(Author’s note: With fishing season just around the bend, it’s time to get in the proper frame of mind. This piece, edited here for brevity, first appeared in Fish Alaska magazine in 2011.)
It’s August in Homer, the aptly named “Halibut Fishing Capital of the World,” and I’m aboard the 29-foot “Cruiser VI” with Capt. Steve Novakovitch, deck hand Luke Graham and four guests of the Emerald Pines Lodge.
One of the many things I like about fishing out of Homer is the relatively short running time to good fishing. At 25 miles per hour, good fishing spots are within an hour’s travel time. Another advantage of fishing this area is that skippers can usually put you on fish where the water is reasonably calm.
Today, the water is about as calm as Cook Inlet gets. We stop about 35 miles out and drift with the tidal current, the boat rocking gently. I’m thinking to myself that this may be as close to heaven as a fisherman can get. Perfect weather. Snow-capped mountains on the horizon. We’re on prime halibut grounds, fishing my favorite way, drift jigging.
Traditionally, most rod-and-reel halibut fishing in Cook Inlet has been done from anchored boats. For several reasons, anchoring remains popular here, and is preferred by some anglers and skippers. In recent years, however, drift jigging has caught on.
The main reason I like drift jigging is that it’s more enjoyable than fishing from an anchored boat. Due to tidal current, fishing Cook Inlet is like fishing a river. When you’re anchored and the tide is strongly running, as much as 5 pounds of sinker is required to get a bait to the bottom, where most halibut are found. Even with that much weight, the current trails your line out behind the boat. Merely reeling in to check your bait can be tiring, and pulling in a fish against the current can be exhausting. In drift jigging, on the other hand, the boat moves with the current. Commonly used jigs weigh as little as 4 to 8 ounces, so fast-retrieve reels and lighter rods can be used. Your line hangs almost straight down, making it easier to hook and reel in fish.
Luke already has the rods out and the hooks baited, and we’re soon spooling our jigs toward the bottom. Nate Tupper and Della Hoop, both from Ohio, are new to this kind of fishing, so Luke and the skipper give them tips.
“Don’t let your jig drag along the bottom, or your line will start trailing behind the boat. Let it hit bottom, and give the reel two cranks.”
“When you hook a fish, don’t let your line go slack or the hook will drop out. Watch your rod, and always keep a bend in it.”
Within a few minutes, we’re all reeling in halibut. Keeping only the larger ones, we soon have our limits of two fish each, and we haven’t even broken a sweat. Most of the fish weigh about 15 pounds, but a couple are closer to 25.
As halibut goes, ours are on the small side. The winning fish in the annual Homer Jackpot Halibut Derby in 1996 weighed 376 pounds. The possibility that such a monster might be sniffing your bait keeps you coming back for more.
With our halibut in the box, our deck hand stows the jigging rods and breaks out the salmon gear. Trolling with downriggers, we soon have a variety of salmon to take home — pinks, silvers and a king.
Fishing trips like this are what keeps people coming back to Homer.
Les Palmer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.