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September 22, 2011

ALASKA:Soldotna angler lands a 319.6-pound halibut

 Less than a week before the Seward Halibut Tournament's final day, Soldotna angler Tim Berg wrestled a herculean halibut from the Gulf of Alaska on Tuesday morning that could be worth $10,000.

 Fishing with lifelong friend Terry Gonsalves aboard the Grande Alaska to celebrate his retirement from the Napa Police Department in California, it was Berg's 319.6-pound humdinger, landed on a king salmon rod rigged with 40-pound-test line, that truly got the party started.
 "It was just lucky, lucky, lucky," Berg said by cell phone from Soldotna. "This was an experience of a lifetime."
 Luck? Maybe. But reeling in a monster flatfish on 40-pound test in about 45 minutes required Berg to show off some special fishing skills too. The 7-foot-4, 319.6-pound halibut is taller but slightly lighter than NBA star Shaquille O'Neal (7-1, 325).
 "It was pretty epic," said captain Mike Schmahl by cell phone from Seward. "Forty-pound test on a Kenai River salmon rod? I still don't believe it."
 Berg's been an Alaska fishing guide for 31 years, and he's caught plenty of big fish, Schmahl said.
 But more often than not, the daily grind of Berg's charter business -- Tim Berg's Alaskan Fishing Adventures -- cuts into his personal fishing time.
 "But (Tuesday) was my time to go fishing," Berg said. "That's exactly what we did."
 The day started at 6 a.m. with overcast skies on the Seward small-boat harbor. Schmahl told Berg, Gonsalves and a group of Maryland clients that decent-size fish were only a 2 1/2-hour trip away.
 So Gonsalves purchased a $10 derby ticket for Berg and himself.
 Berg "never buys a derby ticket," Schmahl said. "Maybe it's to avoid controversy. But he didn't have a choice."
 Berg said Gonsalves must have felt the good karma. Just a couple days before the trip, Berg landed a 127-pound halibut three miles off the island with his king rod, a 10 1/2-foot pole that has yet to battle a salmon this season.
 After catching the halibut, Berg figured, "I guess this is kind of my lucky rod."
 He didn't think he'd latch onto another big halibut with it, but roughly 15 minutes after Schmahl anchored the twin-engine diesel-powered boat in 160 feet of water, he did.
 Berg lowered his bait, trying to target a king salmon. But what took the chunk of herring before it even bounced off the sea floor was anything but a king.
 "It was like a vacuum cleaner sucked the end of my line," Berg said. "Maybe I was snagged to a submarine?"
 Schmahl wasn't convinced Berg had a king, halibut or a submerged watercraft. He figured Berg had lodged the hook between some rocks on the floor of the Gulf of Alaska.
 Everybody on the boat just laughed at the 53-year-old.
 "Oh yeah! I got a big halibut," Berg told everyone. "I'm not kidding ya!"
 But Berg had no proof. Though his rod tip sank quickly, it never yanked or twitched, a sure sign that a head-shaker is hooked to the end.

 But Berg kept believing and "hung on for dear life." Finally, his rod tip moved.
 Luckily for Berg, the tide had just slacked, which gave him the upper hand in the battle between his 40-pound-test line and a fish that felt more like a Volkswagen.
 "I had so much pressure on the line that I didn't give him an inch (of slack)," Berg said. "I was certain that something was going to give."
 But the Alaska transplant from Sacramento braced himself against the railing of the 37-foot boat. Berg worked his way into the rhythm of the battle, pulling up on the rod, then lowering the tip and cranking the reel in fast bursts.
 For a moment, his forearms burned so much he wanted to cut the line. But he had a derby ticket and maybe a fish worth ten grand.
 After nearly 40 minutes of pumping and reeling, the fish surfaced and Berg confirmed it was a halibut. The fish was so large, Gonsalves shot it with a shotgun, Schmahl gaffed it and Brian Erickson harpooned it.
 The halibut measured 88 inches long across its specked back. The tail alone was 28 inches wide.
 "I've seen thousands of fish come out of the Gulf and this had to be the most unique," Berg said. "It had golden fins."
 And if nobody lands a heavier halibut by Monday, Berg's payout will have the worth of more than 11 ounces of gold.
 If he wins, Berg plan to distribute half of the winnings to each angler on the boat. After all, if it wasn't for his childhood friend, he wouldn't be in this position.
 The other half will go to the American Cancer Society, specifically to research prostate cancer.
 Berg was diagnosed with prostate cancer three years ago and had intensive surgery and radiation treatment. Tuesday morning's battle with a barn-door halibut, he said, was nothing compared to surviving cancer.
 "Landing the fish was a lot easier," he said.
Here is the article that appeared in the Anchorage Daily News

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