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Column for Peninsula Clarion Outdoors, Aug. 8, 2008

Combo trip
Les Palmer

On Monday of this week, I was in one of my favorite places, the 29-foot charter boat “Cruiser VI.” The fishing trip out of Homer was by invitation of my friend Capt. Steve Novakovich and his clients Roger and Jan Alexander, from Ohio.
I had fished before with the Alexander's on the "Cruiser VI." Why they wanted to fish with me again, I have no idea, but I’m glad they did.

One of the things I like best about fishing with Steve is that his trips are never boring. Instead of anchoring and bottom-fishing for halibut with heavy tackle, he drift jigs with relatively light tackle, which is less work and more fun. With him, every trip is a “combo” trip, usually halibut and salmon. Monday was no exception.

At 7 a.m., when I arrived at the boat, the captain, the Alexander's, and mate Luke Graham were already aboard and ready to go. We were soon headed for a spot about 35 miles west of the Homer Spit, a place where silver salmon congregate and feed while migrating up Cook Inlet on their way to spawning streams.

Under gray skies, we hummed at 20-knots across water that was as calm as Cook Inlet gets. The weather looked promising, but there was some doubt about whether the silvers would be at our destination.

“This is the first time this year that I’ve been able to get out here,” Steve said. “The water has been too rough.”

With the aid of downriggers, we trolled herring behind flashers. About a minute after we began, the port-side rod snapped up and then arced downward. “Fish! Fish!” someone yelled. Jan jumped up to do battle with the first silver of the day, which soon lay gleaming in the fish box.

After that, it was pretty much one salmon after another. Fishing with only two rods, we had “doubles” twice. The fish were feeding near the surface, so Luke set both lines to fish at 20 feet. He also switched from herring to baitfish-imitating flies.

The silvers, fat and in their prime, were in the 10- to 12-pound range. They fought as if their lives depended on it, which they did. For every two silvers, we caught a pink salmon. Not everyone keeps pinks, but the ones we caught, we kept.

“After pinks enter their spawning streams, they tend to be soft,” Steve said. “But catch them out here in the ocean, and they’re fine eating.”

From my own experience, I knew he was right. To me, ocean-caught pinks look and taste like big rainbow trout.

In what seemed like no time, we had our limits of three silvers each.

“Let’s fish for halibut right here, and see what happens,” Steve said.

Luke handed out jigging outfits with feathered jigs baited with chunks of octopus. We free-spooled the 8-ounce jigs to the bottom, 210 feet below. When we felt our jigs hit bottom, we started jigging and immediately began getting bites.

Drift jigging in current can be tricky. Due to an extreme tidal change Monday — from a 20.2-foot high to a minus 2.5-foot low — we were moving along over the bottom at between 2 and 3 miles per hour. A downside of drift jigging in current is the risk of hooking bottom. Unless you power up and run “upstream” from the snag, you usually have to break the line. It happened twice on this trip.

Drift jigging for halibut isn’t for everyone. A drifting boat has limited space to stand and fish without getting tangled up with other anglers. However, for the Cruiser VI, which seldom fishes more than four lines, it works.

In a short time, we had released several small halibut and had four 15- to 20-pounders in the box. We needed two more for our limits. Steve had to move the boat a couple of times to put us over fish, but we got them. Roger last fish must’ve weighed 80 pounds, large enough that Steve shot it with a .410-gauge “Snake Charmer” before Luke gaffed it and heaved it aboard.

Heading back to Homer on a glassy sea, we ate lunch while Luke filleted our fish. We hadn’t been on the water five hours. And it hadn’t rained.

If there’s a better way to spend a Monday morning, I’d like to know about it.

Les Palmer lives in Sterling, Alaska.

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Emerald Pines Lodge
P.O. Box 3087
Homer, Alaska 99603
Phone 907.235.6204

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