Photo by Rashah McChesney/Peninsula Clarion  In this July 2, 2013 file photo - halibut of all sizes are lined up after a trip with Alaska Gulf Coast Expeditions in the Cook Inlet.

Photo by Rashah McChesney/Peninsula Clarion In this July 2, 2013 file photo - halibut of all sizes are lined up after a trip with Alaska Gulf Coast Expeditions in the Cook Inlet.

Hunting for halibut a good option for early season anglers

As the calm and unseasonably warm weather continues in the Cook Inlet, many anglers are looking to the sea to start their fishing seasons.

Charter boat operators, tackle shop employees and biologists from the Alaska Department of Fish and Game said the halibut fishing season is gaining momentum and, while catch data shows an average size of about 13 pounds per fish — there are monsters to be had.

Just last week a client with a charter captain from John Baker’s Afishunt Charters in Ninilchik landed a 235 pound behemoth which Baker estimated to be at just under 7 feet long.

Landing fish of that size is hardly the norm for this time of year, Baker said, anglers are far more likely to catch something within the current average size range which Fish and Game data shows to be between 5.3 and 54.4 pounds.

“Photos of go viral on Facebook and people tell other people and it becomes very well known,” he said. “Of course, what doesn’t get broadcast is the dozens of people that end up with smaller, average catches.”

Several charters operators said they had been taking clients since the beginning of May and the fishing has been fair.

Cherise Hyslip, owner of Big Bear Halibut charters, said trips are filling up fast and the season promises to be a busy one.

“We had some customers this last week that came all the way from the East Coast and they have $4,000 — in East Coast worth — of fish to take home,” Hyslip said.

The 11-year veteran of the Homer charter-fishing business, said she expected fishing to pick up exponentially as the season wore on.

“It’s anwhere from 20-80 pounds this time of year and as the summer goes on you start seeing the 100-pounders come in and it increases all the way through July when 100-pounders become regular catches,” she said.

Successful fishing for halibut will likely improve as the fish move from deep, over-wintering waters back to shallower waters for the summer, according to Fish and Game fishing reports.

Smaller tides coming in the next week should be favorable for halibut fishermen, said Barbi Failor, Fish and Game fisheries biologist.

“It’s hard to keep your bait on the bottom when the tides are stronger,” she said.

Mike Scruggs, employee of the Sports Shed bait and tackle shop in Homer said his shop has been busy selling halibut bait and tackle this season. Anglers are primarily using herring, but the shop also sells octopus and fishers can also use sport-caught cod as bait. Most people fish for halibut with circle hooks, but some people still use J-hooks, Scruggs said.

Using herring and cod together can be a good way to land a halibut, Baker said.

“They’re complementary,” he said. “The success of the herring is dependent upon its oil and therefore the smell, the scent trail that gets out for the halibut to hone in,” he said.

But, he said, the oily texture of herring causes it to slip off of the hook easier.

“We put herring with a small piece of cod. Cod is the antithesis of herring, it doesn’t have that much oil, but the skin is extremely tough and therefore it stays on the hook.”

While there have been a few windy weekends, Baker said, the weather has been pleasant enough that clients have been fishing in shorts and t-shirts on the normally chilly Cook Inlet.

“Last year, there was still snow on the ground on Memorial Day and people were kind of grumpy,” Baker said.

He said anglers interested in a charter trip should book early as changes in regulation have caused many businesses to raise their prices as the season gets busier.

Reach Rashah McChesney at rashah.mcchesney@peninsulaclarion.com

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