Joe Cannava of Soldotna unhooks a halibut while fishing in Cook Inlet, north of Homer recently. Cannava fishes with nearly all of his free time. "I never get sick of it," he said.
Photo by Joseph Robertia
The water at the surface began to swirl as the line seemed to draw ever tighter, but finally, after several minutes of pumping the reel on a rod bending like a horseshoe, the huge, flat, chocolate-colored levia-than began to appear.
There was sweat on the brow of Joe Cannava the angler battling the halibut. His forearms were burning, the small of his back felt like it had been hit by someone swinging a bar stool, and yet he still smiled at the sight of the big fish there was no where else he’d rather be.
“I’ve been doing this a long time and I never get sick of it,” he said, as he hauled the flat fish aboard his 20-foot craft, “Jaybird.”
The halibut was under 100 pounds, but not by much. Cannava said he didn’t mind though. “Fish over 100 pounds are good for braggin’ rights, but under 100 pounds are the best for eating,” he said.
Cannava, born and raised in Soldotna, grew up fishing out of Homer with his dad and now, 33 years later, he still has a passion for piscatorial pursuits.
“I live and breathe it,” he said in regard to fishing. “I come with family, friends, coworkers and I’m a licensed guide, too. Sometimes I’ll fish two tides in the same day.”
Cannava said he fishes with just about any and all spare time he gets.
“I try to maximize fishing throughout the year. I’ll fish as much as I can from May through September,” he said.
Cannava said he enjoys halibut fishing for lots of reasons.
“Well, the best part is you can really get away from the crowds of people,” he said.
“It’s also more consistent, with more fish caught, compared to river fishing. There’s no waiting around all day for a bite with halibut fishing. If they’re here, they bite,” he said.
Cannava said the backdrop’s not half bad either. “The mountains, the glaciers, the puffins, the otters and miles of open water it’s all beautiful,” he said.
He said all of these features combine to make halibut fishing a annual favorite with tourists and residents alike.
“In a lot of ways when people think of Alaska fishing, this is it,” he said.
Linda Winters of the Homer Chamber of Commerce would likely agree with Cannava, based on the number of anglers and fish being caught in this year’s Homer Jackpot Halibut Derby.
“The derby is going very well this year,” she said.
“Ticket sales are right on track and there’s lots and lots of fish being caught. I haven’t heard of a boat coming in without their limit.” Winters added.
The current derby leader is a 310.4-pound fish caught on July 16 by Jim Corliss, of Corvallis, OR.
He was fishing with Central Charters, aboard the “Liahona,” captained by Todd Jackson.
However, the leader for the month of August wasn’t far behind Corliss.
Sterling’s Steve Gillis landed a 308.2 pounder halibut earlier this month while fishing with Silver Fox Charters, skippered by Marvin Park.
Despite the enormous size of these two barn doors, Winters said they’re a little under the leader averages for years past.
“Usually the leaders are in the 340-350 pound range,” she said.
Winters added that the size of this year’s fish isn’t a bad thing though.
“It’s just means that there could still be a bigger fish out there and there’s still more than a month left to fish,” she said.
The derby runs until 9 p.m. on Sept. 30.
Also, Winters said it’s practically raining 100-pounders, which can still put up a heck of fight for an anglers, while also putting up a lot of meat for the freezer.
Corliss isn’t the only local angler holding his own in peninsula derbies. Over in Seward, where the 50th Annual Silver Salmon Derby is in full swing, Kasilof’s Roy Hoekema is still in first place with a 17.42-pound silver he landed on Monday. If the big fish can hold on through tomorrow at 4 p.m., Hoekema will take home a top prize of $10,000.
Stan Harrington, owner of the Anchor Angler in Anchor Point, said with the exception of a blowout day or two halibut fishing in Cook Inlet has been good by all accounts and that this trend should continue through the weekend and into next week.
“We’re going into a series of smaller tides, so the fishing should be good,” he said.
Most anglers are finding the best fishing in waters 125-200 feet deep, with hot spots being around Flat Island, Point Pogibshi and 25-30 miles west of the Homer Spit.
Harrington said salmon fishing has also been red hot on the lower Kenai Peninsula.
“If I had to rate the silver fishing on the Anchor in five stars, I would rate it a six,” he said.
The wet weather earlier in the week raised water levels in the river and really got fish moving. Daily weir counts that had been hovering around a 100 fish a day average, spiked to 4,314 fish on Tuesday for a cumulative 5,154 silvers so far this season.
“The fishing on Deep Creek and Ninilchik has also been good,” Harrington said.
Further to the north, the bite is also on going into the weekend.
“The Kasilof (River) and Crooked Creek are doing very good for silvers. Drifters have been getting their limits very quickly,” Scott Miller of Trustworthy Hardware and Fishing said.
“I think we’ll also have a good weekend on the Kenai,” Miller said.
“It’s picked up the last two days. I’ve been hearing good reports as far up as Bing’s Landing from people using spinners or back trolling Quick Fish, and eggs are just starting to turn on,” he said.
Miller said a few silvers have also been trickling into the Swanson River down low on the river around the bridge.
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