You Caught One, Now What?

So, all of your planning, saving, and waiting finally paid off and here you are in the Great North of Alaska, surrounded by ocean and beautiful green mountains. You have been escorted to the fishing hole by sea lions and porpoises. You have dropped your lines amid the orcas and the humpbacked whales and you have been awestruck by the bald eagles fishing alongside of you.

You were particularly well prepared because you found early on. You have downloaded the free e-book, Alaskan Fishing Tips for Beginners and Pros and used it as a guide for your preparations. As a result of your excellent preparations, you now have a fish on your line. In just a few more moments, it will be alongside of the boat. What, you might ask, comes next?

The answer to that question depends on several things. Obviously, it depends on what type of fish it is. It also depends on whether you are fishing with a guide or are doing what they call self-guided (renting a boat). If you are with a guide, the fun is over because they will recover the fish into the boat for you either with a net, a gaff, or some by other means. If you are on your own, the fun is just beginning, especially if your fish is a big halibut or other monster from the deep.

The big halibut are lots of fun to get into the boat. The self-guided lodges that I have fished with have been good to teach me how the big fish recovery is done. The method that I was started out with is the same method that I have stayed with.

Basically, when the halibut is brought alongside the boat, the first step is to shark hook it. We were given a large shark hook (a large hook about as wide as your hand and with a shank about 3/8 inch diameter). This hook was barbed just like any regular fish hook. In fact it just looks like a giant fishing hook. This hook had a length of rope attached to it about 5 feet long. This rope was to be attached to any one of the cleats along the side of the boat BEFORE using it on the halibut.A shark hook used in landing Alaskan Halibut

So, the halibut is brought alongside of the boat. The shark hook is hooked to one of the cleats. The hook is then hook into the fish’s bottom jaw from the inside to the outside in one quick motion. The rope is held in the hand to ease the strain on the rope and on the fish. Having the end tied to the cleat is just a precaution in case you were to lose your grip on the rope. The fish will always fight upon insertion of the shark hook. When the frenzy dies down, the fish is then stunned with a blow to the head with a small bat or club. If dealt correctly, this blow will leave the fish unconscious and will end the struggling. Some guides will shoot the fish with a pistol or 410 shotgun instead. Smaller halibut can then be drug aboard using the shark hook or a gaff. Larger fish must first be “tailed”.

To tail a fish, a small length of rope is wrapped around the smallest part of the halibut tail just ahead of where it starts to widen out. This provides a handle for a friend (or friends) to help lift the beast aboard. On getting the fish into the boat, I was taught to bleed the fish out. This is done by using a knife to make a sideways slice through the gills on each side of the fish. I had never heard of doing this before but it makes sense. We were told that all fish should be bled out this way, be they halibut, salmon, lingcod, or whatever. We were told that it made for better meat when it came time to eat the fish. It is a practice that has stuck with me.

Well, congratulations, you have just put your first Alaskan halibut into the live-well. Re-bait quickly and let’s get another one.

Alaska Jim signature, fishing trip to Alaska