By Kent Danjanovich
There is no doubt about it. If you are looking for great fishing opportunities in one of the most beautiful places in the world, Alaska is your place. And if you are looking to hook into a monster halibut, the name of the game is Gustavus, AK and Glacier Bay Eagles Nest Lodge.
Now although the salmon fishing is spectacular in the Gustavus area as well, for most, the reason to pick this area is for the halibut fishing. There is probably not a better place in Alaska if you are in search of a monster flat fish, with many 300+ pounders caught each year in the Glacier Bay region. Most of the fishing is done with circle hooks and bait, especially with the odd currents in the area. Many times the tides will be going one way as the top water currents are going the opposite, making it tough on the boat captains as they try and keep everyone fishing rather than untangling their crossed lines. But if you can hit the tides just right (which is most of the time), you can almost be assured of having the chance of battling a true ‘Barn Door’ bruiser that will leave you with sore arms and sweat rolling down you cheeks. But remember – at least you will be fishing in manageable depths, not 300+ feet of water with four to five pound weights.
In August, I was joined by fellow Pro-Staffer, Steve McGrath for our return trip to visit Kent Huff and his staff at his Eagles Nest Lodge. Our dates were set as Kent studied his tide books to find the ideal tides of the summer. Also for this trip, special Glacier Bay fishing permits were secured in hopes that we would be able to have the opportunity to hook-up on one or two of the true monster halibut of the area.
Our first day on the water found us with relatively clear skies, with patches of fog hovering along the shorelines. Steve and I were joined by Kent and Matt Huff from the lodge. Kent had moved one of their boats to the dock at Glacier Bay as it would afford us a little less travel time to get to our intended targeted locations inside the park. Spouting humpbacks could be seen literally in every direction as we made our way to the western shore in search of a monster halibut. The area is very impressive as you cruise along shorelines that were completely covered by ice just 200 years ago.
Kent soon has us on the spot and Matt released the anchor in the 180 feet of water. We then each grabbed a rod and loaded our circle hooks with strips of fresh pink salmon (from our trip to the Salmon River the night before). We each walked to a corner of the boat and sent our lines to the bottom. The tide was about two hours from its peak, so we were definitely in the right place at the right time.
Our first bite came about 20 minutes into the set. As I was gently bouncing my offering on the bottom, that welcomed tap, tap, tap started to get my attention. A moment later, my rod was headed toward the water and the fight was on. Line immediately started to zing out of my reel as ‘Mr. Halibut’ figured out that he had a sharp object wedged in his lip. A 10 minute battle resulted in a very respectable 60 pounder at the surface, a great fish, but not quite what we were looking for on this day.
Matt was the next to hook up, with his results about the same. For the next hour and a half, it was literally non-stop action, as each of us hooked into halibut after halibut, ranging from 20 to eighty pounds. But the next hook-up would be a little different.
Just as Matt had let out his line and placed his rod in the rod holder, the tip of his rod started to bob. He had changed it up a bit this time, placing a salmon head on his hook rather than strips of meat. You could tell that this was a much larger fish and it would need a little more time to take in the salmon head and secure Matt’s hook. When his rod tip started to head for the water, it was game on!
When you hook into a big halibut, there usually isn’t any mistaking of what will follow and this fish was no different. Just as Matt would gain a little line, this big old girl would head back to the bottom. For the next 30 minutes, Matt truly would have his hands full, but he endured and soon had the fish at the surface. Kent grabbed a role of string and instructed me to grab the end and hold it at the end of the tail. He then stretch the other end to its nose as Steve McGrath stood above us, filming the entire episode for an upcoming edition of Sportsman’s News Television.
After the measurement was secured, Kent and Matt worked the circle hook out of the fish’s mouth and watched her head back to the depths of Glacier Bay. It was then over to the measuring board with the string to see how long she was. Since the board only measured to 42 inches, we had to stretch it out nearly twice, as the final tally came to 74 inches. Although it is not official, the chart in the back of the tide book estimated Matt’s catch at about 215 pounds.
In all on this day, over 50 halibut came to the side of the boat, ranging from 20 pounds to Matt’s 215 pounder. After a day like this, what could the following day have to offer? Well, we would soon find out.
Day two found us again headed to the same area, but this time we traded Matt for Steve and Sammie Bateman and Randy Peck, all visitors from Utah. Kent soon had us hovering over our spot and the anchor hit the water. We each grabbed a rod, baited our lines and released the reels, sending our offerings to the bottom. As usual, when you have a woman on board, Sammie was the first to hook up. After a good battle, she finally brought her fish to the surface, a nice 35 pound keeper.
About an hour later, the tide started to swing and light winds started to fight the turn of the boat. Before we knew it, all four of our lines were tangled in the right hand corner of the boat. As Kent worked on the lines from inside the boat, I worked my way to the motor platform on the back of the boat to try and assist him in his efforts to untangle the lines. As soon as mine was free, I moved it back over to the left hand side of the boat, let out the line to the bottom and placed my rod in its holder. I then returned to try and help work on the other three lines.
As the second line was released, I grabbed the rod and turned to also take it over to the other side of the boat. Just then, I noticed the tip of my rod softly moving up and down. I now had a salmon head on as bait and knew that something big would have to find it in order to be able to get it down. And boy, did something big find it!
After two or three more bobs, I lifted the rod from its holder and just about had it ripped from my hands. My reel started to ‘zing’ as I started to see line on the reel that hadn’t seen the light of day for a long time. Kent asked me if I was going to get spooled and I responded, “Yes”! He instructed me to put my thumb on the spool in hopes of stopping the run, even if we lost the fish. The tactic worked and the run ended. But believe me, the fight had just begun.
As I tried to gain a little line, I could tell that this was no ordinary fish. I turned to Steve Bateman and ask him if he wanted to take over. He got a big smile on his face and nodded, “Yes”. Lucky for him, the big run that the fish had taken on me was its last. But, the next 30+ minutes resulted in a very tired fisherman, as Steve slowly worked the rod up and then reeled down each time in hopes of gaining a few more feet on the return.
After what seemed like an eternity, Steve yelled “COLOR” as the fish started to reach the surface. Even though I couldn’t see the fish from the other side of the boat, all I had to do was look at the expression on Steve’s face to know that it was a monster.
With camera rolling, Steve brought the fish to the surface and the ‘oohs and awes’ began. Kent quickly got out his roll of string and we took a quick measurement. There was no way of getting the hook out of its mouth, so Kent grabbed his knife and cut the line as close to the circle hook as possible. After a few high fives, the line was stretched at the measuring board, revealing the length of the fish at 80 inches. The resulting chart weight at nearly 277 pounds.
Well, need I say more? Our return trip to Glacier Bay Eagles Nest Lodge couldn’t have been much better. Our quest for big halibut resulted in two ‘Big Un’s” and over seventy fish in our two days on the water. Although our focus on this trip was halibut, many other species are available in the area as well, including all five species of Pacific salmon as well as great opportunities for lingcod, yelloweye and all sorts of rock fish. Also, some great stream fishing can be had on the Salmon, Idaho and Bartlett Rivers as well with either spincast outfits or fly rods.
So, if you are looking for the best chance of hooking into a whopper halibut, you need to give Kent Huff and his staff a call today to talk about all of the possibilities. Not only is the fishing superb, but the lodging, food and scenery aren’t too bad either! It is no wonder Glacier Bay is one of the most popular cruise stops through the Inner Passage as sights and sounds of Alaska truly come alive. Glacier Bay Eagles Nest Lodge, visit them on the web at www.glacierbayfishing.com or give them a call at 801-376-6513.