For Gene Jones, an angler from Bellevue, Iowa, it seems a long time — and a long wait — since he reeled in a 236.2-pound halibut July 25 while fishing with Capt. David Bayes of Central Charters. The wait ended at 9 p.m. Sunday, when the 27th Homer Jackpot Halibut Derby came to an end and Jones was crowned the winner.
“Who’d have thought that after all that, I’d win?” said Jones in a Monday morning phone interview with the Homer News.
Still waiting to find out results is Monique Peters, a Willow angler, who reeled in a halibut sporting a tag worth an as-yet undisclosed amount. While the value of other tagged halibut has been announced, the value of Peters’ tag, which is one of the ‘big ones’ according to Paula Frisinger, will be announced at a Friday press conference.
After Jones returning home from his fishing trip to Alaska, he kept his eyes on derby updates, trying not to get his hopes up.
“I told myself I wasn’t going to win, guessing maybe it would help me get through the month and a half I had to wait, but as it started getting closer, I got a little nervous,” said Jones, whose biggest competition came from other anglers fishing with Bayes.
In August, a Georgia angler brought in a halibut measuring approximately 75 inches. The International Pacific Halibut Commission’s length-weight chart indicate a halibut that size would hit the scales around 224 pounds. According to information provided by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, larger halibut are typically females and capable of laying from a few thousand to several million eggs depending on the size of the fish. When Bayes discovered the angler lacked a derby ticket, Bayes suggested he release the fish, a suggestion the angler took.
Earlier this month, a Kansas fisherman also was with Bayes when he hooked into a 231-pound halibut. Bayes offered Whitsitt a free day of fishing if he’d release the halibut, but Whitsitt chose to keep his catch.
“In the last three years, we’ve had two other fish which could have been derby winners had the fishermen (women) had a derby ticket,” said Bayes. “One was in 2010 and 313 pounds, which the angler turned down a free trip to keep. The other was last year, 88 inches long and estimated at 375 pounds, which the angler chose to let go.”
The angler with the 375-pound halibut was a 16-year-old girl from Minnesota.
“CNN … did an interview with her about it back at her home in Minnesota,” said Bayes. “Quite a few regional papers and stations ran it as well.”
Jones, who lives on the Mississippi River, learned how to fish when he was a youngster from his grandfather. He got his first taste of Alaska halibut thanks to a generous fishing friend of the family.
“It was phenomenal,” he said. As a result, “I always thought I wanted to get up there and catch some.”
Last summer a co-worker traveled to Alaska and, after seeing the photos, Jones decided it was time to follow his dream. Along with his brother and sister-in-law, Keith and Darla Jones, he booked two days of fishing with Bayes.
“It was the second day when we caught the big fish,” he said.
Fishing in about 150 feet of water, Jones and Bayes knew immediately there was something big on the other end of Jones’ line.
“We’d caught a skate right before that, so he was pretty nervous about it being another skate,” said Bayes. “Then it gave a couple of pretty good head shakes and I thought it was a halibut, but I hesitate to make too many promises that early.”
As Jones continued to reel in his catch, Bayes and his deckhand exchanged knowing looks and began clearing the deck to make room.
“(Jones) did a really good job,” said Bayes of the 30-minute effort to bring the halibut to the surface.
“I was tired out,” said Jones laughing. “But so was (the halibut).”
It took three shots with a .38 and three gaffs to get the fish onto the deck of the Grand Aleutian.
“Gene’s brother was the third gaff and when we told him to pull, he promptly fell over backwards on the deck, right where the fish was going to land,” said Bayes of a few moments when Keith Jones was face-to-face with his brother’s monster fish.
Like an NFL player scoring a touchdown, Jones said he spontaneously broke into a dance when he saw the size of the halibut, a moment caught by on his sister-in-law’s camera.
“I didn’t know how silly it was until I saw the video,” he said laughing. “It was just a burst of the energy I had left.”
Still compiling derby details Monday morning, Frisinger said approximately 15,000 of the $10-a-day derby tickets were sold. Instead of a $10,000 prize for the largest fish caught, the amount awarded in 2012, the chamber and visitor center’s board of directors are putting 75-cents of every ticket into the jackpot. That means Jones will take home more than $20,000.
“We have a press conference on Friday at 1 p.m.,” said Frisinger of when exact totals will be announced, as well as other totals and the value of Peters’ tagged halibut. A total 29 tagged halibut were caught during the derby.
“(Peters) will be in Homer at the Friday press conference where we will present her prize,” said Frisinger. “(She) does not know what she won, and we are waiting for her to be in Homer to tell her in person.”
For Jones, winning the derby “will be a memory of a lifetime.” While he doesn’t anticipate being a two-time derby winner, he is planning on a return visit to Homer with his 8-year-old daughter, Hunter.
“She likes to fish, too, and I said, ‘Would you like to come with me?’ and she said, ‘Yes.’ That would be nice,” he said. “The sooner, the better.”
“A good guy,” is how Bayes described Jones. “Homer does its marketing to show pictures of all these huge halibut, but that’s not necessarily a realistic expectation. He realized the average fish was a whole lot smaller and he knew what he had, so that was pretty neat.”
What are Jones’ plans for his winnings?
“My daughter already has her hand out,” he said.
The captain of the winning boat wins a $1,000 prize, but Bayes doesn’t anticipate putting in his pocket.
“I’m sure my wife will spend that before I see it,” he said.