Life is good when halibut is in the freezer. (Jeff Lund | For the Juneau Empire)

Life is good when halibut is in the freezer. (Jeff Lund | For the Juneau Empire)

Friends, fishing and the ones that got away

Losing a 20-pound halibut isn’t fun.

It was probably the angriest my buddy Rob and I have ever been at each other.

It was the summer of 2015 and he was most of his way through a limit of silvers on the Thorne River. He glided one near the shore. I grabbed the club and swung. Water splashed. The fish swam off.

“I don’t see how you could have thought anything else except that was going to happen.”

I was angry because he had said he wasn’t convinced of my plan, but it’s what I do when I fish solo at the rocky spot where we were fishing. It’s a fool-proof program, for me at least. After all, I was the Alaskan who had been coming back every summer to fish. I was the Alaskan who had moved back. He was the one who hadn’t called Alaska home since he graduated high school in 1998. He was the one who hadn’t caught a salmon for years. I would be the one who was reintroducing him to how we do things up here.

[There’s no place like home in Alaska]

I was upset I was wrong and cost him a fish.

He was upset I cost him a fish.

I started to explain how I’ve had fish flip off the hook or bash themselves on the rocks when I try to lift and drag them up onto shore in this spot, so I brain them, then glide them up. I tapered into a mumble then stopped talking. It didn’t matter what I usually did because it didn’t work for Rob.

Flash forward to Tuesday.

A lot has happened since that lost silver on Prince of Wales Island. Inspired by his visit, he and his wife moved to Ketchikan. He bought a skiff and we haven’t had anything close to the good fishing we did that summer.

[Are you a fisherman who’s been hurt on the job? This bill could help]

After work Tuesday I met him at the dock and we cruised into the calm afternoon. I threw on a jig and an hour later, I felt the tell-take hit and shake of a halibut. I knew it wasn’t big, but it had some shoulders. I retrieved the braided line and guessed both the weight of the fish and the remaining cranks I had since he didn’t spring for a reel with a counter.

What came up from the depths was a halibut close to 20 pounds. My brain skipped quickly to thoughts of enchiladas, tacos, rolling the meat in batter and frying it. My last package of halibut was used months ago and I had started to develop the craving for white fish. Would I carve some off for dinner that night or have the leftovers that were in the fridge and do it up right the next night? Of all the fish, halibut is the only one I really don’t mind in leftover form. The mild flavor reheats well and you can even get away with it at work, unlike salmon that makes shared spaces rank when nuked. Yes, the rest of the week, halibut would be on the menu.

Rob grabbed the gaff, wrapped the line around his hand. The fish popped off and disappeared.

I smiled and laughed. Relieved.

“Finally. We’re even.”

He shook his head.

• Jeff Lund is a writer and teacher based in Ketchikan. “I Went To The Woods,” a reference to Henry David Thoreau, appears in Outdoors twice a month.

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