Homer Alaska - News

Story last updated at 6:44 PM on Wednesday, September 19, 2012

California angler wins big-fish prize

Derby ends without anyone netting Ford, $50,000 awards

By McKibben Jackinsky
Staff Writer


Photo courtesy of James Peeples

Homer Jackpot Halibut Derby winner James "Jim" Peeples, center," and his father, Capt. Phil Peeples, front, and friend, Larry Williams of Maui, pose with the winning catch. Photo provided

James "Jim" Peeples of Chico, Calif., got a lot more than food for the freezer with the 323.2-pound halibut he reeled in Aug. 31. When the Homer Jackpot Halibut Derby, sponsored by the Homer Chamber of Commerce and Visitor Center, came to a close at 9 p.m. Saturday, Peeples' fish was the largest halibut caught since the derby began May 15. That makes Peeples winner of the $10,000 jackpot.

Peeples, and his buddies, Dan Alexander of California and Larry Williams of Maui, were fishing with Peeples' dad, Capt. Phil Peeples, aboard a private boat, The Tackle Box, when he hooked into the monster fish. They were fishing in about 154 feet of water near the green buoy about a mile off the tip of the Homer Spit.

The fish did little more than shake the line for about 10 minutes. Judging by the action, Peeples estimated it to be four-foot halibut. When the fish made its way to the surface, however, the men saw something much larger than anticipated.

"We were amazed, flipping out," Peeples told the Homer News at the time. "I couldn't believe it."

Efforts to gaff the halibut proved fruitless. One shake of its head and a new $50 gaff flew into pieces and the halibut descended back into the depths.

After getting it to the surface a second time, a gun was used to subdue the halibut and a whole new battle began that demanded the combined strength of the four men: getting the monster halibut, later measured at 92 inches, into the boat.

Since returning to California, Peeples has kept a close eye on fishing activity in the Homer area and on derby results. A storm that hit Southcentral Alaska over the weekend created rough seas and gale-force winds on Kachemak Bay.

"My dad said it was storming so not many boats would be going out," he sad.

Saturday night, Peeples got the call he'd been waiting for from Paula Frisinger, derby coordinator, letting him know he'd won the $10,000 jackpot.

Peeples won't be in Homer to accept the check when prizes are awarded on Sept. 22, but his dad will be present to claim the prize and then hand-carry it to Peeples in California.

Plans are already being made on how to use the winnings.

"We're looking at investing it in Homer on a piece of property," said Peeples.

He and his father also are considering setting up a father-son fishing guide business with Capt. Peeples the guide and Peeples the deckhand.

One way or another, "next year we're looking at being back up for the summer," said Peeples.

"That's just another shining example of how the Homer Jackpot Halibut Derby benefits the community," said Monte Davis, the chamber and visitor center executive director.

This year marked a change in the Homer Jackpot Halibut Derby, with organizers taking steps to encourage conservation of larger halibut, which tend to be egg-laying females. The jackpot prize was set at $10,000, with opportunities for larger prizes in the tagged fish category. In the spring, chamber members caught, tagged and released 100 halibut, most of them small. The two biggest tag prizes were $50,000 cash, sponsored by GCI, and a new Ford pickup, sponsored by Stanley Ford in Kenai; five were worth $10,000 each; 25 were worth $1,000 each; 45 were worth $500 each and 23 were worth $250 each. Nine tagged halibut were caught during this year's derby. The value of the nine tags remained unknown until the derby's end.

"We sold a lot of tickets because of the tagged idea," said Davis. "When we told people they had a chance to get a $50,000 tagged halibut, the biggest question I got was, 'Where is it?'"

A new released-fish category rewarded anglers for releasing halibut weighing 50 or more pounds. At the end of each of the derby's four months, three names were drawn from anglers in that category, with a $1,000 overall prize awarded as well as a $250 prize for a senior angler and a $250 prize for a military-veteran angler. Throughout the derby, a total of 26 halibut in the 50-pounds-or-more category were reported.

"I think this one is going to have to grow on people," said Davis. "It was a big deal for the charter captains to get their names on the board every month with those big fish. We need to encourage them to release those big fish and they'll still get their names on the board. It's the same amount of publicity."

Sale of the $10-a-day tickets were down slightly from an average of 16,000 tickets sold a year.

"We did right at 14,000, but I think that's a reflection of the economy," said Davis. "You have to remember, this is truly discretionary funds when you decide to buy into something like a halibut derby."

Overall, however, Davis considered this year's derby a success.

"We are extremely pleased with the reactions that we got from folks once we explained why we had made the changes, that we were trying to look forward and be conservation minded," said Davis. "I can't tell you, from a personal point of view, how good it feels to know that we left a lot of egg-laying females out there that in the past we would have harvested. We feel as though we did our part for conservation, for our grandkids."

McKibben Jackinsky can be reached at mckibben.jackinsky@homernews.com.