Finally getting the chance to fish, I threw myself into the act. We started with mooching for King Salmon and I was immediately glad that I was on a boat full of novice anglers. The captain and deckhand each grabbed a rod and gave us a quick run through on how to hold it, how to cast, and what we were looking for in noticing a bite on the line. I’d been fishing and I knew how to cast, but casting with this type of rod is very different than the light bass pole I knew so well. Instead of bringing the rod back over your shoulder and throwing forward, you do something dubbed the “around the world,” namely taking a short lateral swivel to the side before swinging the lead around the tip of the rod and dropping line merely a few feet from you and the boat. I found this the most challenging part because I was constantly worried I would snag on the line of the angler next to me.
The captain told us the depth and we let the line drop close to the bottom before reeling upwards in an alternating sequence of fast and slow reels. Five fast, five slow, five fast, five slow. I might not necessarily have followed that sequence exactly as I tend to get a bit absent-minded at times, but it worked pretty well for me. I wasn’t the first to hook a fish, in fact I was getting kind of worried that I wasn’t going to get anything at all, but that was just the paranoia seeping in. I think there were two kings in the boat and maybe even a chicken halibut, when I felt that distinctive tap on the line and started reeling. Now I wish I had remembered that I fish lefty before we’d set out, so I could’ve switched poles or something, but it wasn’t that bad reeling backwards.
I let out a surprised yell when I felt him on the line, immediately drawing in both the deckhand and the captain to yell inspirations like, “Just keep cranking,” or “Ooh that’s a big one. Definitely a King.” I was getting stoked just thinking about the beast on my line, but my strength was weakening quickly. I think my muscles were still sleeping. I was panting a bit when he finally broke the surface and I caught a glimpse of my King. He was smaller than I’d imagined, but of course I’d imagined hooking a whale at one point. When we posed for pictures, I made sure to cradle “my baby” like the precious memory that it was. We moved on to soaking for halibut after each of us had caught our King. And honestly, I thought it would take more time, but apparently our captain knew all the top-secret nooks that Kings hang out in. I call him the Salmon Whisperer.
Soaking is an entirely different beast than mooching. The rods generally don’t leave the rod holders because you can literally hook monsters from their cavernous homes. You man your “meat stick” and really just wait for the rod tip to bend over so you know the bait is being taken. When I was first assigned my meat stick I was relieved that I didn’t have to hold the rod anymore. My tiny spaghetti arms are worthless when it comes to catching large fish, but there is just something so much more exciting in actually feeling every nibble than just waiting for the bait to be taken. The crew kept telling me to let the bait get eaten because I tended to jump the gun on reeling when the halibut wasn’t quite ready to hop on the hook. All I kept thinking was, if he’s nibbling on the bait like he is, how am I supposed to know when he’s progressed from nibbling to scarfing? That was really difficult for me.
Every time new bait would get put on my hook, I would send it to the bottom and reel up a few times until it was just suspended above the sea floor. Halibut don’t really leave the bottom very often so I can only assume that they smell the deliciousness that is the gut bomb and seek it out. Alas, my big halibut never came. I blame it on the handful of Lingcod that latched onto my line, constantly keeping it covered with their large dragon-mouths. I didn’t get to keep any of mine because they were too big for regulations, but I pulled two to the surface and snapped a few pictures. On one of my last chances to cast out before we returned to the docks, I brought up a chicken halibut. He fought hard, but you could definitely tell that he wasn’t going to be very large in size. I cherished him nonetheless.