One Last Cast – Chapter 79

One Last Cast
From Alaska Outdoors Radio Magazine
By Evan Swensen
Chapter Seventy-Nine
Humpies and Halibut

Jerry Pippen, Rainbow Bay’s owner, invited me to join four Outside visitors and spend a day fishing for halibut and humpies. Jerry explained we would fish the morning high tide for humpies and the afternoon slack tide for halibut. Then, we would rendezvous with guides and boats in the early morning and travel three miles to the humpies’ creek.

We left the lodge in light planes under a star-filled sky and arrived at the halibut camp at daylight. After a short boat ride, we beached at a small stream entering the bay.

To the left and west of the stream was a steep alder-infested mountain. East of the creek was a 15-foot bluff overlooking the area. Bear trails ran along the bluff’s edge with exits at intervals allowing access to the water. A stream 20 feet wide and 3 feet deep cascaded into a pool at the far end of this small valley between the mountain and the bluff. The pool was created by a high bank on the beach between the bluff and the mountain. This pool was perhaps 100 feet long and 30 feet wide and drinking water-clear.

The pool was temporary home to a 10 feet thick school of pink salmon. They were packed so tight that if the center group of fish moved, the entire population went with it. The surface boiled with the backs and tails of migrating pink salmon fresh from the ocean.

The four Texans decided they must have died and gone to fisherman’s heaven. They baited up with red pixies and began casting into the heart of the hole. They experienced no difficulty in hooking up with fish. Each had one on the first cast, the next cast, and the next.

After a couple of hours of nonstop fish fighting, the group snacked on sandwiches beside a driftwood fire prepared by the guides. After lunch, the group moved to the edges of the school and became more selective in their casts. There were fewer incidental hookups, less lost tackle, and greater enjoyment. The guys from Texas learned a fishing paradox, too many fish can be just as boring as too few. So they began their own contest, wagering high stakes on the outcome. Although none of the bets were taken seriously, they added to the excitement and fun of the afternoon.

Jerry found it almost impossible to get the crew away from the hole to fish for halibut. They complained of backs that ached, arms too weak to cast, and feet cold from standing in the water all day, but they would not give in and quit.

Finally, they were coaxed to the boats for an hour’s worth of bottom fishing. The light gear of the morning was traded for heavier halibut gear. Hoping for a halibut, fresh-cut herring was applied to the terminal end of the line and dropped into the depths. When a fish was hooked, the fishermen complained of being too tired to bring it up. They even passed the successful rod around the boat allowing everyone to share the work. A few halibut were caught, but the fishermen did not have their hearts in it. They were all fished out.

Finally, Jerry ended their misery by stowing the gear away. Fatigue took over, and each man propped his feet up on the rail, sat back in his chair, and contemplated what he must have considered the best fishing experience of his life.

Evan, who lives in Anchorage, has 9 children, 25 grandchildren, and 6 great grandchildren. As a pilot, he has logged more than 4,000 hours of flight time in Alaska, in both wheel and float planes. He is a serious recreation hunter and fisherman, equally comfortable casting a flyrod or using bait, or lures. He has been published in many national magazines and is the author of four books.