ANCHORAGE, Alaska — Kent Carmichael of Kansas has made fishing trips to Alaska with his dad and his brother for more than a decade before this summer but had yet to catch the big one.
"The big joke has always been: I'm the one that never caught the 100-pound halibut," Carmichael said.
The joking will have to stop from now on, because the 62-year-old hardware store owner from Ulysses, Kan., blew past the century mark — and then some — Tuesday, when he caught a 466-pound halibut in the Gulf of Alaska.
The catch won't top the official state sport-fishing record of 459 pounds, because a certified scale was not available to weigh the fish in Pelican. Instead, a conversion table in the Alaska Tide Book was used to determine the weight of the 94-inch fish. Carmichael said he was a little disappointed about not making the record book, but he's thrilled to have a story to tell his grandkids about.
"It took four guys to get the fish on the floor," he said. "It covered the back end of the boat."
Since 2006, the Carmichaels have made their annual fishing trip to the Highliner Lodge in Pelican, a small commercial fishing town west of Juneau.
"This is basically the only time we go fishing, when we go to Alaska," Carmichael said.
The buzz when they arrived at the lodge was about an angler who caught a 375-pound halibut on June 24, breaking the lodge record by more than 100 pounds. Lodge owner Steve Daniels said he thought it was the biggest fish he would ever see.
Then Carmichael's monster showed up.
When Carmichael hooked the fish, he thought he may have caught his line on the ocean floor.
"I hooked this thing that I could not move," he said.
After a few minutes of testing the line, the boat captain told Carmichael it was probably a 200-pounder. Forty-five minutes later, Carmichael managed to get the fish in sight for the first time.
"It didn't even look like a halibut, it was so huge," he said.
The fish dove and worked its way under the boat, where it tangled itself in the line of Elmo Carmichael, Kent's 89-year-old father, who has been coming to Alaska to fish for almost 30 years.
"As luck would have it, it tangled up right at the weights," said Carmichael. "There was a lot of luck in this deal."
The halibut started diving for the bottom, causing each fisherman's reel to smoke, and the father and son teamed to slow the fish down and prevent it from diving.
After wrestling with the fish for another 30 minutes, it appeared again and the boat captain was ready with a harpoon that turned out to be too puny for the monstrous fish.
When he struck the halibut in the head, the harpoon shaft was too short to go through to the other side. When the fish started thrashing, it bent the shaft of the harpoon about 45 degrees. To avoid losing the fish, the captain pushed a shark hook through the fish's lower jaw.
Halibut charters in Southeast Alaska face new regulations this year that restrict the size and number of flatfish clients can keep. Carmichael got to keep his big fish because the Highliner Lodge owns permits to fish both sides of a boundary line near Cape Spencer where the regulations change. On one side, people on guided trips can keep one halibut a day if it is no longer than 37 inches. On the other side, they can keep two a day of any size. Daniels said GPS tracking shows which side of the line the boat is on.
The fish was processed and packaged at the Highliner Lodge, Carmichael said it costs around $110 to ship six 50-pound boxes of halibut back to Kansas, two boxes for himself, two for his dad, who lives in Hays, Kan., and two for brother Craig, who lives in Kansas City.
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"They called us the 'Fish House' at one time, because people loved to come by our house," said Elmo's wife, Lee Carmichael. "You can't find good halibut in Kansas. We'll be the Fish House again."
Kent Carmichael said Kansas is known for good fishing, but it doesn't compare with what he experienced in Alaska.
"It was the catch of a lifetime," he said. "There aren't even fish in my county that would be bait for this fish."
Information from: Anchorage Daily News, http://www.adn.com