“Higher! Lift it higher!” Barbra strains to hoist a lingcod of about 30 pounds that fell to a jig in 100 feet of water.
Six-thirty AM and virtually no wind. Gaff – check. Rods rigged and ready – check. Plenty of knife jigs, lead-heads, twister tails – check. A fifth of cheap vodka in a plastic bottle…
It was our friend Jerry’s last day in Seward, and he had just enough time for a quick out-and-back morning trip. We were looking for his first-ever halibut, along with whatever else might be interested in our jigs.
With Barbra at the helm of our C-Dory, cruising between 15 and 20 knots over calm seas it took us about an hour to get to a place we knew would offer a chance to pick up halibut without running all the way out into the Gulf of Alaska.
Sea birds, vast shoals of herring, porpoises, seals and off in the distance the misty spout of a whale – all against a dramatic Alaskan background of green-sloped, snow-shouldered mountains, glaciers and rugged, rocky – make any trip out onto the bay a good one.
We got a few fish, too. Jerry nailed his first-ever halibut (not to mention a 50-pound-class lingcod – also a first), Barbra got her hands on her first 30-pound lingcod, and I hooked another nice halibut. In three hours of fishing, we caught maybe half-a-dozen lings, the halibut, Pacific cod, greenling, a brilliantly colored sculpin and over a dozen assorted rockfish including blacks, yelloweye, quillbacks, and a beautifully marked tiger.
We kept a yelloweye, the tiger (photo on the left), and a halibut.
Since the lings have to be released (the season doesn’t open till July 1, and it is permanently closed within Resurrection Bay), the only one we pulled out of the water for a quick photo was Barbra’s 30-pounder.
But she brought an even larger fish to the boat that day, and the way she caught it was a first for us – one that gave new meaning to the exclamation “Color!” fishermen often call out when they get the first glimpse of a fish coming up from the depths.
Laid across the mouth of one of the most beautifully marked lings we’ve ever seen – a 40 pounder with striking, amber-brown spots – was a bright orange yelloweye rockfish! The jig hook was planted firmly in the yelloweye’s mouth, but had no purchase on the lingcod. The ling’s jaws were simply clamped down on its meal – and it was giving every bit as good of a fight as if it had been securely hooked.
(Left: We released several nice black rockfish.) I knew, based on reading about events like this, that as long as we didn’t raise the ling’s head above water, he’d continue to hold onto the rockfish like a dog playing tug-of-war with a rope. So what did I do? I grabbed Barbra’s leader and lifted the ling’s head above water, causing it to instantly drop the yelloweye and sink back into the depths. Oops…
We thus missed a chance for a really great photo – the bright orange of the yelloweye lying lengthwise across the jaws of a massive lingcod. Ahh… next time!
Interestingly enough, the yelloweye didn’t look particularly damaged. When we released it, it scurried straight for the bottom.
And the vodka?
Jerry and I had read about fishermen using cheap booze – not a .22 rifle, not a .410 shotgun, not a billy – cheap booze to subdue fish. Halibut are notorious for going crazy once they’re on the deck of a boat. They’ve been known to bust up tackle, wreck coolers and even injure their captors. But with a shot or two of alcohol on their gills…
When Jerry got his fish up on the surface, I gaffed it right behind the cheek and pulled its head up out of water. As soon as the fish opened its mouth, Jerry poured a couple shots of vodka down its hatch. The affect was amazing. The fish slumped like an overserved patron passing out on a bar, and we slid it over the gunwale without a struggle . Once we had it on the deck of the C-Dory, we splashed its gills with another shot of vodka for good measure and then hung it over the side of the boat to bleed it out.
Easiest time of it I’ve ever had with a halibut.
Even the little fish are cool: Barbra with a brilliantly marked Pacific sculpin that tried to eat a jig nearly as large as itself.