John Bierman, a 33-year-old fishermen from Orange County, Calif., knew how a big fish felt as a veteran of seven summer fishing trips to Alaska, who had on numerous occasions caught halibut over 100 pounds.
None of his prior experience prepared him for the lunker on the end of his line back June 18, 2005, while he was fishing aboard the 28-foot Shooter with charter boat skipper Steve “Cap’n Crusty” Moe.
His rod bent like a horseshoe and he knew he had a bite from a big fish what he didn’t know, though, was just how big a fish it was.
“I was thinking, ‘Yeah, great. Let’s just put another 100-pounder in the boat and go get in the hot tub,’’’ Bierman said.
That was until the leviathan got near the surface and everyone on board could see Bierman’s fish was a “barn door” halibut a behemoth of the deep.
He didn’t know it at the time, but the fish on the end of his line was a 365-pound halibut. The fish ended up being the biggest halibut caught in Cook Inlet in 2005 and the second-biggest ever registered in a Cook Inlet halibut derby
“It was like reeling up a couple sheets of plywood,’’ Bierman said.
He fought the fish through several biceps-burning runs to the bottom, but eventually with the help of everyone in the boat got the gargantuan fish aboard. That’s when it finally set in.
“This is the fish of a lifetime,” Bierman said.
Having bought a ticket for the Ninilchik Halibut Derby just before heading out to fish that day, Bierman won the derby and collected the top prize of $5,000.
The Kenai Peninsula offers a number of ways to cash in on its trophy fish in the form of annual sportfishing derbies.
Here are a few of the derbies taking place this summer on the Kenai:
Homer Jackpot Halibut Derby
Sponsored by the Homer Chamber of Commerce, the Homer Jackpot Halibut Derby will celebrate its 21th anniversary this year.
This event typically runs from May 1 through Sept. 30. Daily derby tickets are $10 and must be purchased in advance from official ticket vendors, which include local charter offices, bed and breakfasts, various stores and the official derby headquarters at Homer Harbor. Check there for specific derby rules.
There are a variety of ways to win and win big. There is a prize drawing from among all the released halibut verified as being more than 80 pounds; monthly cash prizes of $1,000, $750, $500, $250 and $125 for the top five fish; and more than 100 tagged fish worth anywhere from $500 to $10,000.
Then, of course, there is the jackpot prize for the largest halibut caught during the season. An amount, $2.75, from each derby ticket sold goes into the jackpot.
The derby is the chamber’s largest fundraising event of the year. Call the chamber at 235-7740 or visit www.homerhalibutderby.com for more details.
Seward Silver Salmon Derby
The Seward Silver Salmon Derby is the state’s oldest derby, the Seward event draws anglers to try and hook a flashy silver salmon and win some greenbacks.
The derby features daily prizes for the largest fish caught in the men’s, women’s and children’s divisions; and tagged fish good for cash and prizes from area merchants.
This year’s tournament runs from Aug. 12 to 20. Entry fees are $50 for the entire derby or $10 per day. You may fish from shore or a boat.
Charters and boat rentals are available, but it is wise to make reservations early.
For more information, call the Seward Chamber of Commerce at 224-8051.
Ninilchik Halibut and King Salmon Derbies
Although smaller in scale than the Homer derby, the annual Ninil-chik Halibut Derby certainly is no slouch when it comes to large fish.
Winning fish over the past few years have come in around the 250-pound mark, although Bierman proved there is always a chance of landing something larger.
The Ninilchik derby typically runs from April 30 through Labor Day weekend. Tickets can be purchased at a variety of vendors in town.
An offshore king salmon derby also usually runs from April 30 until June 6.
For both derbies, weekly cash prizes are offered, as well as a grand prize expected to be between $2,000 and $3,000.
Tickets are $10 per day or $20 for four days. Separate tickets must be purchased for entry into each derby.
Visit www.deepcreekcharterboatassoc.com for more information.
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