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.”

_______

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

More in Northwest

Safeco Field. FILE PHOTO
King County’s Safeco funding package might go to referendum vote

The initiative, filed by a group called “Citizens Against Sports Stadium Subsidies” could put the $135 million spending plan on the ballot early next year

Shortest ever ‘Obamacare’ enrollment period starts Nov. 1

The Trump administration slashes the time frame to sign up for insurance.

Metro revises timeline for RapidRide bus expansion

After originally aiming to build 20 additional fast-service bus lines on high demand routes by 2040, King County Metro has changed its construction timelines and put 13 of those projects on hold.

Rape allegation against Sen. Joe Fain divides King County Council

In a recent interview, Councilmember Kathy Lambert blamed Fain’s accuser for the alleged rape. Then Lambert’s colleagues distanced themselves from her comments.

Palouse wind farm in Eastern Washington. COURTESY PHOTO, Chris Weber, Flickr Creative Commons
Report reveals inequities of climate change in Washington

The poor and communities of color are affected the worst, according to UW study

Photo by Cacophony/Wikipedia Commons
Safeco Field will get a new name next year

Seattle Mariners could make more than $100 million from naming rights.

The man on Iron Mountain

Chuck Pillon has been living on a 10-acre junk-filled property near Renton for decades.

Safe consumption part 3: The opposite of addiction

Final episode of our three-part series on controversial supervised consumption sites

Safe consumption: The debate

In the first of a three-part series, we enter into the heated, emotional, and sometimes bitter debate around one of the most controversial policy proposals in the country.

Olympic National Park to start capturing mountain goats this summer

Park Service releases record of decision on relocating, killing animals

Legislators and activists seek solutions to farmer suicides

Agricultural workers end their own lives at a higher rate than workers in any other profession.

The Rev. Michael Curry, left, the presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church who gained international fame with his sermon at the royal wedding last month, was in Aberdeen on Saturday afternoon for a rally that sought to highlight homelessness. Photo by Scott Johnston
Bishop Curry speaks at Aberdeen affordable-housing rally

The presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church gained international fame with his sermon at the royal wedding last month.