A 100-plus-pound Pacific halibut would be a battle for even the most experienced of kayak anglers, but for newcomer Leo Vergara, it was the catch of a lifetime. The 34-year-old from Edmunds, Washington, says he learned how to fish on a kayak from YouTube videos, but that didn’t stop him from reeling in the largest halibut ever caught on a kayak outside of Alaska. During a fishing trip in Makah Bay last month on the last day of Washington’s short season, Vergara brought a massive 124-pound halibut out of the ocean.
“I thought I’d snagged the bottom,” Vergara told KayakFishMag.com. “But when I yanked on my line and it vibrated back, I knew I’d hooked a fish. This was my first halibut season, so I had no idea what to expect. I grabbed the rod with both hands and got it up to about 60 feet, but it went right back to the bottom. I slowly managed to pump it up again, praying the 35-pound braid wouldn’t break.”
It didn’t, but bringing in a halibut of that size while on a kayak is never easy. Vergara says that he feared his rod would snap in half after the fish made a dive for the bottom. He called for help from the other anglers in his group, and slowly but surely he began to ease the fish back up to the surface.
Following the advice of other, more seasoned fishermen, Vergara harpooned the halibut and – after some complications – managed to get the fish on his kayak. At that point, he realized that he had to ferry the heavy fish 5 miles back to shore. The angler recalled that the weight of the halibut on the back of his kayak actually raised the front of his craft, but that was the least of his worries.
“We had seen big seals swimming around earlier, so that was my big fear, that one would come up and try to steal it,” he told The Daily Herald. “I was exhausted, so I just tried to get back as fast as I could.”
Seals are known to be less than scrupulous when it comes to kayak fishermen and their catches, but thankfully none of the critters made a move for Vergara’s halibut. A small crowd had already gathered by the time he came back on dry land, and the fish was officially weighed at Big Salmon Fishing Resort. It beat the last record for halibut in the Lower 48 states handedly. That record was set in 2014 in Neah Bay with an 85-pound fish.
Vergara says he has no plans to mount the fish. Instead, he served the halibut to members of his fishing party that night for dinner, and there was still plenty to take home afterwards.