Halibut makes for a happy birthday

Posted: Monday, April 10, 2006

Sometimes a day of halibut fishing yields more than fun and fish.

Homer charter-boat captain Greg Sutter remembers such a day.

It happened in 2003. Sutter’s boat, the Tomahawk II, was anchored off the Chugach Islands, near the southern tip of the Kenai Peninsula. There were two women aboard, Sutter said, his girlfriend, Dana Floyd of Homer, and Lisa Barnhill of Littleton, Colo.

“It happened to be Dana’s birthday,” Sutter said. “She said all she wanted to catch was a yelloweye rockfish. She thought they were pretty, and she had never caught one.”

They had no sooner started fishing when Dana reeled in her yelloweye. She was going to stop fishing, but Sutter talked her into keeping her line in the water. She had just free-spooled her bait to the bottom when she and Lisa both hooked good-sized fish.

“Their lines kept getting tangled, and I couldn’t keep the lines apart,” Sutter said. “It turned out that they had hooked the same halibut.”

When that halibut, a 122-pounder, was in the fish box, everyone went back to fishing. So far, the only fish caught had been caught by the two women.

“The next thing you know, Dana’s hooked up again,” Sutter said. “And then the other gal hooks up. It was just like before. Their lines kept going together. Sure enough, another halibut had taken both hooks. And it was another big one, over 100 pounds.”

While it’s not rare for halibut to pick up two baits, Sutter had never heard of anyone doing it twice on one trip. That both fish were large and caught by the same two women made the feat even more unusual. And the men still hadn’t caught a fish.

“The guys were standing around, saying, ‘What are we doing?’” he said.

Dana had plenty of halibut at home, so she gave her share of the first one to Lisa. They both had halibut derby tickets for that day, so they decided to release the second fish and enter it in the drawing for the Released Fish Prize.

The women’s unorthodox method of catching halibut created a stir among the derby committee members. Both women had caught and released the same fish. The committee finally decided to let each of them enter a ticket in the drawing. The women agreed to split the prize, if either of them won. Lisa’s ticket was drawn.

“It turned out to be a heck of a birthday for Dana, and the gals won a $10,000 prize,” Sutter said. “They really showed the guys how to do it.”

— Les Palmer

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