Tim Berg, of Tim Berg's Alaskan Fishing Adventures, has seen a lot of halibut caught while guiding fishing charter for the past 31 years, but he was amazed by his own catch Tuesday, and even more surprised that he caught it on light tackle.
"It's the biggest fish I've ever caught on a salmon rod," he said, regarding the 319 pound, 9 ounce barndoor he boated while fishing out of Seward near the Montague Flats area.
This unforgettable day began much like many others, except Berg had decided to spend time fishing rather than guiding as a result of having some friends up from California. They were aboard the Grande Alaska with Capt. Mike Schmahll.
"I don't get to go out much, so I took the day off and we all headed out of Seward at 6 a.m.," Berg said.
By around 9 a.m. they reached their destination and everyone geared up and sent their herring bait to the bottom. But Berg said the start was less than stellar.
"We put out lines in the water, but nobody was getting halibut, so I decided to drop a salmon rod over the side," he said.
Berg realized almost immediately that sometimes it pays off to be the odd man out.
"As soon as I hit the bottom I got something," he said, but Berg wasn't sure what that something was.
As he pulled up on the line the rod bend like a horseshoe, but he didn't seem to move the unidentified item.
"Everyone else thought it was snag, but I thought it was a fish, and then it started to making runs and we all knew it was a fish," he said.
Maybe it was a skate or maybe it was a halibut. Berg wasn't sure, so he decided to fish it up cautiously either way.
"I couldn't put pressure on him. I had a 10 1/2 rod, with a new Penn Torque 200 reel, with 40 pound test that was doubled over the whole time. And with a light leader and a tiny hook, I didn't know if I'd be able to do it. I just brought him up three to four inches at a time," he said.
Berg fought the fish for 41 minutes and said it helped that the massive creature never made runs of more than five to 10 yards, which furthered the belief of some on the boat that he still had a skate on the end of the line. However, as soon Berg brought the behemoth up to a viewable level, all on board knew it was a big halibut and not a close cousin to a shark or stingray.
"No one thought it was going to be as big as it was, but as soon as we could see it and see it was a halibut, we all started scrambling," he said.
The fish was dispatched and all 88 inches were brought on board with some heave-hoes from Berg and others.
As much as it seemed his halibut was the large catch of a lifetime, Berg said he actually had caught an even bigger barndoor in the past, but the experience didn't compare to taking this most recent fish on light tackle.
"I caught a 360-pounder in the '80s, but that was on halibut gear. Getting this incredible fish on light tackle, it was my biggest accomplishment ever," he said.
Since Berg's fish weighed more than the minimum of 250 pounds, he is eligible to receive a trophy fish certificate through the Alaska Department of Fish and Game's Trophy Fish program. His halibut also makes him a favorite to win the 2008 Seward Halibut Tournament, which runs through June.
"I remembered to buy a derby ticket on the way out, so now I'm leading it, which it's kind of rare for a Soldotna local to be leading," he said.
Daily tickets for the tournament are $10, or three days for $25. Berg bumped Wasilla resident Christopher Lafe's 178-pound halibut, caught aboard Glacier Fishing Charters' Noble Eagle on June 12, to second place.
Last year's tournament winner was a 251.2-pound whopper, so Berg already has surpassed this benchmark, as well. If his fish stands as the biggest catch for one more week, he will take home $10,000 in winnings and a seat on a June 2009 Seward-based halibut charter. He said he's not counting his anything but a chicken, until it hatches, though.
"You never know what will happen when it comes to fishing in Alaska," he said.
For more information on 2008 Seward Halibut Tournament or to get daily updates, visit the Seward Chamber of Commerce Web site at www.sewardak.org.
Joseph Robertia can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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