Gloria the Halibut! by Claire Crump
Growing up at a fishing lodge in Alaska, I don’t exactly remember my first fishing trip, but I do remember some of my most memorable ones fishing with my grandpa, and this fishing trip was unforgettable.
It was the beginning of August and we had a few hours to spare, so, both my grandparents, Kern and Linda, my brother, Nik, and my cousin, Kaela, boarded the yellow boat for the adventure of a lifetime. We headed out to an undisclosed location (c’mon you didn’t think I’d give all my secrets away that easily) and dropped anchor.
Now, it is important to keep in mind the first rule of fishing: don’t eat, don’t touch, and don’t even look at bananas before going fishing. But the second rule of halibut fishing is also very important: always bring a Pepsi and potato chips to eat while you wait. Anyone who has fished with my grandpa knows, he is a strict rule follower of rule number 2; you could also argue rule number one because I have never seen him eat a banana.
Amid this potato chip eating, Pepsi drinking boat, and for nearly two hours we waited, patiently, and not so patiently sometimes. As much as my grandpa follows the second rule of halibut fishing, I am a firm follower of rule number three: DO NOT MOVE! This is the key to halibut fishing and also my only secret to catching halibut besides fresh bait and Butt juice. Rule number three is the most important rule because you can’t eat potato chips if you are driving and halibut can’t eat your bait if you are driving. I’ll say it again: DO NOT MOVE!! And that ladies and gentlemen is what we did; we didn’t move. Now I won’t deny it can be boring to sit but that’s okay, as long as you follow rule number 2 it will be worth it.
At the height of our boredom, the most amazing and not surprising thing happened - we were following rules 1, 2 & 3, what did you expect? A click. Then another click. Followed by the sound of line being stripped from a reel at the back of the boat.
“Grab the reel Nik!” My grandpa shouted above the clicker, and for a boy of only 12, Nik, my sweet little brother, held on for dear life.
Nik held onto the rod as the line was being stripped out, at one point we even felt the need to grab his life jacket to help him stay in the boat. Nevertheless, Nik managed to stay in the boat and hold onto the rod. After an eternity of holding onto the rod, the fish stopped running. Nik, Kaela, and I took turns taking a few cranks on the reel while someone else lifted up to bring the fish in bit by bit. After 15 minutes of bringing the fish in slowly, it realized it outweighed us and could outswim us. Once again the line began screaming out of the reel as our monster dove back to the bottom, we felt like every halibut fisherman who ever lived; frustrated, tired, and in desperate need of a chiropractor. After the line quit screaming for the second time we began the process of bringing the fish in again. We heaved and pulled and grunted in hopes that the fish would miraculously start to help us bring it to the surface.
At the first glimpse of color under the surface of the water, we knew we had to be extremely careful not to let it swim back to the bottom because if that fish had swum to the bottom I would have been going after it; there was no way on this earth that fish was going anywhere but in our boat and then onto the scale at the shoreline dock.
While Nik continued to hold the halibut a few feet under the water, Grandpa and I got everything we needed:
Harpoon stick, check.
Harpoon tip, check.
Backup harpoon tip, check.
Backup rope, check.
Shark hook, check.
A quick sip of Pepsi, check.
We were ready for anything this fish could throw at us.
I put the harpoon tip on the stick and my grandpa attached it to the cleat on the back of the boat and I channeled every ounce of Herman Melville and Ishmael-trying-to-catch-Moby-Dick I could and I harpoon the halibut, just to the side of the gut sack.
Now if you have ever caught more than one halibut you know they all behave very differently when you impale their body with a harpoon…and this one was no exception.
Upon me removing the harpoon stick from the halibut - being careful to leave the harpoon tip and rope inside - she decided I smelled and needed to take a bath (all big halibut are female). She turned to run slapping her tail above the water, both taunting us, the fisherman, and giving me a much-needed bath. After I could see again from my shower of saltwater I saw the slack in the rope getting smaller and smaller. I knew that she was going to reach the end of the rope and potentially pull the harpoon tip through her own body. However, because God is merciful and also has a sense of humor, this fish decided to stop her full assault to the ocean floor and slowed down; preventing the harpoon tip from being ripped through her body and from us having to rip our arms off in an effort to stop her as well as the pain and cramping from having to reel her in, again.
With Nik on the rod, Grandpa on the rope, and me holding the shark hook we braved the beast again. I grabbed the shark hook and put it in the halibut's mouth trying to secure it. I walked around to the back because I knew there was no way, Nik, Kaela, and I could pull the halibut over the side of the boat. Once around to the back we opened the back swim deck to try to get the fish up onto the deck of the boat. The three of us were heaving and pulling trying to get the head of the fish into the boat. The strength of all three of us was almost enough, until, through all the sounds of trying to land the halibut we heard a faint clicking. The clicking intensified until Kaela’s rod on the other side of the boat was at a full scream running away. Kaela leaped to grab her rod and hung on as tight as she could until her halibut stopped running. Now, with one man down from pulling the monster into the boat, Nik and I took our pulling positions again and heaved like our lives depended on it. We pulled the head up onto the swim deck and brought it closer towards us through the gate opening until … the fish was too wide to fit (God’s sense of humor coming through again). As I held the shark hook in place, Nik got out on the swim deck next to the fish and pushed its side up, allowing it to fall onto the deck of the boat. Victory! We had done what seemed impossible and landed the halibut after nearly 45 minutes of struggle.
Grab the Champagne!! It’s time to celebrate!! Typically, this would have been a time to celebrate because we had just won the fish Superbowl. And we would celebrate, but in the midst of the battle over Nik’s fish, we had completely forgotten about Kaela’s fish; who was now only 30 feet from the boat and ready to be landed. Like a well-oiled machine, we grabbed everything we needed again and prepared to land Kaela’s halibut. Only this fish had a much stronger will to live and dove all the way to the bottom again.
Now we really were halibut fishermen and fisherwomen. Kaela’s halibut’s third ascent to the surface would prove fatal and we harpooned, shark hooked and brought her aboard before she had another chance to give Kaela’s arms a workout. We had done it. Successfully landed two halibut that had no intention of giving up the ghost. Now was the time for celebration; cheering and high fives filled the boat and we heroically pulled anchor and headed home. To not disrupt tradition we named our monster halibut — Gloria.
Nik drove us home, making a stop only to narrowly avoid a humpback whale that decided to come up for air right in front of us, but that is a story for another day. Without further interruptions, we made it back home.
Grandma, Grandpa, and the grandkids had proved successful in catching two halibut weighing in at 188 pounds and 80 pounds.
Caught, cut, packaged, and frozen, by the grandkids and sent home so Grandma could cook us halibut for dinner.
…And that is the story of how Kelly’s children beat his biggest halibut by 5-pounds on a Monday afternoon in August…