This was Day 3 of a five-day, father-son fishing trip to south-central Alaska. Jason and I awakened and ate early, then drove down to “The Spit” in Homer where our charter was located. We arrived there at 7:30 a.m. and departed at 8:00 a.m. with the captain and his deckhand.
Seas were rough in the distant offshore area fished for lingcod and rockfish, so the itinerary had changed to fishing for Cook Inlet halibut in the morning and Kachemak Bay salmon in the afternoon. I was mildly concerned about the deckhand’s overly casual “safety speech” before we left port, especially when he said, “We have life jackets below deck… just don’t fall overboard.” (As it turns out, a later inspection revealed that life jackets were nowhere to be found after some rummaging around below deck.)
Our first offshore stop in a steady rain was on a mussel bed at a depth of 140’ where the captain thought there might be some bigger-than-average halibut. We caught only a couple small halibut (lots of bites/nibbles by various demersal creatures) and larger skates. The crew held skates (the “S-word” to them) in such disdain as to cut our hooks from their mouths and unceremoniously release them to suffer and die. I could not hook a halibut at this location. Finally the captain decided to move to a spot the charter boat skippers called “Old Faithful.”
It was mid-morning by the time we arrived, and the wind/waves were picking up. I was fine, but another client was miserably seasick and dealing with severe back pain. We started catching halibut here on herring-oil injected dead bait (herring), but the catch/bite ratio was low. We all missed many fish on the hookset, and had to rebait many times, which became an arduous task involving dragging a 3# weight up 140 feet every time a fish bit and stripped the bait (often within 10 seconds). But the action was fast and consistent enough that we eventually caught our limits of halibut (two each, one of which had to be under 29” long. I kept a 28” halibut and later caught the largest halibut of the trip, but didn’t measure its length.
It was no trophy by any means, but it was one of the biggest fish I’ve ever caught. Jason finally got his second “keeper” halibut after releasing several small ones, allowing us to leave this open-water area as the weather deteriorated.
For the next hour we motored into the upper end of Kachemak Bay, which was relatively calm and protected from the wind. We were treated to a breathtaking view of glaciers at the head of the bay.
En route, the deckhand set us up to troll for king salmon (“feeder kings” that were not yet old enough to ascend a river to spawn). Depth was only ~40 feet, and sonar marked most fish at depths of 20-25 feet, so the downriggers were set accordingly. We trolled dead herring 5-6” long. The action here was pretty steady for a couple hours, resulting in many salmon missed, hooked, lost, and caught. I caught the first big salmon – a 33” fish that put up a great fight with numerous jumps and runs – quite exciting.
Eventually Jason and I both had two salmon that we were happy to keep (our limits).
We stayed in the area for another hour while the captain tried to get his other clients their fish. By this time, the Packers were playing the Seahawks and holding their own (first half), but all I could do was follow the play-by-play on Jason’s iPhone. Finally the other clients caught their two fish, and we got back to port by 5:45 p.m. or so. The deckhand did a nice job filleting our fish on the way in (including one of Jason’s skates, which raised some eyebrows), and the Homer Fish Processing company met us at the dock to pick up our fish for vacuum packing and freezing.
We drove to the Sports Bar and Grill at the Beluga Lake Lodge as fast as possible and caught the last 1.5 quarters of the Packers-Seahawks game – about the time things went sour for the good guys. Still, we enjoyed a great meal and represented Green Bay by wearing the green and gold. Back at the Ocean Shores Motel, I took a long, hot bath in order to thaw out some joints that had gotten very stiff during a long day of exposure to cold rain and wind.