Monday, April 29, 2013

Ice Fishing for Halibut

Ice on the beach at the river mouth, April 27

Well, not actually fishing through the ice for halibut, but there’s still plenty on the banks at the mouth of the river.

On my fifth birthday my grandfather gave me a rod and reel, a tackle box and various tackle to fill it. That was the singularly best birthday present I’ve ever received. That gift led to a life-long passion which has provided endless hours of fun, and no small amount of trouble on occasion. And from the day I turned five years old, right up to the present, I have celebrated my birthday by fishing. 

Admittedly, the term “fishing” was stretched a number of years when we lived in the arid regions of the southwest. During those years the activity was limited to visiting one of the stock tanks in the area. Actually, “stock tank” is a total misnomer. They were mud puddles that varied in size and depth, depending on the recent rainfall. However, they did hold aquatic life, more specifically, crawdads. Laugh if you want, but let me tell you, there is nothing to compare to the heart-stopping thrill of a monster five-inch crawdad when it smashes into the bait tied to the end of your string! Never underestimate the ferocity of an angry mud-bug scrapping for a chicken neck.

Upon moving to Alaska the birthday fishing tradition seemed assured. In fact, it played out even better than I had ever dreamed. However, over the years regulations have closed most flowing waters until after my birthday to protect the spawning wild rainbow trout. The salmon don’t arrive until late in May. The lakes are still frozen, but the ice is starting to rot and is covered with overflow. (I’ve always held the narrow-minded view that swimming and fishing are two sports best enjoyed separately.) 

Maybe some magic circles will help
I’ve been forced to adapt in order to keep the birthday fishing trip alive. Diehard fishermen in the area can be found at the mouths of the rivers here fishing from shore in late April through May. Using large spinning, or surf, rods they fish the lower stretches of the rivers on the high tides. Herring is the bait of choice, with at least an eight-ounce weight on a slider clip to hold the bait in place. It’s a pitch and wait proposition, not unlike fishing stock tanks for crawdads. Throw out the bait and wait from something to snatch it up. No telling what is going to grab the bait - starry flounder, dogfish, Irish lords. But it’s halibut that is the target. I’ve seen some caught that went over thirty pounds, and have heard stories of eighty-pounders. (However, it would be good to remember all fishermen are liars.)

Working on the fishing mojo

I’ve never caught a halibut worth mentioning fishing from shore, but I’ve hooked something even better, my grandsons on fishing. Even though it’s cold and windy, and in spite of the historically low success rate, Bubba and Muskrat are game to hit the beach with their crazy grandpa and soak herring to celebrate his birthday.

This year was another bust. Not even the Irish lords cooperated. We tried our best. Top quality herring flung as far out into the channel as eight ounces can be made to fly from a ten-foot surf rod. Impatient pacing. Magic circles drawn in the sand around the rod holder. We even tried touching the rod while mumbling our best “fishing mojo” chants. When the tide had turned out for more than an hour we were forced to admit utter failure. 

"That ain't no crawdad!"

It was a far cry from two years ago. Two years ago lightning struck just as we were preparing to give up, yet again. (My grandsons would never call me a liar, outright, but let’s just say their fishing success rate with me readily allows for the suspicion.) Just as I was packing things back into the bucket the rod tip dipped down sharply. Bubba jumped on it in a flash, and with a great deal of grunting brought in his first halibut. Puny though it was, it couldn’t have been bigger in the boys’ eyes. The picture says it all.

Now, that’s what I call a birthday present. 

The vanquished leviathan!

Note to readers: As you may have undoubtedly gathered, my birthday is this week, and I’m switching things up by giving the gifts. My novel, Somewhere West of Roads, is free to download from today through May 1st. U.S Amazon link here. UK Amazon link here. I hope you enjoy it.


  1. Hooray to one and all, and HAPPY BIRTHDAY! That looks like "some good eatin'" halibut!

  2. Some of my best memories with my dad are when he took me fishing. It was always fresh water fishing on streams and lakes. There were lots of times we didn't have any luck, but spending the time with him was the best.

    Glad to see your grandkids enjoy it as well.

    Happy Birthday!