HALIBUT, HALIBUT AND more halibut is the big news in the great outdoors as I pinch-hit for outdoors columnist Lee Horton, who had a day off Thursday.
We’re talking about a halibut fishery going gangbusters Thursday in the Port Angeles and Sequim area, but that is ending after today.
“Now’s the time to get out there,” Brian Menkal of Brian’s Sporting Goods and More (360-683-1950) in Sequim said.
Actually, it’s now or never because the season closes at the end of today in marine area 6, which starts just west of Crescent Bay at Low Point and covers Joyce, Port Angeles, Sequim and past Port Townsend to Partridge Point to the east.
Conditions aren’t all that bad for this one final day.
“The tides are running good; this is a good opportunity to get out there,” Menkal said.
Anglers can still fish halibut off the North Olympic Peninsula if they fish in marine area 5 — which is Sekiu, Clallam Bay and Pillar Point — today and Saturday. That fishery also is open for an extra day, Saturday, June 8, before it closes.
The halibut fishery already is closed in La Push and Neah Bay, marine areas 3 and 4.
Anglers reeled in 107,856 pounds of halibut in those areas through May 18, leaving just 174 pounds remaining.
While the state fishing rules left open the possibility of additional days of halibut fishing, there is not sufficient poundage left to reopen for another day in May or June.
It’s been hit-or-miss during the 2013 halibut season, but anglers were hitting pretty well during Thursday’s fishery.
Hopefully, that holds up through today.
“Two guys went out [Thursday] morning and caught two halibut within an hour,” Menkal said.
“I don’t know where they caught them, but it had to be pretty close.”
A little later Mike Constant caught a 150-pound monster at 9 a.m., and brought it in to be weighed in the Swain’s General Store (360-452-2357) parking lot in Port Angeles about noon Thursday.
(See photo of the fish on Page B7 in today’s editions).
He caught the huge flattie with his longtime friend and fishing buddy, 91-year-old Ken Gilbertson, assisting.
“He’s my helper,” Constant, a young pup at 55, said.
A veteran of the Port Angeles Salmon Club’s Halibut Derby, which was held just last weekend, Constant’s 150-pound monster would have netted him the top prize of $5,000 if he caught it Saturday or Sunday.
It seems to be his luck the past two years to catch a potential winner either right before or after the derby.
Constant fished last weekend but he didn’t finish in the top 30 of the derby ladder.
His son, Josh Constant, though, was second with a 93-pounder.
The year before, Mike Constant was third in the Port Angeles derby with a 93-pounder of his own. His son, however, beat him again by taking runner-up honors in 2012.
Last year Mike Constant caught a 168-pound halibut just the week before the derby, which would have blown away the field for first place.
Bad luck two years in a row in timing.
Still, Mike Constant has placed in six Port Angeles halibut derbies and has been an avid area fisherman since moving to the North Olympic Peninsula from Alaska 20 years ago.
Thursday’s flattie was his second-biggest since he has moved to the Peninsula.
Robert Beauvais of Joyce won this year’s derby with a 96-pound monster he caught Sunday morning.
Beauvais was coy about where he caught the winner, just saying he caught it “in the water.”
So I asked Mike Constant if he was willing to share where he caught his 150-pounder Thursday.
“Yes, I caught it south of Juneau,” Constant said to laughter from the large crowd of onlookers watching the fish weigh-in at Swain’s parking lot.
I fell for that one.
Constant used herring bait to catch it, and it took him 30 minutes to reel it in to the boat, where Gilbertson helped him get it on board somewhere south of Juneau.
Even though he has caught two truly monster fish off the Peninsula, Constant is no stranger to hooking the really big flatties.
“I caught much bigger halibut when I was fishing in Alaska,” he said.
Constant is a big advocate of the Port Angeles Halibut Derby.
“I have never missed one of these derbies,” he said.
“My boys always come from out of state to fish it with me. It’s been a family affair.”
Constant also is taking part in the monthly Port Angeles Salmon Derby, and now is in third place with his 150-pounder for May, which is halibut month.
The top two monthly catches also are 150 pounds, with first come, first weighed fish winning in ties.
Jeff Reynolds, who won the 2012 halibut derby, is first with his 150-pounder, while Wayne Opdye is second with his 150-pounder.
In fourth place is Ron Morgan with a 110-pound halibut.
Other anglers have just today to try to get into the top four.
While Constant and a few other anglers have been getting hits, there also are some who are coming up empty.
“You have to be in the right place at the right time [to catch a halibut],” Wally Butler of Swain’s said.
“I have heard that some people have been out three days without catching any,” Swain’s co-worker Mike Deese said.
And then there’s fellow Swain’s co-worker Bob Anspach, whose fourth time in the saltwater looking for an elusive halibut wasn’t a charm.
“Bob hasn’t got one in four tries,” Deese said with a smile.
Anspach probably won’t be buying lunch for Deese any time soon after Deese let that get out.
Halibut isn’t the only game in town, just the most romantic, depending on where you fish for the biggies in the next day or two.
Some of the previously closed West End rivers open to fresh-water fishing starting Saturday.
Trout, summer steelhead and spring chinook can be caught in all the usual suspect rivers such as Sol Duc, Bogachiel, Hoh and Calawah.
Dungeness and Elwha are two area rivers that don’t open Saturday.
“You need to check regulations to be sure your river is open or not,” Menkal said.
“And you need to check regulations because there are bait restrictions on some rivers.”
Right now, though, the river levels are good and the fish are waiting.
It’s at the end of the spring chinook run, but there are still some springers out there, according to Menkal.
Little guys available
The shrimp season continues to go strong just about everywhere.
“There’s a lot of opportunity for shrimp out there,” Menkal said.
That includes Sequim, Port Angeles and the Hood Canal.
In addition, crab season reopens July 1.
“People are getting their gear ready for the crab season,” Menkal said.
Menkal took some time to talk about the goings-on in the area this weekend despite being in the middle of moving his store to a bigger site.
Brian’s Sporting Goods and More is moving to 609 W. Washington St., No. 21, in Sequim from its current Sequim address.
“We are trying not to close our current store while we are moving,” Menkal said.“We may be closed for a few hours [next] Thursday and Friday, but we are trying not to close.”