Homer Alaska - News

Story last updated at 4:49 PM on Wednesday, June 22, 2011

350-pound halibut kicks 277-pounder out of first

By Michael Armstrong and McKibben Jackinsky
Staff writers


Photo provided

Chad Aldridge of Sterling poses with the 350.8-pound lunker he caught June 19. The catch moves Aldridge to the top of the the Homer Jackpot Halibut Derby standings.

Move over big halibut — there's a new derby leader in town.

Chad Aldridge, 32, of Sterling reeled in a 350.8-pound barndoor on Father's Day while fishing with family and friends aboard his 24-foot boat, the Seabee.

Aldridge's claim to fame comes only four days after Homer resident Eileen Bechtol landed a 277.8-pound halibut while fishing with Capt. Glaen Cook of North Country Halibut Charters aboard the Irish, briefly putting her at the top of the derby board.

"I don't want to get real, real excited about it until closer to September," said a cautious Aldridge, mindful the derby runs from May 1 through Sept. 30. "I'll be watching the ranks just about every day."

Aldridge and his fishing party were near Seldovia in about 145 feet of water Sunday morning and were about to call it a day when he realized he had something heavy on the end of his line.

"I said, 'I think I just got a fish.' It came alive. The thing just about spooled me. I was getting excited," said Aldridge.

Forty-five minutes later, he, his fishing companions and his uncle, on a nearby boat, got their first glimpse of the source of their growing excitement.

"It got to the top of the water and all of us saw it and we thought, 'holy cow,'" said Aldridge.

Lacking a harpoon or gun, Aldridge radioed for his uncle to bring over a harpoon. They gaffed the halibut and then had to bring it on deck. Securing the fish with the mooring line run through the gills, the group was able to haul the fish aboard.

"The three of us got a hold of it and (it was) one, two, three, go. After that I said, 'I think we're done fishing. We need to go to the scales,'" said Aldridge.

The Sterling resident bought the Seabee in January. His two-weeks-on-and-two-weeks-off work schedule on the North Slope has allowed concentrated time to get to know the boat and become familiar with saltwater fishing. Prior to Father's Day, the largest halibut Aldridge had caught weighed 115 pounds — enough to let him know his Sunday catch was definitely a keeper. That hunch was verified by the scales at the derby weigh-in station on the Spit.

"When it hit 350 (pounds) I about fell over. I said, 'Right on,' knowing that the derby holder then was 277," said Aldridge, referring to Bechtol's June 15 catch.

Although no longer in the top derby slot, Bechtol's 277.8-pound fish was the biggest one the Homer angler has landed in the 20 years she's fished in the derby. It also was bigger than last year's winner, a 277.6-pound halibut caught by Jamie Olvera of Fairbanks.

Bechtol was about 27 miles out of Homer, in lower Cook Inlet, fishing in 145 feet of water and a 4-knot current when she hooked into the lunker. Like Aldridge, the catch came at the end of the fishing day.

"They kept saying it will be time to go. I thought, 'I'll make one more cast,'" said Bechtol.

It took 45 minutes reeling and the help of Capt. Cook to get the fish to the boat.

"I certainly could not have landed it without the skipper," said Bechtol.

At the weigh-in station, Bechtol's halibut drew attention.

"This one little old lady, she literally hugged that fish with her good clothes on," she said. "It was wild. There was just a crowd looking at it. It was amazing."

Since the derby began in 1986, only five first-place halibut have weighed more than Aldridge's 350.8-pound catch:

• 1996: 376-pound halibut won $25,984 for Jerry Meinders of Wilmar, Minn.;

• 1997: 359.3-pound halibut won $28,844 for Jeffrey Council of Newberg, Ore.;

• 2004: 352.6-pound halibut won $51,298 for Don Hanks of Sparks, Nev.;

• 2007: 358.4-pound halibut won $37,243 for Jerry Saunders of Chugiak; and

• 2009: 354.6-pound halibut won $40,440 for Thomas Youngblood of Homer.

With that bit of history, Aldridge is all too aware his current lead is no guarantee he'll win the derby.

"I'm thinking I might hold it for a day or two," he said. "Hopefully it holds for a couple more months. That would sure be cool."

The size of the fish is only part of the winning equation, reminded Derby Coordinator Paula Frisinger.

"Yesterday we had a 300.6-pound halibut weighed in at derby headquarters and would have taken the lead fish for only a few hours, but (the angler had) no derby ticket and they were fishing with Silver Fox Charters, who was such good luck there," said Frisinger on Monday. "Better to buy a derby ticket and not lose out on a chance to win big."

Derby tickets are $10 a day or $75 for a 10-day ticket. They are available at the Homer Chamber of Commerce and many local businesses. For more information, call 235-7740. The sport fish catch limit for boats out of Homer is two halibut a day.

Michael Armstrong can be reached at michael.armstrong@homernews.com. McKibben Jackinsky can be reached at mckibben.jackinsky@homernews.com.

Current standings for the month of June:

• First place, $1,000: 350.8-pound halibut caught June 19 by Chad Aldridge of Soldotna with Capt. Chad Aldridge aboard the Seabee;

• Second place, $750: 277.8-pound halibut caught June 15 by Eileen Bechtol of Homer with Capt. Glaen Cook of North Country Halibut Charters aboard the Irish;

• Third place, $500: 226.6-pound halibut caught June 19 by Gil Seguin of Sturgeon County, Alberta, Canada, with Capt. Eric Lehm of North Country Charters aboard the Storm Petrel;

• Fourth place, $250: 151.6-pound halibut caught June 16 by Craig Mattews of Homer, with Capt. Norm Anderson of Norm's Saltwater Adventures aboard the Sea Otter.

• Lady Angler: Bechtol.

• Released fish for the month: 10.

• Tagged fish: Hayden Price of Columbia, S.C., caught June 11 with Capt. Matt Gallien aboard a private boat, the Kristy Michelle, $500, sponsored by Adventure Alaska Car Rentals.

• Catch a Lefty: Patrick Campbell of Modesto, Calif., caught May 29 with Capt. Trenton Pack of Bob's Trophy Charters aboard the Tuff Stuff.