By Jerry McBride
Washington angler Leo Vergara shattered the kayak halibut record (for a halibut taken from a kayak outside of Alaska) when he weighed in a 124-pound Pacific halibut on the last day of the short season, besting previous record holder Lee Landrum’s 85-pound halibut, also caught off Washington, by a whopping 39 pounds.
When Vergara pedaled his Hobie Outbackthrough the surf into Makah Bay with his fellow Heroes on the Water on the final day of Washington's halibut season, he had no idea what he was getting into. Fishing 4 to 5 miles offshore, he dropped his bait to the bottom and felt a thump 120 feet below.
"I thought I'd snagged the bottom," Vergara said. "But when I yanked on my line and it vibrated back I knew I'd hooked a fish. This was my first halibut season, so I no idea what to expect. I grabbed the rod with both hands and got it up to about 60 feet, but it went right back to the bottom. I slowly managed to pump it up again, praying the 35-pound braid wouldn't break.”
When Vergara saw how big the flatfish was, he grabbed his radio and called his friend Rich Fargo and asked for help. The fish went back to the bottom, and he tightened the drag and started the long process of bringing the fish back to the surface again.
"Where do I harpoon it?" he shouted to Rich.
"Anywhere, man, just get it anywhere" came the reply, and Vergara stuck the fish in the belly right behind the gills. All hell broke loose.
Vergara's "I got it!" proved a bit premature.
"Between my drag being locked down and the buoy rope getting tangled in the harpoon, I flipped right out of the kayak and found my myself below the surface and my kayak overhead. When I surface, Rich reassured me that the buoy came back up. The fish fought so hard that it ripped my rod's tether from my kayak. I righted my kayak and climbed back in. The buoy continued to bob as I pedaled closer and grabbed the rope. After a 20-minute fight, I managed to get the fish on the stringer, and my friend John came over and cut the huge halibut's gills, and helped me haul the fish onto the stern of the kayak. John later described the image of me holding onto the stringer like someone riding a bull.
"My safety flag was snapped in half, and my rod and reel are still at the bottom of Makah Bay, but I managed the 5-mile trip back to shore with the huge fish hanging over the stern, the bow of the kayak high in the air. I had hopes the fish weighed 60 or 70 pounds. When it hit the scales at 124, I was shocked."
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