Going Flat Out for Flat Fish

For a number of us, I think, summer and fall adventures begin in February, at the Central Washington Sportsmen Show down the Yakima River in the SunDome. I signed myself and various homeys up for big water chases after halibut and tuna.

Our tuna run awaits us in September. The halibut run happened a couple weeks back.

In February, at Captain Don Davenport’s booth (www.oceansportfishing.com), he introduced me to dashing young Captain Steve “Need for Speed” Connally. Steve’s craft is The Rock-n-Roll, the smallest and fastest boat in the group’s fleet. Speed is all good (since fishermen can board a bit later and still be the first on any given fishing ground), but Steve’s consistent success with both halibut and ling cod was a bigger plus. What really got my signature – and our three names – on the line was his obvious enthusiasm for fishing, fishermen and the Pacific Ocean. Homey Kirk Johnson, Boyfriend-in-law Brian Smith and I would spend a Sunday in May fishing out of Westport.

Thus, sometime shortly after 4:30 a.m. on a Sunday in late may, we three and our three new best friends crossed the bar from Gray’s Harbor and headed west into the vast Pacific. Flat out for big flat fish, we skipped across the low ocean swells and passed around most of the Westport fleet which had left the harbor well before us.

As promised, we were one of the first boats drifting across the halibut flat a couple football fields below us. Deckhand Will Stoll and Captain Steve coached and cajoled, as needed. They kept baits fresh,quickly invited our slowly-drawn-from-the-depths halibut onboard, and just as quickly got them safely stowed. They were all nice fish, but Kirk coaxed an exceptional halibut out of the depths. As Kirk wrestled with that big flat hog, I hooked into one of my own. Unfortunately, mine turned into a 15-pound skate as it came aboard. While I was anxious to get back to the business of catching my own fat halibut, I did enjoy the debate about who was going to return the three-foot-wide winged skate to the water. Will, as I recall, lost the debate and gingerly slid the skate back into the ocean. He then cheered me on as my bait dropped the 600 feet down to the hungry mouth of the 20-some-odd-pound halibut I would happily take home.

By the time the last of the Westport fleet arrived, and the water around us was well-stocked with eager fishers, we had caught our limits (one apiece) of halibut. We waved a fond farewell to our fellows and headed to Steve’s secret ling cod honey hole.

There, at significantly less depth, we found ourselves almost immediately wrestling with eight- to 15-pound lings. Among them were more than a few sea bass – rockfish – in the five pound range. I have caught keeper lings in Canada, but in twenty years of bottom fishing from Westport I had only enjoyed watching others catch legal-sized lings. This day became special.

In not much over an hour, we each had our two-ling limit. In the middle of it all, Brian caught a fish we reckoned to be over 30 pounds. That hog was big enough (maybe) to win the daily $500 pot for biggest ling. Together, his smile and anticipation of spending the $500 were almost insufferable, but we congratulated him anyway. Once the bite settled, and ling limits were confirmed (including my first!), Will and Captain Steve went to work calculating how many rockfish were on board.

Our rockfish limits were ten fish each. We averaged almost six at that point.

As it turned out, Cap had virtually always limited on halibut and was generally close on rockfish and/or lings. He had never filled the Rock-n-Roll’s limit on all three. Suddenly, a new record loomed ahead – we just needed more sea bass.

We picked up a handful more from another shallow reef, and that bite quit. We did it again at our next stop. Time wound slowly down and Cap had one more special sea bass stop. Unfortunately, the currents repeatedly drove us off the fish. Captain Steve shrugged, we agreed, and the day was called at something over six rockfish apiece. So close, yet so far. …And so many smiling fishermen.

We skipped back into port, Will went to work filleting fish, and our big halibut and ling went to the Westport weigh-in. Kirk’s halibut was big enough to stay atop the leader board – for an hour or two. Brian’s 30-pound ling somehow shrunk to 22 pounds, but still led the money race until someone’s bigger fish forced him to watch the 500 bucks slip through his fingers.

It was a near-perfect day for making big delicious fish fillets and great memories aboard the Rock-n-Roll.

We’ll do it again.

Written by Jim Huckabay. Posted in Uncategorized

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