by Greg Purvis
I was about 12 at the time this story took place, and was going fishing in Puget Sound with my cousin Jon in his boat. His boat, only about 12 feet long, was not really equipped for fishing so close to the ocean. My parents had dropped me off at his house on Friday in Port Angeles, where we would go fishing the next two days. We got up really early the next morning and Jon drove down to the launch and we put the boat in the water. As it got light we noticed that it was very foggy. We were going to fish for salmon at a place called the “Humps,” but we determined that it was too foggy to make it all the way there without getting lost. We were both pretty young (Jon was only 18) and did not know really what to do. We decided that we would follow the shoreline until we reached the mouth of the Elwha River.
The ride there was uneventfully, and we started to troll the area with cut-plug herring. After not paying attention for a few minutes, we lost sight of land. We continued fishing, but tried to stay in the same general area so that when the fog cleared (it almost always does in mid-afternoon) we would be near the boat launch. By lunchtime we were getting tired, didn’t know where we were, and had only caught a small (3 lb.) Cohosalmon. We could tell we were near shore because it was only about 60 feet deep, and we could hear a fog horn in the distance.
This is where this story gets interesting. Just after lunch, I was letting my line down to the bottom, and could not find it. I must have let out at least 150 feet of line, and my sinker had not yet hit the bottom. I was almost at the end of the spool of line, so I started to reel in. I noticed my line was at an angle! Apparently I had a fish on that was moving in one direction swiftly, but I had not noticed it. I jerked hard and set the hook. Jon reeled in his line and started the motor. We started chasing the fish, and must have done so for at least half an hour without the fish going toward the surface more than 20 or 30 feet. I was starting to tire. Wasn’t the fish?, It couldn’t be a salmon, none around here grow that big.
Finally, it was heading upward, we could soon see what it was. When it was only about 10 feet under the boat, Jon stuck his head in the water and looked down. When he came up he said it was a halibut, a HUGE halibut! He said it was probably 6 feet long, and would have weighed upwards of 200 pounds. For those of you who don’t know what a halibut looks like, it is a flat fish with both eyes on one side of it’s head that swims flat, making it very difficult to get it to head up. We kept it near the boat for the next half an hour or so. I had been fighting it for almost two hours! Luckily, Jon had a gaff hook (kind of like a spear and what you use to land halibut.) We did not think about the consequences of hauling this huge fish into the boat, or of killing it if we managed to (big halibut will flop around for hours, it just about takes a shot from a pistol to kill one.)
Jon gaffed it near the tail and it started flopping around like crazy, under the boat. I was on one side of the boat with my pole, and my cousin was on the other with the gaffed halibut. The fish was thrashing back and forth, continuously bumping into the boat. We felt as though we were on a scary rollercoaster. We knew we had to do something. Fast.
Jon pulled the gaff out, and the halibut started swimming in circles around the boat. It came after us and bumped the boat really hard, then it swam under the boat taking my line with it. SNAP. My line broke. The fish had a wound in its tail, but it would survive.
The halibut swam along the surface for a few yards, and then headed down, to return to the depths in which it belong. He will probably live out the rest of his life without ever being hooked again. It would have been nearly impossible for us to have landed this fish, in that 12 foot boat, without a gun. We have heard tales of boats tipped over by these great fish, and tales of them flopping around in big boats for hours and hours. We may have been able to tow it in but even this would have been nearly impossible.
When we think about what happened to us, we realize how rare this event really was. Halibut of this size are rarely found shallower than 150 feet deep, and we were fishing in about half that. The state record halibut is a little more than 200 pounds and Jon and I honestly say that it weighed more than that.
(Of course, fishermen never lie.)