Big fish abound: Here lurk leviathans

Posted: Saturday, May 26, 2001

Some humongous fish roam Kenai Peninsula waters, and "the big one got away" stories suggest that the biggest ones are yet to be caught.

Record salmon: 97.25 pounds caught in 1985 by Les Anderson

Record halibut: 466 pounds caught in 1989 by Kathleen McCann

The most famous big fish ever caught in Alaska was caught by Les Anderson. On May 17, 1985, fishing at The Pillars, on the Kenai River, the Soldotna resident landed a king salmon that weighed 97 pounds, 4 ounces. A few kings have come close in the years since, but Anderson's fish still holds the state record and the International Game Fish Asso-ciation world record. The mount of this fish is on display at the Soldotna Visitor Infor-mation Center.

Whenever the subject of big fish comes up, talk soon turns to halibut. No one knows how big these flatfish can grow. The world record was caught in 1996 at Unalaska by Fairbanksan Jack Tragis. It was 8-feet, 4 1/2-inches long and weighed 459 pounds.

Over the years, Cook Inlet anglers have hauled up several 400-plus-pound halibut. In 1989, Kathleen McCann of Ninilchik pulled in one that exceeded the capacity of the local scale. A biologist estimated its weight at 466 pounds. In 1995, Clyde Duren of Homer caught another halibut that wasn't weighed, but was estimated at 440 to 450 pounds. And there have been several others in that range.

For a "big halibut that got away" story, it's hard to beat Michael Maysey's. On Aug. 14, 1998, the visitor from Arroyo Grande, Calif., was fishing aboard the Homer charter boat Sea Nile with Capt. Gary Dennis when he hooked what he later said felt like a submarine.

After a 45-minute tug-of-war, Maysey had the fish at the surface. Dennis took one look and said it was not only a world record, but that it was sure to win the Homer Jack-pot Halibut Derby. Maysey had bought a derby ticket, and the winner would receive at least $25,000.

But the fight wasn't over. The giant fish thrashed around, broke free and swam away, dreams of glory and cash disappearing with it, into the depths.

Taking the loss philosophically, Maysey said, "It was the catch of a lifetime. We didn't boat it, but it was caught. It was a monster, a real denizen from the deep."

Dennis wanted one more chance at such a monster, but it was not to be. He died in November 2000.

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