For the Halibut

The seas are so choppy, I have to hold on to the rail with one hand, as I clutch my fishing pole with the other. The small boat dips so low that all we see is a giant wall of water, then we rise so high that it feels like were on a mountain. The rain is pounding us, coming in horizontally and soaking through all layers of Gore-Tex and thermal.

As we crest one of the monstrous swells, the skipper points and says, “see that boat? That’s the ‘Deadliest Catch’ crew, and they’re filming today.”

Great.

My first Alaskan fishing adventure, and I’m out on a day that’s rough enough to qualify for filming the ‘Deadliest Catch.”

One of the primary reasons I booked the Alaskan cruise, was so that I could sample different salmon fishing locations, and decide which one I liked best. Salmon fishing has been on my bucket list, before I even knew what a bucket list was.

I booked the cruise for late in the season, knowing the catch wouldn’t be as bountiful, but hoping to experience another bucket item, the Auora Borealis. Two birds with one stone, or two buckets with one cruise.

Unfortunately, a late season fishing trip meant a gamble with the weather, so my first Salmon trip was cancelled due to high seas. Not a problem, said the halibut team… they’d take us out. So I rebooked on a halibut boat, knowing that my sturdy constitution could handle the high seas.

Heading out to sea on the small fishing vessel, I was not only the single female, I was the only American. We had an Aussie, a Kiwi, a Canuck, a Brit and a Mexican (he didn’t offer up a nickname). All five men glared at me through squinty eyes as we were bouncing along, and I felt they were judging me as the weak link in the very robust chain of fishermen.

Looking at me, the Aussie said, “my wife would be over the rails by now.” The other guys laughed, agreeing that their wives, too, couldn’t handle the storm. I laughed along, sipping my coffee, as the Canadian nudged me and said I was welcome to ask him any questions about the art of fishing. He said he “had my back.”

Once the skipper secured his chosen location, we all bellied up to our poles and dropped our lines…immediately getting pummeled by the rain. Five minutes later the Brit pulled up an octopus, which he released. Moments later, I reeled in a 14-pound halibut, to murmurs of, “um, how long have you been fishing?”

“I live in a little fishing village, and although I haven’t been out in years, I used to fish all the time. And this is my first halibut! YAYYYY!”

I released my little guy, too, certain that I would get a bigger specimen, and it was quite early. There was a one-fish per person limit, and I wanted to stock my freezer with today’s bounty. As the day wore on, we were only catching the 12-16 pounders, and all of us were throwing them back. I realized that at this rate I was going to be going home with nothing, so I started asking the guys to hang onto their little ones, so I could take them home. We’d already discussed the shipping situation, and they all knew they weren’t going to ship anything to their home countries, but that I was. I ended up with three halibut to take home, each averaging 13 pounds.

Chilled to the bone, I made arrangements to have the fish cleaned, flash frozen and shipped to me in Morro Bay.

I called my sister to tell her and she said, “YAY!…or…maybe…EW?”

I assured her that they put dry ice on it and seal it tightly in styrofoam, then overnight it FedEx.

While it was a turbulent day in Icy Strait Point, Alaska, I’m thrilled that I went halibut fishing…as my next salmon excursion was cancelled as well. This did not sit well in my adventurous little heart, and I literally cried when, on our last port-of-call in Ketchikan, the excursion desk called to say that the salmon trip was cancelled here as well. “But it’s on my BUCKET LIST,” I wailed in my little cabin, with only the walls to comfort me.

So shortly after my return, I get a call from Icy Strait Point saying that my fish filleted down to eleven pounds, that it was in the freezer at the dock and that I would receive it the following morning. I needed to be home and ready to transport it to my freezer immediately.

But instead of a fish delivery, I received a call from FedEx, saying that my “package” missed a flight, and I’d get it the next day. “BUT IT’S FROZEN FISH!” I said, “and they told me to put it back in the freezer this morning!”

A flurry of phone calls later, Icy Strait says that hopefully FedEx has put it on ice, and regardless, I’m to freeze it upon arrival, then defrost one packet in the fridge all day to test it. She assured me I’d know instantly if it had gone bad, and that if it had, she would replace it.

It arrived the next day, completely defrosted and limp…and upon the freeze/defrost exercise I detected a rather fishy odor.

Icy Strait didn’t answer my next four calls, each one getting whinier. I’d explained that I fully realized they weren’t shipping a heart…or a lung…that a life wasn’t depending on this silly FISH, but that it meant a lot to me. That I’d gone to Alaska with dreams of needing to buy a deep-freeze to hold all of the salmon I’d be catching, so this halibut was now even more valuable. I explained on her voice-mail how I had a dinner party planned to celebrate Alaska and my fishing trip, and my limp, smelly fish wasn’t too appetizing. As the days went by without a return call, I got frustrated and depressed.

A week later, she calls to say that she has packaged up some replacement halibut, and she threw in some salmon for me too. This shipment was on the dock, should be in Morro Bay in the morning, and instead of my original eleven pounds, this shipment was 22!!!! WOOOO HOOOOOOO! Fish party!!!!

I stayed glued to my door the next day, with no visitors. I followed the tracking number for a week, and saw that the fish was still on the loading dock in Ancorage.

I called Icy Strait….no answer. I left numerous messages that I was absolutely fine with the delay…as long as it was in a freezer. Could they reassure me???

Finally FedEx calls to say their plane has broken down (they only have one?), and it should be fixed by tomorrow, so expect the fish the following day.

Icy Strait calls, asking if FedEx has gotten a hold of me…”it’s THEIR fault.”

Um. Ok.

“And yes, it’s been in the freezer all along.”

The halibut and salmon fillets arrive, frozen solid as bricks, and there’s enough for a grand ole party.

But first, I defrost one of the packets and bake up some of the most decadent halibut I’ve ever had, and sit down with it in front of the TV. There’s a show starting that I’ve never seen…Deadliest Catch.

halibutrecipe

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