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The Only Place to Catch Halibut in Alaska

Fishing has been in my blood ever since I was a little girl. Living on the Texas coast, fishing, swimming, and hunting for seashells, are typical weekend activities. As a child, my family would spend summers at the bay digging for flounder, catching crabs or the notorious “hardhead” (which is a family of the catfish). Something I mastered through the many years of growing up fishing with my family, is learning to be patient. This skill is a must!  

When my husband and I were discussing the possibility of traveling to Alaska to visit our friends I knew one of the activities I wanted to experience was halibut fishing. As summer days in Alaska are quite long, this allows for more time spent outdoors. Since we stayed with friends in Anchorage, we took their advice and scheduled our charter fishing trip in Seward. Phil, our friend in Anchorage, shared some of his “fishing” stories, telling us about the “larger than frying pan size” halibut he caught in Seward. With only a three-hour drive away, I was excited about this fishing adventure!

The route meanders for approximately 127 miles from Anchorage to Seward, crossing mountains, the Kenai Peninsula, and the harbor town on Resurrection Bay. The road trip along the Seward Highway is an All-American Road. The views along the way are breathtaking with snow-cap mountains, glass top lakes, trees, and flowers in full bloom. During our three-hour drive, looking out the window into Mother Nature’s creation, we observed a moose drinking water from a pond and a pair of bald eagles tending to their nests. Seeing these animals up close made it seem like I was watching a movie and I knew this was probably something I would probably never experience again, so I just appreciated the moment.

Seward, pronounced “Soo-word,” is Alaska’s oldest and most scenic community. It is surrounded by majestic mountains which are covered with trees, flowers and green grass in the summer. Seward is one of Alaska’s only deep-water, ice-free ports with railroad, highway and air transportation readily available for its visitors. Seward’s population within the city limits is about 2,600 with average temperatures of 60 degrees Fahrenheit in the summer. These conditions make it an ideal place for sport fishing trips, kayak excursions, and day cruises.

Phil scheduled our fishing trip with J Dock Company, a world-class sports fishing and fresh seafood company.  J-Dock, a family owned business with over 40-years of experience, knows the waters of Resurrection Bay and had such an excellent reputation of providing impeccable customer service to their eager anglers, we knew they would take good care of us. When we arrived at their office, displayed on the walls were pictures of previous anglers along with their catch of the day. I was extremely excited about catching my first halibut and I couldn’t wait to get out on the water.

Ironically, our chartered boat included another family who just so happened to be from San Antonio, Texas. We knew this trip was going to bring us good luck because of all of the “Texans” on board.

We quickly became friends and were all excited about our day of deep-water halibut fishing . Our deckhand was a 5’4” young, blond woman named Bonnie, by looking at her stature, I wasn’t sure she was going to be able to handle all the large fish we were about to catch, but she quickly proved me wrong. Her size didn’t stop her from setting lines, baiting hooks and helping us reel in our fish.  She was super sweet and set up our equipment as the boat captain took us out in the bay to his “honey hole” of a fishing spot. It was a cold, foggy morning, so it made it a little difficult to enjoy the view of the mountains surrounding the bay, but with a cup of hot chocolate in hand, we shared stories with our boat mates which made the trip into the bay very enjoyable.

Once we headed out of the marina, I watched Bonnie prepare our gear by assembling the halibut hooks. These are large round-shaped hooks tied to the bottom of the line with about three feet line leader, that goes to the lead ball weight, weighing about two pounds. The fishing rod itself has to be extremely sturdy, as Halibut fish can weigh 60 pounds or more. The fishing rod is about 6 feet long and needs to be sturdy and lightweight as you will be spending a lot of time holding it while you reel in your big fish.

I have fished in the Gulf of Mexico and in the bays along the Texas coast catching fish such as saltwater speckled trout, red fish, flounder, and the occasional grouper. The average weight of these Texas fish ranges from 2-7 pounds, a considerable difference compared to halibut. The bait we use in Texas coastal fishing is usually shrimp, croakers, or artificial lures.

When fishing for halibut we used herring, salmon heads and guts, octopus, cod, and crabs. Once we baited our hook we simply dropped the line over the edge of the boat and let the weight fall to the ocean floor. Once the weight hit the bottom we closed the bail, which keeps the rod from continuing to spin out the line, and waited for our first catch. Occasionally you pull up on the weight and let it fall back down again as the halibut are attracted by the scent and bounce of the bait. What I didn’t realize is how far down it is to the bottom of the ocean floor.

Halibut are like Flounder, they are bottom feeders and love deep water. In order to get the bait close to where the halibuts are feeding, we were dropping our lines at 250-300 feet deep! The boat captain used a GPS with a sonar to help him find schools of halibuts.

Bonnie instructed us to keep an eye on the tip of rods and when the rod started to bob up and down, that meant you probably have a halibut on your line. Watching my rod for quite some time, I was getting very anxious to reel in my first halibut. I kept waiting and waiting and then all of a sudden, my rod started bobbing and Bonnie yelled, “You have a fish!” I reeled and reeled; it seemed like for days. Although I’m an athlete, I was surprised at how hard it is to reel in such a big fish from a depth of 300 feet. Of course, I was reminded that I’m pulling the 2 pound weight, plus the bait, and a huge fish that is jerking and tugging the line to unhook itself. While doing all this pulling and reeling from the ocean floor, I literally thought my arm was going to fall off!

I finally reeled the line all the way to the boat’s edge and saw the beautiful white bellied creature as Bonnie reached over the edge to scoop it up with her net. What a captivating fish! Everyone on the boat clapped with excitement and congratulated me on my big catch of the day. I was smiling ear to ear! I couldn’t wait to get back to land to tell my own fishing story. Everyone on the boat caught more than their share of fish that day.

As the day was coming to an end, the boat captain headed back to dock so that we could clean and prepare the fish for our travels home. To say the least, we were exhausted, but I honestly had the most wonderful experience. Bonnie, along with the boat captain, cleaned all of our fish and prepared them to put into bags so that we could toss them in our ice chest for the journey home.

Once we arrived in Anchorage, we took our catch to a fish market where they vacuum-packed each filet and then put them all in a chest full of dry ice. The fish market did an excellent job of packing and boxing our fish.  The day we traveled back to Texas, we stopped by to pick up the ice chest we had checked with our airline. We couldn’t wait to have friends over to try our delicious halibut, fresh from Alaska!

I highly recommend booking a charter fishing trip while in Alaska, even if you have never fished before. The deckhand and boat captain will assist you in the process and it is a great way to be out on the water. The experience of being in the bay, seeing the panoramic view of the mountains and catching a halibut is indeed an amazing feeling and an adventure you can only get in Alaska.  

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