Story last updated at 11:53 a.m. Friday, August 2, 2002

Big fish shuffles derby leader board

Casting About

Sepp Jannotta
photo: outdoors
  Photo courtesy Homer Chamber of Commerce
Eagle river resident Clayton McDowell, right, poses with his 347-pound halibut landed Saturday. Glain Cook, captain of the M/V Sourdough,a Homer Ocean Charters boat that McDowell fished from, is at left. The big fish put McDowell in the July and overall lead of the 2002 Homer Jackpot Halibut Derby.  
Clayton McDowell of Eagle River was feeling a bit pessimistic as he bounced his baited hook along the unseen bottom of the Gulf of Alaska near Perl Island.

"Everybody was catching fish but me," McDowell said.

Then his hook got "hung up" on something. A deck hand confirmed that he was snagged.

But as McDowell began to crank and lean into it, the line began to come up, very slowly. A dead weight, he thought. An extremely heavy, dead weight.

But as it turned out, the end of McDowell's line was not snagged onto a dead weight, but was hooked firmly into the mouth an extremely large halibut. Eventually measured out at 91 inches, the fish was so big it took four people to pull it onto the deck of the charter boat MV Sourdough.

Earlier that day, in the wee hours of the morning, McDowell's wife, Cindy, reminded him to buy a Homer Jackpot Halibut Derby ticket. McDowell was no more optimistic at that moment than he was later in the day.

"I wasn't too happy about getting up at 4:30 in the morning, so when my wife said, 'we need derby tickets,' I thought 'yeah, right,'" McDowell said.

Despite his lack of faith, McDowell did, however, buy the derby tickets.

"I never win anything," he said in a phone conversation from his Eagle River home. "I still haven't won it. But we'll see."

However McDowell may downplay the fish he landed on Sunday, the 347-pound halibut puts him in the overall derby lead. If he is still in that position a month from now, he stands to win more than $30,000, according to Chamber of Commerce Derby Coordinator Linda Winters.

McDowell did say that he was glad that his group decided to fish out of Homer and not Seward, its usual destination.

On a recent trip to tag August's $10,000 Homer Jackpot Halibut Derby fish, Shane John, who sponsored the prize, caught a surprise -- a halibut tagged during the 2000 derby.

Had he caught the fish during the 2000 derby, it would have been worth $500. For his efforts, he took home a derby hat -- and fresh fillets.

Winters said the fish was 30 inches long when it was tagged in April 2000. When John caught it last Thursday, it was 33 inches.

"Not very big," Winters said.

About 100 fish are tagged each April for the derby. Each of the four months during the derby, a single $10,000 fish is tagged. The fish must be caught during that same month to win the money.

John, who owns Chux Cab, sponsored the big-dollar fish for August.

"It's a great opportunity for us to do something for the community," he said. "It works out well for us, too."

The tagging was done from the M/V Whistler, an Inlet Charters boat. The August fish, a 32-inch halibut caught 126 feet down in Kachemak Bay, was tagged early in the day, John said.

The derby runs through 9 p.m. Labor Day.

Silvers have been in thick at the Fishing Hole, with anglers pulling in plenty of fish between nine and 15 pounds. Bait has been effective, as have spinner rigs.

Anglers fishing the Sterling Highway streams, particularly the Anchor River and Deep Creek, have reported success for Dolly Varden, as well as pink salmon.

A smattering of silver salmon showed up over the weekend, though Stan Harrington of the Anchor Angler said the silver run is just in its very early stages.