At first, it looked like he was going to have a fishing story with no proof.
When Vito Ballestrasse caught a glimpse of the 72-inch monster halibut he’d been fighting to pull up to the Independence — a fishing boat chartered through Alaska Gulf Coast Expeditions — the harpoon went right through the fish and it took off again.
“When they went to grab it, I thought we lost it and I was really disappointed because it took too long to get it up there,” he said.
But, the fight wasn’t over and Ballestrasse hung on for five more minutes, fighting for every inch of line.
“It felt like the reel was broken,” he said. “It took off and I couldn’t wind it in.”
Capt. Anthony Ballam and a guide friend of Ballestrasse’s, Dave Jacobs, stood alongside the newbie fishermen, shouting instructions, encouragement and debating whether they were going to lose the rod.
Ballam was astonished that his harpoon hadn’t stuck.
“I didn’t realize it was a big fish until they were taking out the harpoon thing,” Ballestrasse said. “I didn’t realize that until everybody else around me was going crazy (then) it just took forever. It was surprising because of how long it took.”
For the first-time Cook Inlet fishermen, a halibut that size was far outside of his scope of experience.
He said he had fished mainly salmon and trout in the Sacramento River in Redding, Calif.
After his monster catch, Jacobs, and Ballestrasse’s fishing companion Sal Santoro, of Sacramento, teased that his previous “biggest catch” had been a 12-incher.
Ballestrasse and Santoro have been in Soldotna since Monday. Before that they were in Anchorage sight-seeing for three days.
Between the two, Ballestrasse said Santoro is the avid outdoorsman, it was also Santoro’s birthday. Ballestrasse said the best part of the day was fishing with Santoro.
“He’s been wanting to do this his whole life,” Ballestrasse said. “He’s been everywhere in the world hunting and fishing, to be able to (halibut fish) with him and share that with him, we never went fishing together.“
Because of his lack of fishing knowledge, Ballestrasse said he went into the day with no expectations.
“I just knew what halibut looked like and I knew the world record was 400-something pounds,” he said. “I didn’t know the size to catch or what to expect.”
So, armed with a lack of knowledge about the fishery, Ballestrasse said he went into the day to enjoy it without knowing what to aim for.
In the middle of his fight with the largest fish landed on the boat, he said he could not think of much.
“My forearm actually was cramping up which was embarrassing to say,” he said.
At one point he stood at the edge of the boat, gritting his teeth in concentration while Jacobs and Ballam helped to steady him.
“I got to see a little bit of it and then I backed up, that’s when I took it more seriously like, woah, wait, I’ve got to get this.”
When he pulled it aboard his first thought, he said, was “Woah, that’s a big damn fish,” he said. “It’s going to take a long time to eat that.
He and Santoro will head out for halibut again on Friday and Ballestrasse said he was looking forward to the next trip.
“I’ll just try not to over think it because I don’t know what I was doing, so I’m going to stick with that same technique,” he said with a laugh.
In the meantime, the two are headed to the Kenai River for king salmon fishing Wednesday evening.
“We’re going to go looking for king salmon ... maybe my technique of not knowing what I’m doing will work,” he said.
Rashah McChesney can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.