Kansan: 466-pound halibut put up a fight

07/07/2011 12:00 AM

08/05/2014 4:30 PM

Last week Kent Carmichael caught the fish of a lifetime in Alaska with a little help from his dad.

The halibut was nearly 8 feet long and estimated at 466 pounds.

Carmichael, of Ulysses, is proud of his fish and that his father, Elmo Carmichael, was along.

"Not many 62-year-old guys can say they go fishing in Alaska every year with their dad," Kent Carmichael said.

Elmo Carmichael, 89, of Hays, made his first fishing trip to Alaska about 30 years ago and returned with a desire to share the experience with his two sons.

He started his sons fishing on the Saline River near Hays for small catfish.

The retired farmer, who still refers to his two sons who are in their 60s as "the youngest boy" and "the oldest boy," said the Alaskan trips are one of the highlights of his year.

His sons feel the same way.

"For several years we'd alternate which one of us went with him," said Craig Carmichael, Kent's 65-year-old brother from Kansas City. "About the last 15 years we've both gone."

From start to end, the trip would exhaust many anglers half Elmo Carmichael's age.

He made five flights in one day to access Highliner Lodge in Pelican, Alaska, a small commercial fishing town in the southeast part of the state.

Fishing on Alaskan seas also can be an adventure some days.

"We've had swells sometimes as much as 20 feet," said Elmo Carmichael, who got jostled around plenty navigating B-24s in unfriendly European skies during World War II. "It was like a riding a bucking horse."

This year's trip met with comparatively smooth seas and big fish that were hungry.

Arriving at the lodge, the Carmichaels learned a 370-pound halibut had been caught by a guest the previous week. It was the lodge's best-ever by many pounds.

Kent Carmichael said he had no illusions of besting such a world-class catch.

The three Carmichaels were up and on the water early the next four days, mostly fishing for salmon in the morning and halibut in the afternoon.

After catching a lot of king and silver salmon on the third morning, June 28, the boat's captain decided to make the hour-long ride to halibut waters.

They were fishing in more than 400 feet of water, using 32-ounce lead weights to get hooks baited with salmon bellies to the ocean's floor.

"To tell you the truth I've caught very few 32-ounce fish in Kansas in a long time," Kent Carmichael joked.

Rather than skill, he says, "I was just in the right place at the right time to drop a bait right in front of that fish."

For a while Carmichael thought he had snagged the ocean's floor. Then life on the line told him he was hooked into something special.

About halfway through the 90-minute battle, Elmo Carmichael, fishing at the opposite corner of the 27-foot boat, felt a jolt on his line and thought he was into a big fish, too.

"It's not uncommon to have two on at once," Kent Carmichael said. "Eventually we figured out my fish was over in my dad's line."

Elmo Carmichael spent the next 45 or so minutes trying to keep his own line taut so it wouldn't tangle while not stressing it enough to break off his son's fish.

Kent Carmichael tried to play the slight ocean swells to his favor, cranking in line when the boat dipped down.

"It seemed like I'd gain 10 to 12 feet of line and then the fish would take back 8 or 10 feet," he said. "It was a lot of work. That fish had so much power."

All through the fight he was hoping for a fish over 150 pounds. In all their years in Alaska, Kent Carmichael was the only angler in the family not to break 100 pounds.

Eventually he saw he had something far larger than his goal.

"I'll never forget seeing something 8 feet long on the end of my line," he said. "I'm thinking 'Holy cow'... and the thing really looked as big as a cow."

After the fish was killed in the water, it took four men to wrestle it aboard the boat.

With no scales big enough to weigh such a brute at the lodge, they looked at a chart furnished by the Alaska fisheries department. It estimated the 94-inch fish at 466 pounds.

The current state record is about 459 pounds.

"We'd have had to take it a long way to get it officially weighed," Kent Carmichael said. "I'm not even sure how far."

The fish produced more than 200 pounds of fillets. The Carmichaels also had other halibut and salmon for their flights home.

Both sons and their father gave quick affirmative answers when asked whether they will head to Alaska next summer.

When asked about catching one larger than the new family record, Elmo Carmichael first said, "I don't think I could bring one in that big."

Then the fisherman in him took over and said, "Well, I could, but it would be a struggle."

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