Halibut anglers in the eastern Strait of Juan de Fuca and Puget Sound couldn’t have asked for better fishing conditions and plenty of big barn-door sized fish caught too.
“There was lots of sunburned anglers on the water from the good weather, a big turnout and there was also a high number of halibut caught,” said Larry Bennett, the head state Fish and Wildlife creel checker in the Strait of Juan de Fuca. “It was total chaos at the boat ramps, and craziness in the morning trying to get out on the water.”
At the Ediz Hook ramp on opening day (Thursday, May 2) there was 141 boats with 305 anglers with 146 halibut.
“That is better than a fish per boat average, and almost approaching one fish for every two anglers,” Bennett said. “I think that is a higher catch than last year.”
Fishing in the following days did cool down a little, but catches remained good.
On Friday (May 3), 132 boats with 291 anglers at Ediz Hook had 74 halibut, and by Saturday (May 4) they saw 123 boats with 303 anglers with 77 halibut.
A check at the John Wayne Marina on Thursday (May 2) 64 boats with 153 anglers with 47 halibut, and at the Port Angeles west ramp 41 boats with 96 anglers had 42 halibut.
Many said the halibut were stacked like an ant colony on the sandy bottom of the eastern Strait and Admiralty Inlet, and it wasn’t just quantity but their sheer size that has caught the attention of anglers.
Just ask Ryley Fee of Woodinville, who in 2010 hooked into a barn-door sized halibut that measured 75-inches and weighed about 225 pounds.
“Lighting does strike twice sometimes, (and) I can’t believe we got into another fish of this caliber,” said Fee who was on a May 2 outing with friends in the Sno-King Puget Sound Anglers Club.
Under identical circumstances a few years ago with the exact same group of fishing partners — Brian Fleming of Yarrow Point and Marv Fleming of Bellevue aboard Brian Fleming’s 22-foot Arima boat — luck would be on their side after what started out to be a very slow day of fishing on Friday, May 3.
The trio launched their boat at a Port Townsend ramp and headed to fish near Hein and Dallas Banks in the eastern Strait.
At about 3:30 p.m. they decided move further out in the Strait and found a couple of underwater humps, when at about 4 p.m. right before they decided to call it quits that something large yanked on Fee’s large black-labeled sized herring with a Red and Glow Silver Horde 8-inch hoochie skirt.
“It took 15 minutes to get in, and was the hardest fighting fish I have ever landed, fighting much harder than the 225 I caught a few years ago,” Fee said. “We felt blessed because everyone else in our fishing group was getting blanked.”
When it finally surfaced again, Fee pulled out his 45-caliber gun and shot the behemoth 180-pound halibut twice to subdue it.
That wasn’t the only big fish caught since opening day.
“There was reports of a 150 pounder caught, and another 100 pounder,” Bennett said. “I saw a 74 pounder, and some in the 50 pound range. Overall the average size of fish was 14 to 25 pounds, which is a good size range.”
(Photo courtesy of Ryley Fee)