Article: Alaska Fishing – Living the Dream
By David G. Duncan
All fishermen who dream about fishing in Alaska, surely have day dreams that swirl around an image of them catching the iconic Halibut, which more than any other Alaskan fish epitomizes the grandeur of this sportsman’s paradise.
As a short time Alaskan resident, living in the city of Valdez on the shore of Prince Williams Sound, I was in the perfect location to have one of my life long dream moments of catching a giant Halibut come true.
I must admit up front, I’m far from being an accomplished angler of any kind of fish. But this did not stop me from pursuing one my most vivid dreams about living a rewarding life in the great out of doors. So began my quest to land a respectable sized lopsided fish called the Halibut, which live in Alaskan’s deep-sea waters.
I could have hired a fishing guide to take me out Halibut fishing on a charter boat. There is nothing wrong with this approach. In fact, in hindsight I am sure it would have been a lot more cost effective way to bring home a large Halibut. Anyone, making a fishing trip to Alaska from the lower 48, should definitely consider hiring someone to take them Halibut fishing. But I was living in Alaska, so in the spirit of doing it myself, I jumped off the deep end and geared up to get the job done.
First, I would need a seaworthy boat. At least a 20’ boat, one large enough to safely navigate the treacherous waters of Prince William Sound. After talking to some of my local friends, I settled on a boat named “Miss Anne”, a 20’ Trophy Bayliner, with a 150 hp four stroke outboard. This boat was well equipped, with a 2-way radio, radar, GPS and all the gear needed to tackle anything the harsh Alaskan glacier fed fishing water could dish out.
Well, at least the boat was a seasoned veteran of these waters, but its current captain was as green as they come, in regard to traveling the unforgiving waters, that Halibut fishermen must ply to find these barn door sized fish.
Up until this point all our fishing had been done, while perched safely on shore. We had no problem catching our limit of Silver Salmon by casting spinner into the waters of Valdez Bay.
Silver Salmon caught at Allison Point by Miss June.
As you can imagine, the fishing gear needed to hook and land a fish that can easily out weigh the average fisherman, requires some heavy-duty tackle. Heavy rods, with pulley rollers on their tips and deep-sea reels wounded with 100 pound test line were standard requirements. In addition, all good halibut fisherman needs a harpoon! I got the distinct feeling that I might be getting in over my head, when I found out that I would be wielding a harpoon into my prey, like some ancient whaler in pursuit of Mobby Dick.
Valdez Fishing Derby Leader Board
Based on these posted weighs of the Halibut caught during a recent Valdez Fishing Derby, you can get a real appreciation of how Halibut fishing might be a lot like whaling! I could just imagine, as the captain of the “Miss Anne” yelling to my crew, “Break out the harpoon, we have a 300 pound great white bellied Halibut at the surface!”
Fishing for Halibut requires a lot of preparation, that goes well beyond being equipped with all the heavy duty fishing gear. There are tide data charts to study. The rising and falling of the tide is a major factor on whether a Halibut fisherman is going to be successful, at least in the Prince William Sound. You want to plan to drop your anchor in 100 to 200 foot of water at a prime fishing spot about an hour before low tide. The logic for timing the tide is due to the need to keep your bait on the bottom, whether than having it moved about by the maximum current caused by the rising and falling tides. The 2-hour time period, when the tide is changing directions, is called the slack tide and permits your bait (half of a foot long herring) to rest fairly motionless on the bottom.
In my opinion the most important preparation required before heading out to fish Halibut is to get the latest weather report. I made it a strict rule, I would not venture out (sometimes over 40 miles) into Prince William Sound, if there were any chance of small craft warning during the next 24 hours. I also cancelled trips, if the seas were forecasted to exceed 4 foot during that day.
Anchored for Halibut in a Bay off Prince William Sound
All prudent Halibut fishermen take the precaution of attaching a stout line to all their gear, so they don’t want to lose their expensive gear overboard. You will note in this photo, the rod has a rope attached from it to the boat. Besides the rod, your gaff hook and cable to the harpoon point are firmly attached by a good rope to the boat.
This photo was taken on the day I caught my 90# Halibut. It was a beautiful day and we anchor in about 180 foot of water. Shortly after pulling our lines in the water, June pointed to shore and exclaimed, “Look there is a grizzly walking down the beach!”
Seeing grizzly bears (or brown bear as they are called near the coast) has become very commonplace to us, but this was one time we were glad we were not doing our fishing from shore!
On prior outings near this bay, we had been treated to a view of two huge sea lions swimming around the boat. I believe they were looking for a handout, as they performed stunts, like swimming on their back only a foot below the surface and a few feet off the back of the boat. The water was super clear and we had not problem looking them square in their soul piercing eyes, as they appeared to be begging us to toss them some fresh herring.
The speckled black and green coloration of the topside of a Halibut is clear evidences of their ability to blend into the their sea bottom environment, which is a stark contrast to their pure white reverse side. If you look closely at the photo, you will see the size and shape of the hook, used to catch these sideways swimming giants. The hook is laying near the end of the rope attached to the harpoon cable.
After this 90-pound Halibut cleaned, it produced over 50 pounds of meat. For $20 you can hire a fish-cleaning expert at the dock to clean your catch, which is a convenient and fast way for a novice like me to handle this operation. The dock area furnish, free of charge, two wheeled fish hauling contains for the fisherman to haul their catches from their boats to the cleaning station. Then, in our case, we only had to wheel the cut up meat across the street to a commercial fish packaging and freezing operation. All these services are well worth their cost.
I strongly recommend, for anyone making a trip to Alaska, that they seriously look into opportunities to go after one of these unusual, delicious and beautiful fish. You might also quite possibly experience one of your “Living the Dream” moments for yourself.