Photos by Joseph Robertia, Redoubt Reporter. An angler carries a halibut, caught from shore near the mouth of the Kasilof River recently, while his friend continues to monitor his line from a camp chair. The from-shore fishery is becoming a popular way to try for halibut.
By Joseph Robertia and Jenny Neyman, Redoubt Reporter
Some parts of Galen Neptune’s Cook Inlet halibut fishing endeavor were much the same as anyone else’s. The Kasilof resident baited a herring on his hook, plunked it as deep into the water as he could and waited for the line to twitch. Within an hour it did. He snatched the rod, set the hook and began to reel, wondering the usual halibut-fishing thoughts of whether he’d find his sought-after flatfish on the other end, or something else hauled through the water.
“Not sure what it is yet,” he said. “I can still feel my weight bouncing off the bottom. I don’t usually feel that with a halibut.”
He continued reeling as fast as he could and was rewarded with his target species.
“All right! It is a halibut, maybe an 18- to 20-pounder,” he exclaimed.
But that’s where the similarities stop. For one thing, Neptune’s gear was not the typical, stout-and-relatively-short halibut rig, with plenty of line for plunking a line down into the water. His was a longer surf-casting rod, which he used to fling his heavy weight and attached line as far out to sea as possible. Even more striking was the difference in transportation to and from his fishing hole — no trailer, no boat launch and no boat required. Neptune walked the beach at the mouth of the Kasilof River, out to the water’s edge at low tide. Under a cloudless blue sky he hammered a pole holder rigged from a piece PVC pipe clamped to a length of rebar into the wet, black sand. After baiting his hook, he pulled back his surf rod and let his line fly as far as he could into Cook Inlet, in the manner of about 20 other fishermen this recent spring day, attempting to catch a halibut from shore. It’s becoming a popular alternative to paying for a charter trip or launching one’s own boat to fill the freezer with white-meat filets.
Galen Neptune, of Kasilof, pulled this 20-pound halibut from the water.
“This is my fourth year,” Neptune said. “I came down after a neighbor told me about it and it’s been getting more crowded each year. Right now everyone is still nice.”
This last statement is possibly a bit of prognostication, in the vein of longtime Alaskans harkening back to the uncrowded experience of sportfishing the Kenai River 20 years ago compared to recent times, with hundreds of sportfishing guide boats carrying thousands of clients throughout the summer months, and private anglers standing shoulder to shoulder in some places onshore.
Will the peninsula’s beaches along Cook Inlet become that same way, packed with salt anglers seeking halibut like the Russian River is stacked with Kenai flippers seeking sockeye? Leon Mensch, of Kasilof, said he doubts a beach fishery will ever get too crowded, due primarily to the inconsistency of success in the shoreline halibut fishery.
“I started three summers ago after I saw other people doing it and catching halibut, but it was a long time ’til I caught one. I fished for six days, at least two to four hours each time before I got one. And since then I’ve caught a lot more flounders and sharks than I have halibut,” he said.
Mensch’s buddy, Joel Zebill, of Soldotna, added that the shoreline fishery wasn’t for those who need to have success at the end of the day.
Leon Mensch, of Kasilof, casts into Cook Inlet in hope of catching a halibut.
“I’m not a patient person, so this can be tough for me. This can sometimes be six hours of sitting, rather than fishing, so if I wanted to be sure of halibut I would still do a charter,” he said.
Mensch said that the sizes of the fish aren’t the famed barn-door-sized halibut, either.
“Most of what I’ve caught have been in the 10- to 15-pound range — good to eat, but small. I’ve been told other people have caught larger ones, though,” he said.
Christopher Batin and Terry Rudnick, in their book, “How to Catch Trophy Halibut,” caution that while it is possible to catch halibut from shore, it likely won’t be big ones. They recommend fishing at the mouths of rivers and streams where dead and dying salmon wash out into the saltwater, particularly spots with a drop-off, ledge or similar habitat.
“If you happen to be fishing in the right place at the right time, you may hook a halibut from shore. But don’t expect lots of action,” they write. “… And always, always fish with patience, the key to success.”