Sunday was our second chance at Halibut fishing in Westport this year. I fished aboard the charter boat Reel Tight with Captain Todd. With the way our trips had been going, we were very excited for another day of fun on the water and expecting to limit the boat on both Halibut and Lingcod for 6 passengers plus ourselves. We knew exactly where to find the Halibut, and while we have a Lingcod spot that is almost a guarantee, Todd was excited to find our guests some big Lings out in a few deepwater spots he had fished years ago.
Me: Great to meet you, my name’s Andrew and I am your deckhand today. (handshake).
Rich: Good to meet you Andrew! So how long have you deckhanded down here for halibut?
Me: This is my second day! Hop in the boat and let’s go!
While the answer shocked Rich somewhat, honesty is always the best policy. The crew had a rookie deckhand for their Westport Halibut trip, but they needn’t be worried. This wasn’t my first rodeo. I have made quite a few trips to Neah Bay with friends, fished for ‘Buts in the Puget Sound, and spent the last 4 years at a fishing lodge in Cordova, Alaska where I had handled more than my fair share of Halibut. But up until last week, I had never been given the opportunity to fish for them in Westport. I can now proudly check that one off the list. So off we went.
We cruised out of the Westport harbor and across a placid Grays Harbor Bar. The ocean couldn’t have been calmer, and I would guess that the swell was under 4 feet and spaced very far apart. Our target was the Quinault Canyon to the northwest of Westport. When we reached the Halibut grounds, we were greeted by about half of the Westport charter fleet plus a few private sportfishing boats, you would think a 5 am departure would give you a head start, I guess not.
It appeared that every guest aboard was excited to be out on this Halibut fishing charter, along with the possibility of taking home a big one. One of the guests mentioned that they didn’t mind releasing “a bunch of chickens” to get that barndoor. I was excited to see a big Halibut as well, but from what I have been told, most of the structure in Westport holds averaged size fish. This is not the land of barn door Halibut. When I mentioned that the average fish we were likely to keep was in the 20 to 30 pound class, they took that statement with a grain of salt.
Eventually our two hour cruise to the Halibut grounds came to an end, as we neared the dozen or so charter boats already fishing at the edge of Quinault Canyon. This deepwater canyon pierces eastward from the ocean’s abyss eastward into the continental shelf. It is along the edges of this canyon where Halibut can be found in high concentrations. We were not the only ones that know this, and the spot we stopped at was one of the more popular spots to fish. We set up for our first drift. For the first drift, we kept things simple and deployed only three lines to lower the chance of tangles. Once our gear reached the sea floor (900 feet beneath the boat), it took about a minute for all three rods to hook up. Three lines, three Halibut on! After a few minutes to battle these fish from the deep, one by one they came into view. First one: 15 pounds, released. Seconds one: 20 pounds, released. Third one: 22 pounds, released. I knew that these fish were close to the average size, but asked the guys if they wanted to keep their fish. “Nope! Let’s try for a bigger one.” So we continued on. After releasing numerous other fish, and witnessing nearby charter boats keeping pretty much every halibut they brought up, the guys decided that the 20 to 30 pound fish we were catching was better than the average. So we filled the fish box. Our Halibut limit was filled before 9am, which gave us plenty of time to search around for some deepwater Lingcod.
Pipe Jigs are a deepwater Halibut and Lingcod angler’s best friend. They are made by filling a copper pipe with molten lead and attaching a huge treble hook. They are simple and don’t give an angler much hassle with fouled gear. They are heavy so they sink fast and stay on the bottom. The contact of the two dissimilar metals creates an electric charge that attracts deepwater fish to strike. We cruised around to a few spots, made a few drifts, and searched for some good rocky deepwater structure. Eventually our search paid off and Captain Todd put us into some excellent fishing. Drift after drift produced multiple quality Lingcod, as well as a few more Halibut that were fought and released. By the end of the day we had our boat limit of Halibut, our boat limit of Lingcod and were very happy with the results of our exploratory deep water Lingcod hunt.
As we cruised back to Westport, I filleted our catch and separated out each guest’s fish into bags. It was a great day of fishing, we had great weather, we had a fun crew. My second day of Westport Halibut fishing was in the books, and I sure can’t wait until we head out again!