We were headed out on a two-day ultimate Alaska fishing excursion on board the Tia’ Rose that would enable us to fish waters rarely, if ever, fished by others before. We had a favorable weather forecast that would allow us to stay on the water and fish through the couple hours of darkness we would encounter. Solstice was only 10 days away, so the opportunity to get 20 hours or so of actual fishing time with “hooks in the water” really appealed to all the anglers onboard.
Mark Davis, host for the ever-popular “Penn’s BigWater Adventures” was onboard, busy with his film crew shooting a segment for the Outdoor Channel. He had underwater cameras as well as a “drone” overhead camera plus professional photographer Gary Tramantino was along to capture all the exciting moments.
For me this trip was going to be extra special as I had invited several of my closest long time fishing buddies to join Mark Davis on this trip. Fred Houtman and Terry Gonsalves were both busy rigging gear as these two both were hoping to battle really large halibut and had their eyes on the Derby Board, as the annual Seward Halibut Derby was underway with more than $10,000 at stake. All anglers onboard had Derby Tickets, except for myself, as Charter Company Owners and Captains are not allowed to compete in the Derby.
“Tim, what are my chances of catching a yellow-eye rockfish over 20 pounds if I join you on this trip?” asked Raleigh Werking as we discussed this trip at the 2014 SCI Convention months earlier. “I would love to try for the IGFA 16-pound line class record.” I was recalling this conversation as I watched Raleigh preparing his tackle as we neared our fishing destination.
Within minutes Mark Davis had ahold of a good sized halibut. The camera crew had the drone camera flying overhead and the underwater Go-Pros captured all the excitement as the first of many halibut over 100 pounds was brought alongside the gunnel of the Tia’ Rose. Penn’s BigWater Adventures was off to a great start as Mark carefully released the big fish. Fred Houtman was next with a fish just over 70 lbs., which was released, and both Terry Gonsalves and Raleigh Werking had a double going.
Darkness had now set in as it was after 11 PM and Captain Chris moved us to a new location where we would start fishing right at midnight.
Finding a sharp pinnacle right next to a long reef, the boat was positioned perfectly for the outgoing tidal flow. The sonar looked very promising showing lots of bait directly under the boat. Deckhands Evan and Serena dropped overboard some giant underwater floodlights in the darkness, which light up the water column in every direction. Immediately schools of herring and baitfish surrounded the boat, and Raleigh was the first to drop, still searching for that record book yellow-eye.
As his bait neared the bottom, Raleigh matter of factly said, “ I’ve got something really good,” right after he set the hook. In the Alaskan darkness, out in the middle of nowhere in the middle of the Gulf of Alaska, playing out was a spectacular struggle of a master angler working his magic.
Could this be a yellow-eye, a record book one? It was doubtful as we had not caught even a single yellow-eye on this trip so far and between all the anglers we had landed well over 150 fish so far. And if it was a yellow-eye, what are the chances it would be a fish topping 20 pounds and a new record. Plus, Raleigh had never in his life ever landed a yellow-eye of any size period. What are the chances?
Appearing all of a sudden out of the dark water right behind the boat was the most incredible sight. A truly monster size yellow-eye rockfish that looked so big everyone knew we had a new IGFA Record. Captain Chris carefully brought the extra large size rockfish onboard, a few pictures were snapped as Raleigh unofficially weighed this beauty and it tipped the scales at over 21 pounds! Immediately, the fish was placed in a special ice chest that had been brought along just for this purpose. It was covered with ice and would have to wait until we returned to Seward for an official weigh-in.
“Tim,” hollered Captain Chris. “Get a line in over here. There’s more big fish down here,” I recall hearing as I lowered a giant bait into the depths. My bait had just hit bottom and I could feel a bite just as I loosened my drag to allow the fish to swallow the bait. He took off with the bait and after stealing 40 yards of line, I rocked back and threw the drag in gear and the fish did not even hesitate. Fighting a giant fish in the daylight is one thing, but battling them in the pitch darkness is so much more exciting.
All I knew for sure was that this was a very special fish and that my arms were burning, my shoulders were on fire and my back was aching as I traded blows with this terrific fish. After 30 minutes and as the moon lite up the Gulf of Alaska, a giant size halibut surfaced 30 feet behind the boat thrashing his head back in forth trying to dislodge the hook. Appearing to be nearly eight feet in length and over 200 pounds, my heart pounded every time he came out of the water violently shaking that enormous head.
With Mark Davis by my side and cameras rolling, the experienced and capable crew hauled 206.8 lbs. of halibut onboard. Exhausted but elated, we knew we had all just experienced a trip of a life time–one that we will never be able to experience or repeat again. We had more than 1,500 pounds of halibut onboard and memories and stories to last us a lifetime.
Terry Gonsalves entered his fish, which weighed 145.2 pounds, in the derby and took the daily winner for June 9th. (We had several fish larger but on an overnight trip you can only enter a fish from the first day.) Raleigh Werking had done the impossible…beating the odds…5 million to 1 is the best estimate I have been given on Raleigh’s accomplishment.
And for me, well catching a 206.8-pound halibut was just the icing on the cake. After 38 years of running a Charter business in Alaska I have learned that life is short and friendships mean everything. Being able to share all of this with my friends–well it just doesn’t get any better than this!—Tim Berg