A Fish Story

Can you handle another Life in Alaska post while I get caught up after two recent work stints at the new Kenai Fjords Glacier Lodge? Oh, who am I kidding? There are going to be a bunch of Life in Alaska posts: the garden, the tomatoes, the blueberries, oh my!

But this is a Fish Story.

Ryan, Mike, and I returned to the lodge a day early to go fishing. When you work ten-hour days, there’s not a lot of time after work for recreating.

We pulled the shrimp pots, and then went on a hunt for rockfish. The fishing rods and line were on the light side as rockfish aren’t generally huge.

I caught a small greenling, and then things were pretty slow for a while. Ryan and I jigged our lures at various depths; Mike threw a line in, too, while maneuvering the boat.

We moved around the island where we were fishing, and while drifting, Mike felt a little resistance on his line. He was very nonchalant about it, no setting the hook or anything noticeable. He reeled in a bit and thought that maybe there was a fish on the line. “Hey, Ryan,” he said. “Pull this in and see what it is.”

Ryan pulled up and reeled down. The rod bent. Mike and I reeled in the other two lines. Ryan’s rod bent a lot; he was concerned about breaking it. Then Mike wondered if the line was caught on the bottom. He maneuvered the boat to ease the strain on the rod, encouraging Ryan to take it easy, pull up, reel down, but felt pessimistic about the chances of having a fish hooked.

Ryan played it like a pro, keeping tension on the line, pulling up, reeling down. It started to seem like a fish, not a snag. And then it surfaced for a moment and I got a glimpse. I gulped. “Oh, geez. It’s a halibut,” I said. And a good-sized one at that. We were not prepared for halibut, but it was a much-desired fish, of course.

The mood changed. Nonchalance turned into an overwhelmed eagerness. Hopes rose high in spite of the knowledge that we were using light gear, had no net, had no gaff, and had no idea how we’d get this fish in the boat if it didn’t break the line and we got it to the surface again. Egads!

“Hold it, Ryan. Just keep the line taut, and try to wear it out while we figure something out,” said Mike. “What do we have that we can use, Jen?”

You’re asking me?!

An anchor. A plastic laundry basket. Rope. A flare. Umm, nothing useful.

We saw the fish several times. Gosh, it was big–no hundred-pounder, of course, but bigger than a twenty-pounder. Mike thought maybe he could just shove his hand/arm through the gills, but…yikes!

And then Necessity and Desperation birthed Invention. Mike grabbed a 16-oz lead-headed jig hook and imagined Captain Hook–maybe he could use his arm and the hook as a makeshift gaff. Then he grabbed his fish bonker (the wooden club he uses to kill fish brought into the boat) hoping it could replace his arm in the gaff scenario. Would you believe we had no duct tape on board? We can hardly call ourselves Alaskans without duct tape on board.

Luckily, our motor routinely gives us trouble and we had electrical tape, so while I ducked and Ryan reached over my head to allow the halibut around the bow of the boat for the third time, Mike taped the hook onto the bonker.

Somewhere in there, Mike said, “We’re not going to be upset if this fish gets off.” He said it to me and Ryan, but he was the one who needed most to hear it, and he acknowledged that.

The halibut seemed to be tiring, spending more time at the surface. Ryan pulled him in several times, trying to get it in a good position for Mike to gaff it with his bonker-hook.

That hook, by the way, is curved into a sort of circle–not at all a good gaff shape.

In and out. In and out. Nerves. Pressure. Excitement. Caution.

Finally, Ryan got the fish to the surface near the boat at an angle that worked for Mike. Mike slid the hook under the gill and yanked to set the hook in the chin, then quickly hoisted the fish into the boat. Or tried to–it was heavy! We could see that Ryan’s hook was barely in the jaw. The fish was long, and it took a few heaves to get the whole thing over the side, and the fish, of course, flapped and fought. Ryan had the rod, Mike had the gaff, so that left me to try to do something. I knelt down and gently trapped the body and tail beneath my legs. Yep, I sat on the fish to keep it still. It was big, but I am bigger.

Mike and Ryan hooted, and we all laughed out the tension that had built.


I tried to take pics during the hub-bub, but we were scrambling and on top of one another, and it didn’t work. All I have are after-the-drama images.


The halibut was 47 inches long and 48 pounds. Ryan took some meat home with him and made dinner for his family. Mike and I had some last night. Yum!

Categories: Alaska

7 replies »

  1. That’s not a proper fish story since it didn’t get away and you actually have proof of how big it was. Wow! and Yum! What a fabulous story. By the way, for those of us who don’t know, what is the proper shape for a gaff?

  2. Jeeze – I had to wait till I read the story here to hear it! How exciting – and I DIDN’T catch a halibut when I was there – I’m jealous. (But I did catch the twenty-eight inch rainbow trout – hee hee.) I know how exciting it can be for Mike and Jen when a visitor catches a fish, no matter how big.

  3. I guess you’ll have the read the blog regularly, huh Dad? 😉

    And I guess you’ll have to come back up to try for halibut. Although, you’d better hurry. Having the boat at the lodge is a short-term thing. I don’t think you want to take that little thing way out there on a day trip.