I’m not sure why I have waited until this stage of my life to take on the really ‘big boys’ of sport fishing, but last year I went sturgeon fishing for the first time and this year I am going to go halibut fishing.
I have caught some decent-sized northern pike and muskies in my day, not to mention a few good-sized trout and salmon, as well as a couple of pretty good-sized steelhead, but nothing, and I mean nothing, is comparable to taking on a fish that weighs more than you do.
To put things into perspective, a good-sized trout weighs three to five pounds. A really, really big trout would be more in the 10- to 15-pound range. I have not caught a trout that big – yet.
A decent-sized halibut will weigh in at anywhere from 60 to 120 pounds, while a mature sturgeon – one at the peak of its prowess – would be more in the 200- to 350-pound range. The largest sturgeon on record weighed 498.9 kilograms, or just over 1,100 pounds.
I had my hands full with a 250 pounder.
Sturgeon fishing is unlike any other kind if angling I have ever experienced. The take is incredibly subtle; you watch the rod tip for the slightest tap, and then, once the hook is set, you just hang on as 250 pounds of power and fury takes off. And when I say ‘takes off,’ I mean a 250-pound fish can run out a good 150 yards of line before you know it, never showing even the slightest indication of slowing down. And then it will run out another 50 or 60 yards more, just for good measure, before coming to a stop. The only thing I can compare to having a sturgeon on the end of your line would be something akin to hooking a freight train, already under a full head of steam, coming off a hill and heading down a steep grade with no brakes.
Last year, I remember my rod was bent as much as it could bend for the whole 25 minutes that I played one of the five sturgeon we caught that day. All you can really do is hang on because there isn’t much chance of stopping a white sturgeon once it’s underway – not until it decides to stop, and only then. Pull as hard as you might, you’re not too likely to turn a sturgeon until it decides to turn.
My arms weren’t just hurting, they were burning. I didn’t know if I was going to be able to hang on, but in the end I was able to bring it to the boat. All sturgeon caught in the Fraser have to be released (as it should be), but I do have a mighty fine picture on my screen saver of a very happy and totally exhausted me with a 250 pound fish.
So now I can’t wait to tie into a halibut. While halibut may not weigh as much as sturgeon, they are one of my two favourite fish to eat – pickerel being the other.
Halibut are large, saltwater flatfish, which means bringing one up to the surface is sort of like trying to bring up a sheet of 4’ by 8’ plywood, flat side up, from several hundred feet – a sheet of plywood with an attitude.
If halibut fishing is going to be an endurance test, I just hope I’m up to the challenge. Who knows; maybe being a bit overweight will be an advantage. I’ll be sure to write all about it in a future column. For now though, I’m content to just sit here, anticipating the moment when my guide says “fish on,” and I find out what bringing up a sheet of plywood with attitude feels like.