time zones. Louie Swift can tell you all about the fishing and
climate, but don't ask him to tell you the time. But we're
getting ahead of our tale.
A 45-minute run in a halibut boat with the encouraging name,
Happy Hooker II, will put you at the confluence of
Disenchantment Bay and Russell Fjord, approximately 200 miles
north of Juneau. It also will put you on the edge of the fastest
moving tidewater glacier in the world, and the edge of your seat.
If Mother Nature has an animated display anywhere else that
so vividly displays her awesome, raw power, none of our Colorado
party of four ever witnessed it.
Here, where tidewater rips through a cut formed by a sheer
granite cliff face on one side and a relentless wall of
advancing ice on the other, Hubbard Glacier calves every few
minutes, sending towering ice castles plunging hundreds of feet
to frigid gray-brown water below, where it displaces tons of
saltwater that race away in tidal waves tossing icebergs and
glacial debris aside like so much chaff.
If you book a day's halibut fishing with Yakutat Lodge,
they'll throw in the Hubbard Glacier run for free. Free that is,
if you don't toss your watch overboard.
Swift, vice chairman of the Colorado Wildlife Commission,
didn't exactly toss his watch overboard, but the result was the
same. After pulling up his sleeve and checking the time, he
casually brushed off some lint - and brushed his watch into the
drink in the same motion, an act guaranteed to raise chuckles
It gets even better.
Time: an hour later. Place: 85 feet of water off Manby Point.
Controlled chaos reigns. Well, almost controlled. Actually,
it's more like total panic.
Anchored in halibut-rich waters of Yakutat Bay, skipper Mark
Sappington has set out baits on four stout rods, one for each of
the visiting anglers sharing his 22-foot charter boat. Adrenaline was running high at the sight of short, fat rods as big at the butt as a small club, massive Penn reels loaded with 200-pound test nonstretch dacron, and whole salmon carcasses for bait.
Or maybe it was the shotgun in the deckside scabbard that did
""Over 40 pounds, we shoot it before it comes aboard, or it
will rip the boat apart,'' Sappington said.
There's something intimidating about a fish you have to shoot
before you invite it aboard.
""Once we have lines down, it will take about an hour for the
scent trail to bring fish,'' Sappington said. ""We will use the
interim to indoctrinate everyone on what to do when a fish hits.''
We never got the indoctrination.
When Sappington sent the last bait to the bottom, he handed
over the rod to a waiting angler and turned to start his
lecture. The first words weren't out when the rod arched with so
much force it almost jerked the unsuspecting fisherman out of
the boat. Simultaneously, the other three rods bucked and
assumed similar arches, forcing everyone to the rail.
We had either instantly connected with four big halibut or
snared a passing nuclear sub.
Sappington ran from angler to angler with advice. ""Pump,
pump! Now reel! Under that rod, over that one! Keep your tips
together!'' The dance could have been choreography from a Mel
Brooks' movie, ""Halibut From Hell.''
Punctuated by the reverberating sounds of shots from a .410
gauge and halibut tails hammering deckside, four fish of awesome
proportions slid aboard and were hustled into the fish coffin.
Four rebaited lines went back to the depths, to be met instantly
by another set of marauding halibut. This kept up for three more
hours until we retired from sheer exhaustion.
Most fish were released. A limit, including a fish of 113
pounds, came aboard to become frozen fillets headed to Colorado.
In a pause in the action, Swift went inside the cabin,
leaving his very creative companions behind. After a hushed
conference, the skipper took a 60-pound halibut out of the
coffin, fastened his own diving watch to the fish's jaw, and
tossed it overboard on Swift's line.
We lay in wait, stifling chuckles at the thought of Swift
reeling in to find a watch in the jaws of his catch.
Who was it said, ""The best laid plans of mice, etc, etc.''?
Just as Swift exited the head, two other rods bucked and real
battles were on. The skipper screamed at Swift that one also had
hit his line. Swift jumped to the task, but everyone else was
too busy to notice.
Fifteen minutes later, two 80-pounders thrashed to the
surface and were dispatched. Only then did captain and crew
notice Swift standing there - frayed leader in hand. One of the
other halibut had cut off his fish - and the skipper's watch.
Well, the skipper went a little crazy, Swift stood around in
complete puzzlement as to why losing a halibut was such a big
deal, and the rest of us took an oath of secrecy. So remember,
you didn't read it here.
(For information on inexpensive halibut, steelhead or salmon
fishing - with or without a spare watch attached - call the
Yakutat Lodge, (907) 784-3232 or FAX (907) 784-3452).