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Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Father's Day Catch of a Lifetime

Father's Day was special for a dad and son off Homer, Alaska. The dad got to watch as his son reeled in one of the heaviest Pacific halibut ever caught on rod and reel.

The halibut weighed 350.8 pounds and measured 96 inches, vaulting Chad Aldridge into first place in the popular season-long Homer Jackpot Halibut Derby. It's the sixth-heaviest halibut in the 25-year history of the annual competition.

Aldridge caught the fish on 80-pound-test line, after a 45-minute struggle, on a chunk of herring. The International Game Fish Assn. lists the 80-pound line class world record as a 413-pound specimen caught in 2002 off Unalaska.

The IGFA lists the all-tackle world record as a 459-pounder caught in 1996 off Dutch Harbor, Alaska. But in all classes the IGFA lists only those two specimens as weighing more than 400 pounds, and only four surpassing the 350-pound mark.

Aldridge, 32, an oil company worker, said he and Ronnie Aldridge (both are pictured) talked a lot about Father's Day while he was reeling the fish to the surface, and during a marathon struggle to subdue the powerful behemoth and haul it aboard.

"It was great to have him there to watch me bring the fish up," Chad Aldridge said. "He told me it was the biggest fish he had ever seen boated, and he has caught a lot of big halibut over the years."

Besides Ronnie Aldridge, there were two family friends on Chad's 24-foot boat. Chad hooked the fish during the morning's first stop, while reeling in for a planned move to another location. "All of the sudden my line just stopped, then I felt the head shake so I lifted up fairly hard to set the hook," he explained. "Then it took off and and I thought, 'This is serious.' I knew it was big but thought it could also be a skate, a shark or even a whale."

Since the group had only a single gaff, and because giant halibut improperly subdued have been known to smash the insides of boats and injure anglers, a radio plea for assistance was made. Chad's uncle, who had been fishing nearby, arrived with another gaff and a harpoon.

Ronnie Aldridge accepted harpoon honors. Still, another 45 tense and chaotic minutes transpired before the fish was calm enough to be dragged over the rail. "It had the mouth the size of a basketball," Chad recalled. "It took three of us and it was all we could do to lift the fish up and in, and when we did it fell right on top of me."

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