James "Jim" Peeples of Chico, Calif., got a lot more than food for the freezer with the 323.2-pound halibut he reeled in Aug. 31. When the Homer Jackpot Halibut Derby, sponsored by the Homer Chamber of Commerce and Visitor Center, came to a close at 9 p.m. Saturday, Peeples' fish was the largest halibut caught since the derby began May 15. That makes Peeples winner of the $10,000 jackpot.
Peeples, and his buddies, Dan Alexander of California and Larry Williams of Maui, were fishing with Peeples' dad, Capt. Phil Peeples, aboard a private boat, The Tackle Box, when he hooked into the monster fish. They were fishing in about 154 feet of water near the green buoy about a mile off the tip of the Homer Spit.
The fish did little more than shake the line for about 10 minutes. Judging by the action, Peeples estimated it to be four-foot halibut. When the fish made its way to the surface, however, the men saw something much larger than anticipated.
"We were amazed, flipping out," Peeples told the Homer News at the time. "I couldn't believe it."
Efforts to gaff the halibut proved fruitless. One shake of its head and a new $50 gaff flew into pieces and the halibut descended back into the depths.
After getting it to the surface a second time, a gun was used to subdue the halibut and a whole new battle began that demanded the combined strength of the four men: getting the monster halibut, later measured at 92 inches, into the boat.
Since returning to California, Peeples has kept a close eye on fishing activity in the Homer area and on derby results. A storm that hit Southcentral Alaska over the weekend created rough seas and gale-force winds on Kachemak Bay.
"My dad said it was storming so not many boats would be going out," he said.
Saturday night, Peeples got the call he'd been waiting for from Paula Frisinger, derby coordinator, letting him know he'd won the $10,000 jackpot.
Peeples won't be in Homer to accept the check when prizes are awarded on Sept. 22, but his dad will be present to claim the prize and then hand-carry it to Peeples in California.
Plans are already being made on how to use the winnings.
"We're looking at investing it in Homer on a piece of property," said Peeples.
He and his father also are considering setting up a father-son fishing guide business with Capt. Peeples the guide and Peeples the deckhand.
One way or another, "next year we're looking at being back up for the summer," said Peeples.
Each month of the derby, three names were drawn from anglers who released halibut weighing 50 or more pounds, with a $1,000 overall prize awarded, a $250 prize awarded to a senior angler and a $250 prize awarded to a military-veteran angler. Only one released halibut was reported during the final month of the derby, making Kent Christopher of Denver, Colo., fishing with Capt. Greg Sutter of Captain Greg's Charters aboard the Tomahawk, the overall $1,000 winner.
During the derby, five fish were released in the first month, six in the second month and 14 in the third month.
Dan Uniejewski of Franklin, Tenn., will take home the $100 prize for catching a lefty, a halibut with both eyes on the left side of its head rather than the right side. He caught the halibut July 24 while fishing with Capt. Ben Martin of North Country Halibut Charters aboard the Fringe Benefit.
In the spring, chamber of commerce members caught, tagged and released 100 halibut. The business-sponsored tags included:
Nine tagged fish were caught during the derby. The value of the tags remained a secret until the derby ended, but have now been announced by Frisinger:
"We are excited for all our winners in this 2012 derby season," said Frisinger. "Although no one caught those huge prizes, it was great fun and was very exciting to find out what they all won today."
For more photos of Peeples' fish, see www.tackleboxchico.com.