236.2-pound halibut pushes to lead in derby

An Iowa angler has taken over the lead in this year’s Homer Halibut Jackpot Derby. On July 25, Gene Jones of Bellevue, Iowa, reeled in a 236.2-pound monster flatfish while fishing with Capt. David Bayes of Central Charters aboard the Grand Aleutian.

In Homer for the first time, Jones, his brother, Keith Jones, and sister-in-law, Darla Jones, reserved two days with Bayes just in case weather kept them off the water one day. On their first day out, they landed their limit of halibut, three lingcod and their limit of rockfish.

Two days later, the three were back on the water with Bayes, fishing about three hours out of Homer. Jones had already caught one halibut and was trying for his second. His sister-in-law had her two and had put her fishing pole away for the day. His brother also had landed his limit, the largest one weighing a respectable 73 pounds.

Then Jones hooked into his second halibut and began reeling.

“I knew it was a good one, but I had no idea it was that good,” he said in a telephone interview with the Homer News. “All I said when I was reeling this one in was that I wanted it to be a pound bigger than my brother’s.”

When Jones saw it, he was even more certain he had something to hang onto.

“Capt. Dave asked if I had a derby ticket,” said Jones.

Fortunately, he did.

It took three people to wrestle the fish aboard.

“I’ll admit it. I’m not going to lie. I did a little 10-year-old child’s dance,” said Jones of celebrating his catch.

According to information provided by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, female halibut are larger than males and can release anywhere from several thousand to several million eggs, depending on the size of the fish. Recognizing that, Jones, an employee for the state of Iowa fisheries, said, “That’s a fish that maybe should have been released in hindsight.”

Homer has a two halibut per day, per person limit; however, a Catch Sharing Plan currently being considered by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Fisheries would determine limits based on a percentage allocation of the commercial and charter combined catch limit within specified areas. 

“It’s good they’re still allowing two halibut,” said Jones, adding that he didn’t understand the mentality behind the plan being considered.

Of his big fish, Jones said, “It’s a fish of a lifetime, I’m sure. It’s probably the biggest fish I’ll ever catch.”

The largest fish during the derby qualifies for the jackpot prize of $10,000. Jones’ catch moves James Jell of Moscow, Idaho, into second place with his 198.2-pound halibut caught July 7 while fishing with Capt. Chad Kiesel of Silver Fox Charters aboard the Arctic Entry.

The derby, sponsored by the Homer Chamber of Commerce and Visitor Center, began May 15 and ends Sept. 15, giving anglers another month and a half to try and top Jones’ halibut or win any of the other prizes offered. For example, there were 114 halibut sporting tags that include a GCI-sponsored tag worth $50,000; a Stanley Ford of Kenai-sponsored tag worth a new Ford F-150; four tags worth $10,000; 38 tags worth $1,000 each: 59 tags worth $500 each; and 11 tags worth $250 each.

One tagged halibut was caught in May, 15 were caught in June and seven were caught in July. The value of the tags won’t be known until the end of the derby.

The derby also offers four kids’ prizes; a $100 “Catch a Lefty” prize for bringing in a halibut with eyes on the left, rather than the right, side of its head; a $5,000 “Just for the Halibut Prize” ticket drawing; a $1,000 Captain’s Prize for the charter captain of the boat on which the winning fish is caught; the $1,000 Ticket Seller’s Prize to the individual who sold the derby ticket to the winning angler; and value-added coupons provided with every derby ticket sold.

Derby tickets are $10 each and can be purchased at many local businesses. For more information, call 235-7740 or visit homerhalibutderby.com.

McKibben Jackinsky can be reached at mckibben.jackinsky@homernews.com.