Story last updated at 11:46 a.m. Thursday, May 2, 2002

Tagging along <> just for the halibut
by Nick Varney
I have been at sea. First, on a sojourn to the Aleutians on the M/V Tustumena ferry and then on a tour of Kachemak Bay aboard a charter boat called, Irish. The first outing took about a week and I'll get to those tales in later editions. I'm dealing with the fishing foray first because it's my civic duty to plug the annual Homer Jackpot Halibut Derby and rat out everything that happened on the tagging run.

Before I launch into an account of the voyage, I wish to thank Craig and Mary Baringer of Alaska B&C Charters. They, once again, ignored the immense peer pressure pleas from their fellow charter boat captains and allowed me to represent them on a tagging expedition. I'm sure that Capt. Sean along with acting deck dude Tom, who were stuck with me for a very long day, will speak to them again sometime ... maybe. Hey, those line snarls were not all my fault.

I didn't sleep well the night before the trip because one must always properly prepare for their first fishing expedition of the year. A good fisherpersonage always monitors the weather. I fired up the computer around midnight to check all international weather patterns from Homer to the Great Barrier Reef. Everything was clear and the only detectable front was moving slowly up from southern Antarctica. Knowing this bay, I loaded up on Dramamine anyway. I also dug out my boat booties that have the gripping power of a giant squid hanging on to a highly annoyed sperm whale (I once slipped and took a half gainer into the seas around here and ended up conversing in a very high soprano for about a week). I then laid out my ensemble. Sweat pants and a jacket that could be slimed, bloodied, torn, soaked in seawater and then air-dried so that they were useable for the rest of the season but not allowed back in the house. Also, a matching hooded sweatshirt that would not only protect me from the elements but direct hits by goop-drenched baits, sundry onboard drinks and an errant flying ham 'n' cheese sandwiches, with extra mayo, that some unfortunate usually power launches when they forget their seasick stuff. When my checklist was finally complete, I was ready to rock. Unfortunately, it was only 1:30 in the morning.

The day started out beautifully as our group of 12 dedicated volunteers and two highly seasoned crew members embarked on a search for flat fish. We were assigned to tag 16 of the critters and figured we'd be done in no time. Right! Our first two stops were so uneventful that I kept looking over the side to see if we had inadvertently beached. On the third stop, we were fishing in 250 feet of water with two-pound weights when the tide started to really smoke, so we went to 3-pounders. One guy was so desperate that he contemplated asking the captain if he could just tie his leader and bait to the anchor. I knew that the water was running hard when a desperate looking Minke whale went flying by eastbound although he was headed west. We moved again.

We finally started to get some action when one of the anglers landed what looked like a medium-sized clam while we were in 300 feet of water. I was impressed because, the way the tide was running, at the depth we were fishing and the amount of weight we were using, it was amazing that he felt it when it struck. The fishing had been so slow that I suggested that they tag it. It was then I was asked to fish off the bow and only come aft for personal relief breaks.

After we relocated again and just when the water slowed down, the wind decided to come up. That was a real treat. Now, with a dozen people fishing, tangles are inevitable. But throw in a dragging anchor, changing currents and a boat swaying and swinging in a heavy breeze and we were suddenly pulling up multiple weaves that resembled some seriously soaked dreadlocks more than fishing lines. That didn't stop the tagging crew though and we finally reached our goal just as the outgoing tide was ripping our baits so far out that they were starting to snag on the rocks off the Barren Islands.

Gotta go now. Good luck out and have fun out there. There's lots of money to be won. Check it out on www.HomerHalibutDerby.com

Oh yeah, if you see a piece of orange surveyor tape (biodegradable, of course) floating in the bay? Try there. I marked the spot where they tagged and threw back the only fish I caught.

<> Columnist Nick Varney drifts into this space about every three weeks or so.

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