Chad Aldridge of Sterling got the call tonight he's been telling himself not to expect. The 350.8-pound halibut Aldridge reeled in June 19 has made the fisherman the first-place winner in the 2011 Homer Jackpot Halibut Derby, an event sponsored by the Homer Chamber of Commerce and Visitor Center.
The jackpot grand prize: $28,260.
"I've been telling myself I wasn't going to win," Aldridge told the Homer News shortly after receiving the call from Derby Coordinator Paula Frisinger that he had, indeed, won the derby.
For the past three and a half months, a comfortable margin separated Aldridge's halibut from other derby entries. The only close call was Sept. 25, when Chriss Ryherd of Soldotna landed a 339.6-pound halibut.
Close, as the saying goes, only counts in horseshoes, and this was no game of horseshoes.
On June 19, Aldridge headed out onto Kachemak Bay with his 24-foot Hewescraft, the Seabee. With him were his father, Ron, and friends, Justin and Mandy Morin. They didn't get past Seldovia before Aldridge decided they'd gone far enough.
"It wasn't that rough coming out of the harbor, but it got a little bit choppy and I got tired of getting beat up so I just stopped," said Aldridge. "It was no specific spot. I'd never fished there in my life."
After a few minutes with their hooks soaking in 150 feet of water, Mandy Morin brought in a 20-pound halibut. A half hour later, with nothing more to show for their effort that a skate, Aldridge told everyone to reel in and they'd try another location.
"I got about six turns on my reel and that fish must have followed my hook up from the bottom. It smacked it and dang near spooled me," said Aldridge, the only one on the boat to have purchased a $10 derby ticket.
An hour and a half later and with the help of his fishing companions and his uncle, Brett, who was fishing from a nearby boat, Aldridge finally hauled his halibut aboard. The monstrous flatfish filled the back of the Seabee, leaving little doubt Aldridge needed to get it to the derby weigh-in station on the Spit.
"Even if we'd wanted to fish anymore, we couldn't," said Aldridge of the way the fish filled the boat. "We headed straight in."
When the derby scales settled into place, Aldridge, his dad and friends were "floored. We didn't think it would hit 350," he said.
Since that day, Aldridge has stayed away from Homer, limiting his fishing to the Seward and Whittier areas.
"I didn't want to curse myself," he said of avoiding anywhere near where he'd caught his fish.
For Aldridge's father, June 19 is a day he'll remember.
"He wanted me to go out and go fishing with him. I didn't know if I wanted to go for sure, but my wife encouraged me because it was Father's Day," said Ron, who owns and operates Caribou Unlimited, a Kenai River guide service and taxidermy shop.
Of his son winning the derby, Ron said, "I'm real proud and happy for him. Especially since it was Father's Day. ... We had a good time. The fish was a bonus."
Some might complain of a short summer, but Aldridge isn't one of them.
"It has been a very long summer," he said of the wait between June 19 and Frisinger's phone call tonight notifying him that he'd won the derby.
On Oct. 12, Aldridge will be in Homer to pick up his check.
"And I might just go halibut fishing," he said.
Frisinger said 14,130 tickets were sold in this year's derby.
"This will be the last of the barn-door halibut for the Homer Jackpot Halibut Derby," said Frisinger. "We will be making a lot of huge changes to the Homer Jackpot Halibut Derby for the 2012 season, so stay tuned."
The derby began May 1, with monthly prizes awarded. Winners for September, the final month of the derby, include:
n First place, $1,000: 339.6-pound halibut caught Sept. 25 by Chriss Ryherd of Soldotna while fishing with Capt. Sean Martin of North Country Halibut Charters aboard the Irish;
n Second place, $750: 266.8-pound halibut caught Sept. 24 by Aksel Buholm of Palmer while fishing with Capt. John Brooks aboard a private boat, the Huntress;
n Third place, $500: 240.8-pound halibut caught by Larry Keller of Homer while fishing with Capt. John Brooks aboard the Huntress;
n Fourth place, $250: 202.6-pound halibut caught Sept. 4 by Jeff Van Landingham of Eagle River while fishing with Capt. Jeff Cundiff of Good Time Charters aboard the Tillie Jane;
McKibben Jackinsky can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.