s Passage. A pretty day, but no fish. The only luck we had was a single crab in one of the pots left overnight in Taku.
On to Endicott Arm and Dawes Glacier. The weather was not great for visiting the ice, but we did arrive at low tide, the best time to see calving. We were rewarded by the sight of several ice-falls as the water level fell and the face of the glacier crumbled.
An afternoon spend fishing Halibut was rewarding as well, plenty of fish landed along with one hundred pound specimen caught by Andre. A halibut that big can not be gaffed and simply lifted into the cooler. Instead I harpooned the fish off the swim deck. My first harpoon shot was a bit off, hitting low, a second was much better, right through the spine behind the gills. Good this too, the fish promptly broke the steel leader. Two harpoon lines attached insured this fish was headed for the freezer.
There are fish, there are other fish… then there are halibut. Tales are told about halibut, tales of injured fishermen… tales of sunken boats… tales that could be true. These are big fish, powerful fish, and like any other respectable sea monster they come from the deep.
Just getting the line down to them in their dark depths is a chore. Hauling them up from three hundred feet down is a bigger chore. But this is the challenge of the fisherman.
These are fish you don’t bring on deck until they are well and truly dead. Some will shoot them, but we just use a harpoon. Even then the fight is not over, but for some strange reason of halibut neurology a solid whack at the base of the tail will end it.
Salmon fishing is real work, baiting the lines, setting up and dropping the downriggers, constant vigilance as you troll up and down the shore. Kelp and other flotsam gets fouled in the lines, the hooks need re-baiting often, up and down again with the downriggers with their heavy lead balls.
Halibut fishing is more my style, find a likely place, drop the anchor, drop in the pole, sit back and crack a drink and enjoy the scenery while you wait for the fish to bite. Given the choice of eating halibut or salmon I will take the halibut! Nothing against salmon, it is pretty good, just that halibut is better.
One of the dividends of an Alaskan cruise is the fish we brought back. Processed, vacuum packed and frozen while on the boat, the fish was packed into a cooler and checked for the flight back to Hawai’i. It is a bit nerve-wracking, waiting for the cooler to appear on the baggage carousel in Kona. Appear it did, all of the contents still frozen solid as we loaded it into the freezer at home.
Thirty five pounds of coho salmon, halibut and picked dungeness crab. Light on the salmon, I gave much of it to my brother. Heavy on the halibut, on orders from my wife. We did well on crab, I pulled up full traps several times and we picked crab for hours on the back deck as we cruised along. Pick half a crab… eat a leg! It was a tasty way to go.
Last week I noted the market had frozen wild-caught dungeness crab, at $26 a pound. Halibut was a bit more expensive at Costco. Figure there was about $900 worth of seafood in that cooler. We will be eating well…