Web posted Wednesday, May 8, 2002

photo: fishing

After a long fight it's always a pleasure to haul a halibut over the rail and see how big it really is.

Catch a halibut with a charter or on your own

While halibut is an exciting fish to catch, it is more valued for its taste. Few fish rival the halibut for flavor and texture.

Halibut are abundant in lower Cook Inlet and are readily available to those enthusiasts who don't own a boat. Halibut charters run daily from the Homer Spit, typically costing $140 to $175. And though no skipper can guarantee your two-fish limit, guided anglers are usually more successful than their unguided peers.

Every year 300-pound halibut are caught in lower Cook Inlet, but the average size is closer to 25-30 pounds. Charter operators supply all fishing gear and bait, but fishermen must have a current Alaska sport fishing license. (See Page 20.) Remember to pick up your license the day before you fish. Most charter offices in Homer sell them, but it's a time-consuming process that is easily accomplished beforehand.

It takes 1 to 2-1/2 hours to get to the fishing grounds, so most charters leave early in the morning to take advantage of two slack tides every day. Six a.m. departures are not uncommon, nor are 10-hour days, so be prepared for a long day on the water. (Some charter oeprators offer half-day trips, and at least one leaves late afternoon, fishes that night and early the next morning, then returns to the harbor with two days' worth of fish.) Pack a picnic lunch and snacks, as well as warm clothes, a hat and gloves. Kachemak Bay receives less rainfall than most coastal Alaska waters, but check the weather report before boarding and dress accordingly. And if you have any fears of sea-sickness, take your favorite antidote before getting aboard.

Halibut are bottom-dwellers. Adult fish migrate into Kachemak Bay every spring after spending the winter farther offshore. When very small, they look like normal fish, with an eye on each side of their head. By the time the juvenile is 1-1/2 inches long, the eyes migrate to one side, which becomes the top of the fish. The females grow larger than the males, and almost every halibut over 100 pounds is a female.

Herring is the standard bait. A heavy lead weight takes the hook to the sea floor, then the fisherman "jigs" it up and down, keeping it in the path of feeding fish.

photo: fishing

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Reeling in a halibut can be exciting, not to mention a good workout, but getting the fish aboard is often a wild experience. All skippers carry a gun to subdue the bigger fish, and use a gaff hook to pull it aboard.