Halibut on a Fly

Rocky Constant’s client for the afternoon halibut tide was casting champion Steve Rajeff. He intends to try and break the halibut 12-pound-line class world record.

Rocky put his party on the hole he sought and announced, “Let’s go fishing. The tide is slack, and the fish should be biting.”

Steve makes two false casts, then lays the line 80 feet from the boat, letting the fly softly strike the water as if he were fishing for a brown trout back home. It takes nearly a minute for the 900-grain shooting head to force the sizeable herring-pattern fly to the bottom. Steve’s experienced fingers and sixth sense felt the line touch something solid, and he began stripping it in. We, on the surface, could imagine the fly darting and twisting on the bottom, giving an appearance of a wounded herring to any deep-sea onlooker.

No takers. Unable to make a sale, Steve brings his rig in for another try. The casting, stripping, and retrieving process took five minutes. Given 40 minutes of slack tide to fish, Steve can cast a maximum of eight times for the world record he seeks.

Again, feeling the bottom, the world-casting champion and halibut line-class challenger begins to retrieve his line in a smooth stripping action. Then, the anticipated event occurs. The line goes tight and starts moving away down the inlet.

“We’ve got a fish on,” Steve says rather nonchalantly, not reflecting the excitement felt by the spectators.

“Set the hook. Give it a hard jerk. Pop it as hard as you can! Set the hook!” Rocky pleaded. He expected the hard-jarring-line-snapping jerk associated with stiff halibut rods wearing 70-pound line. “Set the hook!”

“The hook’s set,” Steve assured. “I got him solid. But remember, this is only 12-pound line and a very limber rod.”

“If he’s very big, you won’t be able to get him off the bottom. He won’t even know he’s hooked, no harder than you planted the hook,” Rocky cautioned.

Steve’s fly line was slowly retrieved, but there was very little pressure coming from the depths below the boat—just a very steady pull.

“Sure doesn’t pull very hard,” Steve said. “Can’t be very big.”        

“If it’s a halibut, it’s a small one. Must be a cod. Probably a cod.” Rocky’s voice contained an air of conviction, but at the same time, he hoped he was wrong.

“I was wrong!” Rocky shouted as the dark shape of the fish was seen by all at the same time. “It’s a halibut! It sure didn’t seem like a halibut. You just barely pulled on him. There wasn’t even a bow in your rod.”

“I don’t think he even knew he was hooked,” Steve speculates. “I just coaxed him to the top with very little pressure. I figured if he decided to stay down, I would never pull him off the bottom with a 12-pound test. As it worked out, I could have landed him with a 6-pound test line.”

Thirty-three pounds, twelve ounces, the official scales read. “Thirty-three pounds, twelve ounces,” the gathered crowd announced to each other as they read the scales dial. “Four ounces short of the world record. Four ounces short. Only four ounces. Probably lost four ounces coming in. Only four ounces!”

“As it worked out, I believe I could have landed him with 6-pound test line,” Rocky remembers Steve’s comment made on the way in. “I could have landed him with 6-pound test.”

“What’s the world record on six-pound test?”