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Halibut CandyBy Hugh Partridge ,
Having guided on the coast of British Columbia for nearly 10 years, I have had many memorable fishing days which come to mind often when I reflect on my experiences. Perhaps one of the most memorable is that day when I was able to master a new technique for catching halibut and other bottomfish, quite by accident.
What makes this day so special was not so much the catch, nor the new lessons learned, but rather it was the pleasure knowing that I had impacted my guest's lives as well. For the guests which were on board with me at the time, it was a day they will probably never forget.
It started while I was working for Hakai Lodge, located in Hakai Pass on the central coast of British Columbia. Through six years of guiding here, I was able to learn not only how to become a proficient angler, but also what it means to be able to share this great sport with other people. In many ways, fishing became a means to make new friendships while interacting with the environment.
Ronald Crump, a long standing guest of the lodge, had arrived once again with his rather large family, for his annual visit to Ole's Hakai Pass Fishing Lodge. As usual, he was typically dressed wearing his overalls, suspenders and straw hat.
This would be the third year that I had the pleasure to fish with him. I always looked forward to fishing with him, as we had over time developed a friendship through our experiences spent on the spectacular and majestic waters of Hakai. I had learned many things from Ronald. He was eccentric in every sense of the word. Who would have known that this man with his straw hat and suspenders, was singly responsible for developing the technique for corrective laser eye surgery, all from his basement?
On the night of his arrival we had made plans to guide him and his wife Margo, and to fish for halibut.
The next morning was a perfect fishing day-- there was not a cloud in the sky, the wind was down, and the tides were perfect. We headed off the North Pointers, a spot that I knew would produce. When we got to the grounds, we busily began to fish the bottom for halibut using herring as bait.
As Ronald often did, he began to quiz me about everything we were doing. An extremely intelligent man, he wanted to learn everything he could about what he was doing. He asked why we had chosen herring as bait, which led into my explanation that it was a food staple of all fish in the North West, and also provided that important scent to our bait.
We worked for nearly two hours with little success and were approaching the beginning of the tide change, traditionally the best time to be out fishing. I was a little concerned at this point, however, since through all our efforts, we had only managed to bring in one halibut of about 15 pounds. and a ling cod of about 10 pounds. Ronald sensed this concern, and ask me about it. I responded by saying that while it was a beautiful day, I still wanted more fish.
We persisted for another 45 minutes in the same fishing hole. Then it happened. Ronald's wife had brought in a Ling Cod, our second at about 10 pounds. I was now ecstatic. Sensing my excitement, Ronald asked modestly, "I know it is a good fish, but why in the world are you so excited". I repied by saying, "It isn't the ling cod. Look!".
There it was. From out of the ling cod's mouth, came a small octopus. I quickly had the both of them bring up their lines. I then said, " Here, let me put some of this octopus on your lines," and proceeded to use pieces of it as bait. Skeptical, Ronald asked another question "I thought you said herring was our best bet for bait, why now are we using octopus?". I explained that one day I had spoken to a commercial halibut fisherman who used long-lining techniques for catching halibut. When I asked him what the best bait was to use, he answered without hesitation "octopus".
I asked him "why?" He explained that it was the best because the tough texture would allow the bait to always remain on the hook, and that it was simply "candy" for the halibut. Bewildered at the prospect of this being correct, I explained to Ronald that while I had never actually had the opportunity to try it out, we should experiment with it to test out the theory.
Ronald's comback was what I expected. He said, " Okay, lets put the theory to test. I'll continue to fish herring, and Margo will fish the octopus". He then added, "don't believe any theory until you actually test it out". Fitting words, I thought, for a man who developed laser eye surgery.
One half hour had passed. Margo had brought in two halibut of about 40 pounds. each, and three ling cod over 20 pounds! Ronald, now wide-eyed, became convinced, " Okay, the theory works, pass over some of that octopus".
We fished another half hour to reach our limit. Before us lay six beautiful halibut up to 50 pounds. and nine ling cod. We had caught so many fish that there was no longer room to walk around the 17-foot Boston Whaler boat. We laughed at the pile of fish before us.
Aware that we had caught our limit, Ronald assumed "I guess we should head in now." "Not so fast", I said. "There's a good spot for red snapper about 10 minutes from here". Ronald was once again wide-eyed, as we headed for a new fishing territory with confidence.
We fished the hole for about an hour, long enough to catch our limit of 24 snapper ranging from five to 10 pounds. There were now so many fish in the boat that Ronald no longer had anywhere to sit as the catch was strewn high from bow to stern.
Because of the added weight of the fish, we had to take it slow on the way home. I laughed as I looked at Ronald who had given up his seat, and was sitting atop a pile of red snapper. We were all speechless on the way in, grinning ear to ear. We knew we hit it right. I knew we had experienced a day's fishing that we would all remember for a lifetime. For me, I had solidified a friendship while doing something I loved best.
As for the theory about octopus? Yes, it is candy for the halibut.