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Opportunity knocks

10/27/2009

ESPN Outdoors Saltwater Christmas features the "must do" saltwater fishing excursions along the coasts of the United States. Between now and year's end, we'll present a bucket list of fishing trips any angler would love to receive.

HOMER, Alaska — Given the choice, Bob Larkins would love to fish more often. With four kids at home, however, most of his time and money are spoken for.

Every once in a while he interrupts boy scouts, sports and school work and takes his kids fishing, but spending an afternoon untangling lines and baiting hooks is a different kind of fun than fishing trips with buddies.

Like most dads, this 47-year-old North Carolina father secretly aches for the old days when out-of-state fishing trips were a normal part of his annual schedule.

To fit a grand fishing trip into his schedule these days requires a little luck and the blessings of both his wife and boss.

That opportunity happened upon him recently when he killed a caribou in Alaska on only the second day of a long-awaited hunt. Though he was ecstatic to be tagged out, it depressed him that it was over so soon.

"There I was, sitting in Alaska with a week to kill before I was scheduled to be back home," he said. "I suppose I could have booked an earlier flight, but someone in camp mentioned the how great the halibut fishing was in Homer."

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Though he forgot to mention how much it would cost to get to Homer, rent a room and charter a boat for a day, his wife supported to new itinerary.

Larkins only had one last hurdle to clear.

After reviewing about a hundred emails and phone messages from the plastics plant where he is a technical manager, he made the executive decision that the plant could do with one less chemical engineer for one more week.

The next set of calls resulted in another $1,000 on his credit card, but also a fully arranged halibut fishing trip in the self proclaimed "Halibut Capital of the World."

A trip worth the price

The road between Anchorage and Homer is quite scenic, but also quite dangerous. Though it is one of Alaska's few paved highways, it is hilly, curvy and always crowded with tourists in rental cars and RVs.

The road also helps build anticipation for traveling fishermen. As drivers near the end of the road to Homer, the area's fishing culture becomes apparent.

Signs for fishing charters, fish packing houses and boat dealers take over the scenery. By the time Larkins reached Homer, he was itching for a fight with a halibut.

On the advice of his Caribou hunting pilot, Larkins arranged to fish with Pete Wedin on his boat, the Julia Lynn.

Wedin quickly revealed years of experience and an intimate knowledge of the halibut fishing around Homer.

"We need to feel our way down the coast. The fish may be in anywhere from 20 to 200 feet of water," he said.

Larkins listened intently as the captain explained the area, optimal fishing conditions and how he planned to target the bottom dwelling halibut.

"We want some current from an ebb tide, but not too much," Wedin explained. "If the current is too strong, it's hard to keep the bait on bottom."

Only 11 miles from port, the Julia Lynn drifted to a stop and the captain handed Larkins a stout rod.

"A lot of these fish average around 20 pounds, but I catch at least a half a dozen fish every year that top 200 pounds," he said. " These rods will do their part if you do yours."

Oversized Penn reels topped six-foot Shimano rods that were made to battle big fish. Eighty-pound line was finished with a 500-pound nylon braid leader.

Though it looked quite obvious to Larkins that it was a piece of rope with a hook on it, Wedin explained that halibut "don't see well," and "will bite about anything with bait on it."

After skewering pieces of octopus, herring and chum salmon all on the same #18 galvanized hook, Wedin gave the glob a couple extra injections of herring oil and dropped it over the side.

Within minutes, something started tapping the line. Larkins gave it a couple seconds for the interested fish to swallow the meal and set the hook.

After a couple misses, his first halibut was finally hooked.

Straining to pull the fish up from the bottom, Larkins was surprised to see a 10-pound fish. It was too small to keep since anglers are only allowed two halibut, and Wedin assured the fishermen there would be more to choose from.

After catching five halibut, all less than 20 pounds, Larkins was understandably worn out.

Catching halibut has been appropriately compared to pulling a barn door off the bottom of the ocean. Using their flat body for resistance, they make fishermen fight not only them, but also the column of water above them.

Though he hoped to hook something closer to 100 pounds, Larkins called it quits with two fish in the 20- to 30-pound range.

Taking the best eating size fish home to North Carolina was infinitely more important than catching a trophy, and he was physically beat, anyway.

He knew it would be a long time before his life would allow him to fish for halibut again, but always the dad first, Larkins said when and if he ever returned, his kids would be at his side.