May
26

Catching Big Flat Fish

Somewhere in one of those January or February sportsmen shows, I had a confab with Captain Don Davenport. I’ve known Don for a decade or more and have rocked away more than a few days aboard one or another of the boats in his Ocean Sportfishing fleet out of Westport, Washington. By the time we finished catching up, I had reserved a couple spots on a May 11 halibut fishing trip.

At a moment in late March, Homey Bill Boyum and I were discussing our upcoming July Kenai River sockeye trip with his son, Jon. We had pretty well settled on where and how many Alaska sockeye we would catch this year, and had gear needs sorted out, when it suddenly occurred to us we ought to go fishing before July.

We made a plan to go fish the lower Columbia with our Oregon buddy Steve Souvenir for a couple days – just to somehow enrich his life. Then I recalled I still had two spots on a halibut boat, and asked Bill if he wanted to go chase big flat fish out of Westport. His response was something to the effect of “When do we leave?”

My last Westport trip had been on the Rock n Roll, a six-pack boat with Captain Steve “Need for Speed” Connally, a deckhand and six fishers. We’d been first to the halibut flats and first to the ling cod reefs, as promised, and we limited on both, with a big mess of sea bass and black cod. That was a very fast and rough ride, to a remarkable day of fishing. This year, we would be aboard the 14-fisherman Angler, under the wing of Captain Chris West and Deckhand Josh.

After the interminable wait which always accompanies such plans, we hit Westport early evening of Wednesday, 10 May. We checked into our room and wandered into my favorite coastal town for dinner. I mentioned our 2:15 a.m. checkin at the Ocean Sportfishing office, to which Homey responded, “Are you #!*? kidding me?”

Thus, very early and on time, we were clearing balances and getting the day’s marching orders. As always, I dropped ten bucks on a halibut derby ticket. As we walked down to the docked Angler, Bill asked about the ticket. “Yeah, old habit,” I said. ‘It supports old charter boat captains (I think) and works for keeping a sustainable fishing and charter boat business. I like that. …And you never know when your number will come up – you just never know.”

Captain Chris was ready to go by 3, but some folks missed the memo. We were underway at 3:45. Since we could be out beyond 12 hours, Cap needed a backup skipper. Who else? I shook hands with Captain “Need for Speed” Steve, now mostly recovered from back surgery, and leaned toward Bill. “Don says Chris is great, and now here’s Steve; this will be a super day!”

We headed over the harbor mouth bar, amid grumbles of rough water. Captain Steve and I smiled as I told my pansy friends that this ride was a walk in the park. Three hours later, we were on the halibut flats with a dozen other boats.

Captain Chris had an amazing way of managing the Angler as it drifted over the flats. We focused on the halibut hundreds of feet below us, as the Angler’s rocking became the rhythm of our fishing. As we drifted – even as others came too close to us – Cap somehow kept all the fishing lines parallel. In a dozen halibut trips I had never seen that. Snags or tangles were very rare.

We quickly were into fish, and I slowly hauled up a very good fish. Captain Steve figured a bit over 35 pounds, but noted that he was often a few pounds off on bigger fish. Bill lost a smaller fish, then brought up a nice 25+ pounder. Each drift across the deep flat brought another handful of 20 to 30 pound flatfish up from two football fields beneath us, keeping Deckhand Josh and Baitmaster Greg busy netting and baiting. In near record time, Cap said we were full of halibut and pointed us toward his favorite ling cod reef.

On the ling cod reef, from a fraction of our former depth, Bill and a couple others landed nice ten-pound lings. Over the next hours, we all caught near-limits of rockfish (sea bass), as most everyone warmed to the brighter day and quieter water.

At some point, Cap fired up the motors and pointed us back toward Westport. We examined and photographed fish as they came up for filleting by Deckhand Josh. Captain Steve asked if I had a derby ticket, and the decision was made to not filet my fish.

We reached the dock some thirteen hours after we left it. Captain Chris noted that the big halibut of the season was 48 pounds, but for the day so far was a bit over 35. As fishers thanked Cap and his crew, gathered filets and stepped onto terra firma, Josh and I shouldered a gaff with my fish and hustled to the weighmaster.

Westport Charterboat Association Derbies are for lingcod, halibut, salmon and tuna. Tickets are only for fishers on licensed charter boats. Some 350 folks are out on a given day; maybe 270 of them buy derby tickets. There are prizes up to $500 for weekly winners and a $2,000+ for season leaders. This year, the season’s biggest Chinook salmon will bring a derby ticket holder $10,000.

The season’s biggest ling and tuna have yet to be caught – and someone will catch that $10,000 king salmon. Could well happen on Captain Chris’ Angler, or in the presence of one of Ocean Sportfishing’s other skilled and hardworking crews (see www.oceansportfishing.com).

If I told you how much my 44 pound 11 ounce halibut was worth in that particular day’s derby, I’d probably have to report the five hundred bucks as income. I would do that anyway, of course, but I’m still not telling.

Go fish. Happy summer…

 

Photo of Bill (top) by Jim Huckabay and photo of Josh and Jim (bottom) by Bill Boyum…

Written by Jim Huckabay. Posted in Uncategorized

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