Holy Halibut!

This summer for the first time, I went halibut fishing off the waters of Port McNeill, which is situated on the north east coast of Vancouver Island, BC.  It was a foggy, overcast day, in contrast to the bright sunny weather we had been experiencing.  Having been on the water before on such days, I went out fully clothed (that is, wearing shoes, socks jeans and sweaters, and forgetting about the summer shorts and flip flops) – it could get chilly, especially in the wee hours of the morning and being out on an open boat.

Alder Bay sunset

My hosts for this event were John and Myrna, experienced halibut fisherpeople who had been operating a fish chartering business in these waters for several years.  We were visiting them at Alder Bay Resort, an RV camping spot just off the road that takes you to Telegraph Cove (a well-known whale watching centre).  Alder Bay has terrific views and each day we were there, enjoyed gorgeous sunsets and refreshingly cool air. We took out their 26 ft fishing boat, the Johnny Five, especially rigged out for catching halibut.  The day before, the fellows had been out and had no luck.  However, it was the ladies’ turn and there was definite promise in the air.

John likes to start the day with a bang.  With vintage music blaring (a la 1960’s), horns blowing and chicken’s squawking (yes, I did say chicken) albeit a rubber one, we were off in search of the wily halibut.  We left at 6:30am, with plenty to eat and drink for a six hour sojourn at sea.

The Johnny Five has all the latest equipment – fish finder, depth sounder, GPS… and a ‘no bananas’ sign.  It wasn’t long before our seasoned captain found the area he was looking for.  My companion, Molly Francis and I, were sworn to secrecy that we wouldn’t reveal where we were, but that was easy, because we had no idea where we were.  All we could see around us was mist and some vaguely outlined islands.  In fact, at one point a crew from a local resort stopped to ask directions because their GPS had failed and they couldn’t find their way home.

Four fishing fools, myself, John, Myrna & Molly

Once John was satisfied that we were over a promising spot, it was time to bait the hooks and drop the lines.  Having been cod fishing several times, I thought I would catch on to jigging for halibut pretty easily.  But as it turned out, it was more difficult and definitely more strenuous.  John baited the large hooks with salmon, and to each was attached a heavy lead ball – that I think weighed three or four pounds, but it was probably just that it felt that heavy.  Then you lower the line by letting it run out until you feel it hit bottom.  That sounds easy, but in fact, it was quite often hard to tell when you were on the bottom – especially since bottom was 270 feet below.  John said we had to go this deep, because halibut are bottom feeders and tend to group themselves in ‘holes’ on the ocean floor.

Molly and I tried to emulate Myrna, who had the technique down for sensing where her line was and for jigging without wearing out her arms.   John explained that when tides were moving, you had to reel up a bit or let go.  Molly and I took turns pulling up on the line and letting it drop.  John intervened when he thought we had a bite or something was snagged.  He said that halibut were tricky, because you had to tease them a bit to induce them to bite and sometimes they would take the bait, then spit it out again!

It wasn’t long before Myrna had a bite, and she immediately called John over to assist her.  She didn’t want to take a chance on losing it.  Feeling as foggy as the weather, I can’t remember how and when the first fish was caught, only that when it was my turn and I had one to reel in, it was hard work!  At one point I brought in a dog fish – like a small shark and unfortunately not something you would keep.  All of us allowed John to help bring the catch into the boat.  By noon we had three nice halibut around the 25 pound mark.  John figured we should call it quits at 12:30 but we were all hoping that we would get that last one, as that was our quota.  Then it happened, at 12:25 Molly felt a definite bite.  With John’s help she reeled it up to the boat and it turned out to be the prize of the day – a nice 35 pound fellow.

Molly and the big catch

We got back to camp to find that the fellows had done well with salmon – catching two nice Spring of about 22 pounds each.  It wasn’t until we hit the dock that Molly and I realized what a phenomenal day we had had and we were both really thrilled to have caught this great eating fish.  John’s son Jonathan, who works with him chartering, sliced up our halibut for us.  Halibut are all meat with a very small stomach – so you don’t have to clean them, just filet them.  We divvied up our fish and packed it for the trip home.  I was too tired that night to cook it, but had some fresh the next day.  What a treat!

If you want to try halibut fishing at Alder Bay, you can reach John and Myrna at JZ’s Charters you can call them in Port McNeill at 250-956-3104 or in Campbell River at 250-850-1050, or toll free at 1-866-347-4009.  Email: jzs-f@telus.net. Visit them at: http://halibuthaven.wordpress.com/ Photos are courtesy of Molly Francis.

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