Photo submitted
                                Tom Hellinger stands next to a halibut he caught in Puget Sound.

Photo submitted Tom Hellinger stands next to a halibut he caught in Puget Sound.

Whidbey Island man reels in the ‘fish of a lifetime’

The halibut was 79 inches long and was estimated to weigh around 260 pounds

OAK HARBOR — Tom Hellinger didn’t know he had hooked into a monster until the bottom feeder rose to the surface.

“I knew it was a nice fish,” he said. “I knew it was big, but I didn’t know how big.”

It turned out to be huge. Hellinger said the halibut was 79 inches long and was estimated to weigh around 260 pounds. The state record is 288 pounds, but that halibut was caught on the coast. Hellinger questions whether his fish might be a record for Puget Sound.

“It’s the fish of a lifetime,” he said.

Hellinger went halibut fishing May 27 with his fishing partner, Luke Reid, his daughter, Aleisha Hellinger, and son, Caleb Hellinger. They were off the Strait of Juan de Fuca, using large herring as bait and allowing the weighted line to touch the bottom.

After the big fish hit, it quickly pulled out about 50 to 60 yards of line from his reel, Tom Hellinger said. He handed the rod to his son to bring it in.

Caleb Hellinger struggled with the fish for about 40 minutes before it finally surfaced, Tom Hellinger said.

“When we all saw it, we were completely awe struck,” Aleisha Hellinger said, adding that she was impressed the relatively modest rod didn’t snap.

The fishing companions tried to harpoon the monster halibut, but the spear only went part way into the fish and apparently made it mad. The fish headed back to the murky bottom of the sea.

After Caleb Hellinger got tired, it was his dad’s turn to fight the fish.

After another lengthy struggle, it surfaced a second time. This time the three men used a couple of gaffs to grab the fish.

“It was really a group effort to get the fish into the boat,” Tom Hellinger said.

Back on shore, he measured the fish at 79 inches.

According to charts, that size of a halibut that long would weigh 254-265 pounds, he said.

The crew desperately tried to find a certified scale so that the halibut could be officially weighed for a possible record. But it was Sunday on Memorial Day weekend, Tom Hellinger said, and nobody could be located.

An official from the state Department of Fish and Wildlife said it could be weighed with the department’s scale, but they would have to wait until Tuesday.

But Tom Hellinger didn’t want the fish to go to waste. He took it to Seabolts in Oak Harbor, where it was processed by a professional.

The lunker wasn’t the only halibut the crew has reeled in. So far this season, Tom Hellinger said he also caught a 75-pound fish, his daughter caught a 60- and a 40-pound halibut and Reid brought in a 30-pounder.

“We’ve done well this year,” Tom Hellinger said.

That’s thousands of dollars worth of halibut between them. Tom Hellinger said he’s going to share it with friends and possibly donate some to a food bank.

“I’m just grateful and thankful,” he said. “I never expected to catch one this size.”

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This story was first published in the Whidbey News-Times.