Missing the boat on a record catch

JASON WILBUR, who lives in Westminster, said he wasn’t offered a ticket for the Homer Jackpot Halibut Derby in Alaska when he bought his fishing license. But, Wilbur said, he wouldn’t have thought that he’d be a winner, having fished the same waters last year and not catching anything near the size of the 313-pound halibut he landed a few weeks ago.

As Jason Wilbur stepped onto a fishing boat in Homer, Alaska, two weeks ago, he just hoped he wouldn’t catch a chicken — the term fishermen use to describe a small halibut. He never thought he’d land the biggest fish in the Homer Jackpot Halibut Derby.

In fact, Wilbur didn’t purchase the $10 ticket required to enter the annual fishing contest, which meant he lost an estimated $45,000 jackpot.

“I’m on the wall of shame there,” Wilbur said with a laugh. “Those Alaskans really let me have it.”

Wilbur, a 1998 graduate of Grand Junction High School who lives in Westminster, was on a deep-sea fishing vacation with his family and friends from Grand Junction when he landed the monstrous halibut.

It was a cloudy, rainy day when the group launched the boat into Kachemak Bay. But as the boat approached the fishing area, the clouds broke, and the fishing was hot.

It took Wilbur and three crew members more than an hour to bring the 313-pound halibut on board.

“I had never even seen a fish that big,” Wilbur said.

Back on shore, many residents of Homer, the self-proclaimed Halibut Capital of the World, came to the dock to see the mammoth fish for themselves. They take fishing and the derby seriously there, Wilbur said. So seriously, they paraded Wilbur and his fish in the back of a pickup through the town, shaking their heads in disbelief all the way.

The fish is the largest one caught on record for the year, weighing 40 pounds more than the 273-pound fish caught last month. There is still a month left in the derby, but most big fish are caught from June through August. It is unlikely a fish bigger than Wilbur’s will be caught this year.

“It was crazy, and everybody just kept saying it was too bad I didn’t have a ticket,” he said with a smile.

Why in the world didn’t Wilbur buy a derby ticket? One wasn’t offered to him when he bought his fishing license, he said. Also, he had fished the same waters last year and never caught anything close to a prize-winning flatfish.

Wilbur still will be listed in the Homer record books as having caught the biggest halibut of the year, even if he doesn’t have the money to prove it.

“I’m overjoyed to have caught it,” he said recently by phone. “But now that I’m home and think about it, the $45,000 would have been nice.”

Further salting the wound, Wilbur had to spend $1,000 to fillet, pack and ship the fish to his parents’ home in Grand Junction.

“It better taste good,” he said, adding he would be back in Grand Junction this weekend to eat some of the prize catch with his family.

“I’m going to be eating healthy for a long time,” he joked.


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