Nick Underwood’s Record Kayak Halibut – Missed gaff shots and a close call with the surf

Missed gaff shots and a close call with the surf

Record setter: 53 pounds of kayak-caught La Jolla flattie and a smiling Nick Underwood.
Record setter: 53 pounds of kayak-caught La Jolla flattie and a smiling Nick Underwood. Photo: Courtesy Nick Underwood.

Nick Underwood’s Record Kayak Halibut
By Mike Stevens

Four years ago, 24-year-old San Diego native Nick Underwood was paddling in an area north of La Jolla Pier that has since been closed to fishing where he admits he had previously never caught anything of significance. That all changed when this 53-pound California halibut took the first bait he dropped down on a calm, spring day off the San Diego coast – a kayak fishing record.

"I had paddled a little north of the area that I wanted to fish and headed south to an area that looked good on the fish finder," said Underwood. "This thing smashed the bait and line immediately started screaming off the reel. It pulled me out a bit, and then started pulling me straight toward the shore, and I thought it was a shark based on the way it was pulling."

Despite only having caught a leopard shark and an octopus in this area in previous outings, he was convinced that the area held quality halibut, which is why he continued to pound the area despite the lack of results. Until then, his only experience with halibut was on an Alaskan charter boat, and believe it or not, that fight didn't do much for him.

"When I caught halibut from the boat in Alaska, it was like pulling up a piece of plywood. But it was completely different when I was fighting this one from a piece of plastic," he said.

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That Alaskan experience did come into play to an extent, as when he got the fish to color and he saw the brown top, white bottom, he immediately knew that he was dealing with a big flattie. After several missed gaff shots, Underwood found himself 10 feet from breaking waves and had to paddle back offshore with the fish hanging at the end of the line before resuming the battle. He eventually gaffed the fish, attached it to a game clip and cut its gills before paddling to shore while sitting on the record-sized barndoor's head.

Upon returning to the beach, he saw that his buddy that launched at the same time as him had hauled in a 40+ pound white seabass. High fives were not in short supply.

"I would call it an amazing catch and experience, but not a fish of a lifetime. I may never catch one this big again, but I will surely keep chasing them," he said. "I feel like if I settle for that term then I’ve kind of given up on catching a bigger one, but it's definitely a fish I will never forget."