Saturday, September 7, 2019

Fishing for halibut in Alaska


When you go to Homer, Alaska, the first area you’ll want to explore is the Homer Spit. This thin 4.5 mile stretch of land curves southeast from the mainland like a tongue lapping at the sea.
Bridge from the mainland to the Homer Spit
Experts think the Spit is the remains of an ancient glacial moraine that is constantly being reshaped by ocean currents. This natural feature might have disappeared years ago if humans had not decided it was worth preserving. Almost every winter storms from the northwest try to separate the 4.5 mile strip of sand and gravel from the mainland, but locals are committed to this iconic piece of history. They have built rock walls and fortified the Spit to preserve the beginnings of their town.

Archeological finds indicate that the Spit was occupied by humans long before written history. Pacific Eskimo, Athabascan Indians tribes, and Russian explorers all added their cultures, and the Spit improved economically over time. As more settlers arrived, Homer grew to encompass the foothills. After roads connected Homer to the rest of Alaska in 1950, towns on the north side of Kachemak Bay like Homer grew in importance.
Aerial view of the strip of land called Homer Spit
There’s not much to the town center (the Islands andOcean Visitor Center is worth a visit), but Old Town provides glimpses of Homer’s early history. However, it’s the Spit that has garnered most of the attention and become the center of tourist activity. Homer Harbor, Seafarers’ Memorial, Mariner Park, the Salty Dawg watering hole and lighthouse—along with a plethora of gift shops, restaurants, and tour company offices—attract strolling tourists and photographers.

Tourists enjoy walking around to see shops, restaurants, and more
on the Homer Spit.
Our first morning in Homer, we made the 10-mile drive to the end of the Spit, primarily to purchase licenses ($25 each) for our halibut fishing excursion in the afternoon. Not being avid fisher people, we chose to do this mainly for the experience—catching fish would be a bonus.
After a bumpy hour and three-quarters ride in a relatively small boat to the spot populated by many halibut, we were instructed to drop our baited lines (outfitted with a 2-pound weight) 200 feet to the bottom of the ocean. Then the fun began!
I struggled to reel in a large halibut.
It wasn’t enough that the boat lurched with the waves so that keeping balance wasn’t easy, but reeling the line was awkward for my left-handed self. Several times I could feel that a fish was hooked and struggled to reel in about 20 +  pounds of flipping fish, but I got too tired to continue, and the halibut managed to escape. Not the result I hoped for.

“You have to reel it in yourself,” the guide told me. “And don’t stop until it’s in the boat.” Something about regulations that prevented them from catching the fish for us, especially since we were only allowed two halibut per person. I was determined not to be a total failure at this, even though I often wailed, “I can’t do this!”
We caught our limit--2 halibut each.


So, I’ll tell you that fishing for halibut is hard work. Larry managed to get his limit a while before I did. But I finally had my catches tagged and stowed, awaiting what comes next.
Before beginning the filleting process on the return boat ride, the guides offered to take pictures of us with our 60-80 pounds of halibut. With all the fish filleted and bagged, the crew tossed scraps overboard as an easy meal for the circling gulls.
Guides were very adept at filleting the fish.
As I walked my exhausted self off the boat, a guide handed me a package with all the “meat” from our four fish. It was so heavy I almost dropped it to the ground. We estimate there were at least 25-30 pounds of fish filets in that bag.

Since this was the beginning of our three-week trip, we decided not to have the fish shipped back to Texas. Instead, on the recommendation of a local Alaskan, we took the bag of filets to Captain Pattie’s Fish Market on the Spit. This restaurant cooked an amazing meal with our really fresh fish. And then the waitress set a huge platter of halibut filets fried with a light, fluffy crust on our table, enough for four more meals—which greatly satisfied our taste for halibut.
Each piece of fish is a serving size, so we enjoyed several meals
from our catch.
And more lucky restaurant clients got the benefit of fresh fish from our excursion.

Photos by Larry and Beverly Burmeier