It was the first fishing trip of the season. I was off to a slow start with entirely too much work in the queue for summer and an overload of projects around the house but tides were excellent. So, four of us drove down to Ninilchik to fish for halibut.
We left Anchorage around 7:00am and had a relaxing drive south then stopped in Soldotna for a BIG hearty Sal‚Äôs breakfast. The only thing on this planet larger than a Sal‚Äôs breakfast is one of Ron‚Äôs heart stoppers!
After breakfast, we continued south to the town of Ninilchik where we met my long-time friend and fishing guide, Lynn Keogh, of Key-O‚Äôs Guide Service. We were a little early so we just chilled out and visited while the morning boats came in with their payloads of flatfish. They had excellent catches from the morning so our excitement was high.
We ended up launching from the beach at Anchor Point some 20 miles to the south and about 15 miles north of Homer. Lynn fishes a 30-foot aluminum Koffler powered by twin Yamaha 225 4-strokers. After the tractor launch and the Captain‚Äôs briefing, we were under way. Into the tidal current and chop we pushed at about 42 knots. The ride was bouncy as usual and I chose to stand. My back doesn‚Äôt really like the banging around anymore.
We ran for a loooooong time‚Ä¶ about 32 miles southwest and deep into Cook Inlet where the volcanoes of Iliamna and Augustine began to dominate the horizon. Then Cape Douglas and the Barren Islands came clearly into view. I had only fished that far out once before.
We anchored in 250 feet of water above a structure known as the ridge. A place where the tides stack up food along a ridgeline and the halibut move in to feed when the tides are moving out. The bait hit bottom and immediately we started getting bites and hooking fish.
The first few fish were small chickens of the 20-pound class. That concerned me. The larger and smaller fish do not mix because of the carnivorous behavior of halibut. We released a dozen small fish and the Captain decided to move to a new area.
We continued out several more miles and re-anchored in 265 feet of deep turquoise water over an area that contains rolling dunes of sand. Our oversize baits of circle hooks garnished with herring and one-pound-plus chunks of Pacific Gray cod hit the bottom and we immediately began to receive strikes. You hope not to loose your bait because reeling in a four-pound weight on a stand-up tuna rod is hard enough work in 265 feet of water!
The trick with circle hooks is not to set the hook too early. As fish begin to tug on the bait, you must let them pull the rod tip toward the water and then set the hook hard only when you feel them pulling firmly on the other end. The hook set has to be followed by quickly reeling your tip back down toward the fish and, once again, applying a smooth steady pressure and a pump-reel motion.
The action was hot and heavy. Our boat of six had five fish on at once and the Captain and his deckhand were getting a hearty workout. The fish were all very respectable, weighing 30 to 40 pounds.
All at once I nailed a good fighter. It caught me off balance in the rocking seas and pinned me to the rail, my drag screaming away. After an especially spirited and brutal fight, I managed to boat the fish. It tipped the scales at over 50 pounds!
I was very much relieved that everyone was getting into nice fish because this trip was my treat and on my bill. At $9.99 to $11.99 a pound for fresh halibut, I always hope to come away from one of these charters with a pile of the tasty white meat and we were well on our way to filling a 100-quart cooler with tender fillets.
All at once the bite went off ‚Äì nothing at all. We continued to fish through the slack tide period getting only an occasional nibble. The current began to shift and the boat was starting to swing on the anchor and then the action slowly started to pick up again.
Soon we were nearing our limit of fish when I heard my son‚Äôs friend, Luke, groaning. Luke is built like a linebacker. When he groans on a fish you know it‚Äôs a good one!
One of the other gentlemen sharing our boat was also playing a very nice fish. With one fish left on our limit the captain decided to hold the fish until we could see whose was larger.
My fishing buddy, Andy, began to strain under a heavy fish while Luke continued to battle his bruiser. Luke‚Äôs fish made its way to the side of the boat and Bob‚Äôs fish was smaller, so the captain deftly popped the hook with the end of the gaff and released it. Now Luke was holding his fish to see if Andy‚Äôs fish was larger.
Andy was really straining under the load, his arms and back cramping with lactic acid. This was obviously a very big fish but he refused help or relief. We were all chiding him that this had better be a big one or he‚Äôd never live it down.
As the fish surfaced, we all groaned in unison‚Ä¶ it was a huge skate!
Luke‚Äôs fish got the aluminum fish bat and into the hold it went. We were done.
The ride back was uneventful but offered lots of opportunity to enjoy the abundant seabird life. It was a smooth fast ride as the twin engines purred in synchronized harmony and propelled us forward at 46 knots.
Back at the shack, the hands unloaded the gear and hung the fish for the photo shoot. Lynn‚Äôs operation is family run and everyone gets involved. His 9-year-old, Hunter, can skillfully fillet a halibut with the deadly sharp Cutco fillet knife, as do the girls. With the fish cleaned, bagged and packed on ice, we said our thanks and left.
But the day was not quite over.
There were still a few hours left so we made our way back to the Anchor River to see if we could cap the trip off with a King or two. We rigged our salmon rods, donned our waders then made our way from the parking lot across the short 30 yards to the river.
There were Kings in the river but it was the conclusion of a three-day weekend. Having been hammered by shore fisherman they weren‚Äôt too interested in taking a lure or fly. I decided to downsize and fished with a 4/0 Gamakatsu hook with a thumbnail-size piece of roe and a small piece of salmon egg-colored Glo-Bug yarn. For weight I used a single 1/0 black barrel swivel and no lead.
It took me several casts after the adjustment and I was into a bright 30-pound King. Ten minutes later I slid a nice hen up onto the beach! What a perfect conclusion to an already perfect day!
After cleaning the fish, I sipped on a celebratory Ale as the other boys continued to enjoy piscatorial pursuits. They all had several fish on but nothing legally hooked made its way to the beach so we packed up and headed out for the midnight-drive home.
The allure of June in Alaska is that it never really gets dark. As we journeyed north we were greeted with a beautiful sunset at about 11:45pm. The moon skimmed the horizon, betraying the sun‚Äôs whereabouts by its shadowy form, and the northern sky glowed as the sun circled from west to east.
As we arrived home, the moon had again disappeared and the blush of the sun was turning to dawn. I had been up for 24 hours straight and I was ready for a hot shower and bed.
The work is never done after a productive day on the water so today I‚Äôll be smoking and canning salmon and vacuum packing halibut. Not to mention cooking a rather large batch of beer-batter halibut and capping it with some Alaskan Summer Ale.
Here‚Äôs to Alaska!
Man, I love this place‚Ä¶