Sandy and I had a week to do whatever we wanted to do . . . and at that period of our lives that was a rare and cherished thing! We were extremely busy people . . . her teaching school and also busy with grad school . . . I had started a new development business and was getting it up and running—packaging deals, developing loan packages, optioning tracts of land for building sites, going through local building code and zoning processes, working on plans and designs with my architect, and building apartment complexes in various areas of Texas. I was also doing a couple of seminars a month at various places across the United States, which was what had us in Alaska at that moment. Even further, we had a couple of teenagers back home. We were in the frontier-type town of Anchorage. It was late Friday afternoon and I had finished my work. We were not scheduled to fly back home for a week. We went to the rent-car desk in the lobby of our hotel (Downtown Hilton) and rented a new red 4-wheel-drive Jeep Grand Cherokee. We took an atlas to dinner and developed our plan of action.
Sandy wanted to see the Kenisha peninsula, visit the Kennicott and Portage Glaciers, see some wildlife, and stay in a Bed-and-Breakfast. My list was simple . . . I wanted to fish! The things on her list were also attractive to me, but I was pretty focused on fishing . . . fishing for Halibut.
I had just become better acquainted with Halibut that very week. It was actually kind of funny how that happened. We had flown into Anchorage on Tuesday of that week and I kicked off my seminar on Wednesday morning. The seminar was in the HUD office, located on the top floor of the Wells Fargo building in downtown Anchorage. It was in the fall of the year and sunrise didn’t occur until mid-morning. As the sun rose, I was looking out of the large glass window at Mt. McKinley, the highest peak in the North American Continent (just over 20,000′). The mountain’s peak was well covered in snow, there was a haze of clouds hovering near the top, and I was awe struck . . . I literally fell in love . . . I mean head-over-hells in love! That evening I returned to the hotel and as I entered the lobby I spotted a nice fireplace with a most inviting atmosphere located in a restaurant/lounge area. I was drawn to the area. I borrowed a phone and called the room. Sandy answered and I invited her to join me—telling her that I needed to tell her something important. She hurried down and joined me. The waitress came by to take our order. I ordered a cup of black coffee . . . and asked if a snack menu might be available. I told Sandy that I was not hungry for dinner just yet, I just needed a bit of something to tide me over. I ordered the fish and chips. When it arrived I was amazed at how good it was and remarked about it to Sandy. I offered her a taste. She reluctantly took a bite.
I suppose I need to interrupt and explain here that Sandy was raised in Plainview, Texas, and was rarely around seafood. Thus, she had always had a limited and guarded taste for any form of seafood. We were living on the Texas Gulf Coast . . . and fishing was my passion. She had, over time, begun to eat Redfish which I caught, prepared, and cooked. Sandy was raised as an Adventist and was taught the Old Testament Levitical laws relative to diet. She was horrified at the prospects of possibly eating any form of shellfish . . . or any unclean fish . . . that being a fish without a scale. Her Dad had no such reservations and loved fried catfish, so she tended to be on high alert when fish arrived at the dining table.
I called the waitress over and asked what species of fish I had been served. She answer that it was Halibut . . . and the fish in the basket had been caught right there that very morning and was delivered fresh to the dining room every afternoon. In fact, she said my order was the first cooked and served from that afternoon’s delivery . . .talk about fresh fish! I basically knew about Halibut . . . mainly that it was a much larger version of our Flounder (which Sandy had learned to like—if it was fried). With that information, she took a leap of faith and took that small bite. Her eyes lit up and a big smile came on her face . . . and she declared it as “Wonderful!” She ordered her own fish-and-chips basket and we sat and nibbled, enjoyed the fire and the view of the lovely mountain which so predominantly rises above the city. As we nibbled and talked, I explained what had happened to my heart as the sun came up that morning . . . and I told her that I wanted to move to Alaska! She grinned and said she was onboard . . . and that she, too, had fallen in love!
After a while we returned to our room and dressed for dinner (I had been wearing a business suit). I had the bellman call for a cab. We took a tour of the city and heard the cab driver’s report of what changes he had witnessed since he had arrived years before to work on the famous pipeline. Finally, we asked about a good place for dinner. He asked what we might be hungry for . . . to which Sandy quickly replied, “Halibut.” I chuckled and he said, “There is only one place for great, fresh Halibut . . . Queenie’s!” He delivered us there, and my darling wife, that sweet gal from the country town of Plainview, Texas, that gal having serious reservations and apprehensions about fish, fell in love with Halibut. I was tickled and delighted at her discovery! The comical thing was that every meal Sandy had for the remainder of our trip (lunch and dinner) included Halibut.
The next day during my seminar, I told some folks about Sandy’s seafood history and sudden affection for Halibut. One of the guys suggested that I drive down to the Kenai Peninsula and catch some and have it shipped home. The seed was planted!
We rose early Saturday morning, checked out of the Hilton, and headed for the small community of Seward, located on Resurrection Bay (Prince William Sound). As we left Anchorage, we were just in awe at the beauty of the area known as Turn Again Arm, of Cook Inlet. It was literally breath-taking . . . majestic! As we drove on toward Seward, a bear crossed the road ahead of us, and a few miles up the road a couple of mature moose also trotted across the road. Soon we arrived at Seaward and spent the afternoon looking at a beautiful blue glacier on a scenic boat tour. We saw seals, sea lions, whales, a variety of sea birds, and eagles. We overnighted in Seward and spent the night in an igloo (not actually an igloo made of ice, but rather a modular cottage made to look like an original igloo). It was cute and different and Sandy liked it. The next morning we started out for Homer . . . sometimes referred to as Land’s End. As we traveled along, we came to a small community with a gas station, a post office, and a roadside diner. We stopped for lunch. I was blown away at the $12.99 hamburger on the menu. I had a flash back to a time when I was a 12-year-old kid eating a burger at a lunch counter in Ma Brown’s Hamburger place in Hobbs, N. M. An old fellow asked me, “Son, did you pause and thank the Lord for that hamburger?” I was embarrassed, knowing my sweet mom would have taken me to the woodshed, and told him that I had not. I will never forget the sad look on his weathered old face, nor the words he uttered to me that day, “Son, if America does not learn to stop and give thanks to the Lord, you will see folks paying $10 or $12 for a hamburger.” The irony was that the great burger I was eating that day in Hobbs had cost 25 cents!
We later passed through the somewhat larger town/village of Ninilchik and saw a great-looking waterfront place advertising Halibut fishing trips. I pulled in and visited with the boat Captain/fishing guide. I set up a trip for 8:00 am the next morning, and he directed us to a local bed and breakfast. Sandy liked the place, so we signed up for the evening. It was my first time lodging in that environment, and much of its charm was wasted on me, but the Hostess was a nice older lady and she told us her story of how she got to Alaska. She served a lovely breakfast the next morning and sent me off with a nice box lunch. Sandy remained behind and slept in.
As I arrived at the dock, the guide apologized and informed me that we would not be able to fish because “the wind was going to blow about 20 mph” that day. I had prepaid the trip in cash and was concerned. I chuckled and told him that I regularly fished on days with a 20-mph wind. He chuckled and asked me where on the Gulf of Mexico I lived. I answered him and he said, “and you get about a one-foot tide there, correct?” I said we did. He chuckled and asked, “Sir, you see that 25′ Trophy boat, with the 250-HP outboard?” I agreed that I saw the boat. What he said next chilled me to the bone. He said, “We would run about 10 miles that way (pointing out across the water. When we head back in I would throw the throttle to the wall, and with our 30′ tide going out, running into a 20-mph head-wind, we would be sucked out to sea faster than we could cross the water’s surface. We simply cannot go out on days with high winds. Wow . . . a 30′ tide exchange. I did get to see it go out and come back in later that day . . . but that is a good source for a future blog. The guy loaned me a spinning reel and a handful of lures and pointed me to a place where I could fish from the bank and possibly catch some salmon. I went there and did catch a few fish. I returned his rod and gave him the fish. We cleaned them at the dock and then took the scraps down to the beach to recycle them. I was delighted to see mature Bald Eagles feeding on the beach and standing only 10 to 15 feet away.
He said the wind would lay overnight and we could fish the next day. I returned to the B and B and picked up Sandy. I told her what had happened and suggested that we drive on into Homer for the afternoon and perhaps spend the night (20 miles away). I told her I could drive back out the next morning. We booked a room at a lovely and quaint lodge known as Land’s Inn. It had a terrific dining room, with one wall of glass overlooking Resurrection Bay, and a great fireplace in the center of the room. What a great place.
The next morning I drove back down and caught my boat. There was another couple there wanting to go out, too. The guide asked my permission and I quickly agreed and we set out. We fished in water about 150′ in depth. As I recall the water temperature was about 38 degrees. In any event, we soon started hooking up with fish. I caught the largest fish of the day . . . back at the fish house it weighed in at 385 lbs. I paid to have the fish cleaned, vacuum sealed, quick frozen, and shipped FedEx back home. I called Santos and told him to be on the lookout and when the fish arrived at home to put it in the garage freezer. That was a special fish and a great trip. The following day I fished out of Homer and again caught fish, although much smaller. As I recall, the fish that day were about 20 – 25 lbs each. Again, I had those fish cleaned and flown back home . . . for my bride’s new addiction.
Halibut fishing is certainly a different sort of fishing than what I normally do, but it was enjoyable. One must use large and heavy weights (7 to 8 lbs) simply to carry the baited hook down to where the fish are located on the ocean’s floor. The large weights are necessary because of the intense currents at the lower depths.
The main thing that made an impression on me about Alaska fishing was the level of skill and knowledge one must possess to captain a boat there. It is light years beyond fishing our Texas waters. A 30′ tide exchange . . . whew!
NOTE: I recently was invited out to have coffee with Coach Gladden Dye and his lovely wife, Karen. The Dye’s permanent home is in Clinton, MO, but they have spent the winter months in Rockport for several years. They have been in my Sunday school class during their visits.
We had a very pleasant visit and they shared their travels across the USA following their retirements. Coach shared his experience of fishing for Halibut in Alaska, and I told them that I, too, had fished there and caught halibut.
Yesterday morning before church, Karen suggested that I do a blog about my Halibut experience. This is for you, Karen. I am happy the Lord crossed our paths. I am privileged to call you two my friends.