Innersea Discoveries Cruises
Kayak Fishing for Halibut in Alaska
By John L. Beath
Innersea Discoveries Cruises invited my wife Lois and me on a 7-day “Get Acquainted” cruise aboard the Safari Quest, one of their premier American Safari Cruise Ships. Our trip was scheduled for seven days, departing from Juneau Alaska. Our hosts told us we would have the opportunity to get close to nature in a kayak, hiking, skiff excursions, flight seeing and of course, fishing!
Our cruise would match the southbound itinerary of their new Innersea Discovery “Un-Cruise” schedule for 2011. Unlike most Alaskan cruises, the Innersea Discoveries Cruises visit remote wilderness areas each day. At night the 49 passenger cruise ships drop anchor in secluded bays or coves filled with wildlife and unmatched Alaskan beauty.
Northern Lights Photo Courtesy Inside The Travel Lab
As the sun sets each day, giving way to dark star-filled skies, cruise ship guests can watch for the Northern Lights, a natural neon light show that radiates across the sky. Also called the Aurora Borealis, the light show phenomenon appears when solar flares from the sun cause electrons and protons to stretch and bend into Earth’s atmosphere near the northern and southern poles. When these particles collide with atoms and molecules in the upper atmosphere the collisions transform into a dancing wave-like green and red light. These Northern Light shows always leave me awe struck and spellbound, especially when surrounded by Alaska’s light-free wilderness.
Throughout our trip Lois and I fished from a tandem kayak with Pt. Wilson Darts in hopes of hooking rockfish, lingcod, salmon or halibut. Several rockfish liked our jigs and allowed us to play catch and release with them. Halfway through our trip the Quest anchored near Wrangle, at remote Ideal Cove. The other guests aboard, including Lois choose to go ashore for a hike. I stayed behind in favor of fishing from the kayak. A quick visit with the captain and his area marine chart revealed a really great looking spot for halibut. A small island sat between our ship and a left sock looking 90-foot underwater bank. The spot looked liked a perfect halibut hideout.
To prepare for the solo kayak halibut fishing trip I put on my Mustang float coat, put my VHF radio in the pocket along with my emergency whistle. A few extra jigs, folding fillet knife and circle hook leader rounded out my gear. With the Necky kayak’s bow aimed toward the little island and spinning rod and reel in hand, it took just a few minutes to reach the first jig stop. My chosen jig was a 3 1/2 ounce green/pearl Pt. Wilson Dart Candlefish. The first spot produced nothing, not even a nibble. Five more minutes of paddling brought me to jig stop two. Ten minutes of gentle jigging produced nothing, but brought memories of all the other locales on the trip that always produced a fish. This spot had no fish, but the chart showed perfect halibut habitat. I thought the place must have halibut because it lacked small rockfish.
Jig spot three, just five minutes paddle farther to the southwest would hopefully be more productive. Within two minutes of arrival something grabbed my jig sending my rod tip underwater. Thankfully my spinning reel’s drag was set heavy enough to do the job and light enough not to tip me and the kayak into the water. Twenty minutes after hooking the halibut its shadow appeared under the kayak. With one hand I held the rod while my free hand opened the blade of my folding fillet knife. The knife sat on the bottom of the kayak, waiting for the right moment. A few more cranks brought the halibut to the surface. Slowly my right hand lifted the rod tip higher to expose the halibut's head out of the water. A reverse grip on the fillet knife followed by a quick thrust through the head behind the cheeks started the bleeding process. After thrusting the knife and dropping it back on the bottom of the boat the halibut went wild, thrashing a saltwater shower in my face.
After the shower Mr. halibut pointed its head to the bottom. It took five minutes to fight the fish back to the surface, repeat the stabbing process and halibut back to bottom. It took three in and out of the head thrusts of the knife and three back-to-the-bottom episodes to gain enough control on the halibut to begin step two of the halibut kayak fishing process.
One of the Quest’s crew kept a watchful eye on my exploits from the bow. Knowing I would have a difficult time subduing the halibut I made a call on my VHF radio. The portable radio’s batteries were too weak to transmit, but strong enough to power the receiver. Luckily my whistle would attract my lookout’s attention. Three sharp, loud blasts of the whistle did the trick. The lookout called on their radio to the captain who sped my way in his inflatable. When he arrived he looked flabbergasted, and asked what he could do to help.
“Do you have a buoy aboard?” I asked
“No,” he replied.
“Do you have an extra life vest?”
“Yes, what are you going to do with it?” he asked.
“Tie it to this circle hook with cord. Here, tie it to the end,” I asked while throwing the rig into his boat.
He quickly tied the life vest to the halibut and tossed it back to me. Step two, attach the circle hook and float to the halibut's jaw. Instead of thrusting a knife through its head I reached with my left hand and stuck the circle hook in the corner of the halibut's mouth, quickly jerked and let go. The halibut took off with life vest in tow. Five minutes later the halibut bleed out and stopped thrashing. The captain reached down, grabbed the cord and pulled the halibut over the gunwale – game over for the halibut. Fifty inches of halibut weighing 60 pounds from a kayak was my reward!
What a great
cruise, from Juneau to Ketchikan. We experienced the best of Alaska from
a kayak, caught fish from a kayak, went coho fishing, iceberg touring,
hiking, whale watching and enjoyed several wilderness adventures. Seven
day trips aboard the Innersea Discoveries Cruise line start at $1,795
per person and include meals, kayaking, hiking, whale watching, skiff
tours and excursion interpretive guides. For more information about
Innersea Discoveries Cruises give them a call or visit their
website, just click their name in the story. 1-877-901-1009