Of Angry Fish and Chips
Catching 183-pound Pacific halibut, in Alaska, 2003 by kayak
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It is 2003. Howard McKim has a chip on his shoulder. Newly arrived in Ketchikan from Southern California, he is tired of taking guff from the locals who tease him about his modest choice of fishing platform.
“You don’t need all these huge boats. I didn’t want to outdo any kayak fisherman, that’s not my game. I wanted to prove what any Joe Blow can do,” he says.
He does, in spades. McKim is drifting among a fleet of powerboats in the current-riven Tongass Narrows when his rod baited with salmon bellies bends double. Nearby boaters laugh, sure he is snagged on the bottom, then peel off for home, leaving McKim alone.
“The fish felt like it was way too big to get in a kayak, and after awhile I decided I just wanted to see what I was fighting. So I kept fighting. The strong currents had pulled me way too far out for comfort in a notoriously rough and unpredictable area,” he says.
Two hours later, a mass of angry muscle half the length of his kayak rises from the deep. Landing it seems impossible, so McKim improvises. He points the bow toward a nearby wilderness island, and starts towing the massive fish. He stops every half hour to reel in the line again. After another two hours, he’s finally there.
“I eased the kayak up to the rocky beach. Adrenaline pumping, I jumped out with my rod in one hand and my bat in the other. Pulling the fish up into about a foot of water, I knocked it a few times on the head as it bucked out of control,” he says. But it wasn’t over.
McKim was miles from harbor with no food. As a warm up, he boiled kelp leaves and limpets pulled from the low tide rocks, secured the ungainly beast, and headed home.
“183 pounds! No wonder it felt like a bag of bowling balls on the end of my line,” he says, point proven. At the time it was the heaviest recorded kayak catch. Ten years later it has a firm hold on second ever.