Last Thursday, August 3, Stephen Phillips of Stoughton, Massachusetts, reeled in a staggeringly large catch during a fluke and groundfishing trip with friends aboard the Helen H. of Hyannis — a 135-pound halibut.
“I used to go on Helen H almost every other weekend,” Phillips said, “but this was my first trip with them in 4 to 5 years. More recently, we’ve been going on the Neat Lady out of Onset because it’s a little closer to home.” Phillips works with the Neat Lady to organize 6 to 8 youth-fishing trips each year, in order to make the sport more accessible to young, aspiring anglers and their families. But, this trip aboard the Helen H was a Captain’s Special trip, so, Phillips traveled down from the south shore to join what became a particularly special trip indeed.
When they reached the fishing grounds about 10 miles off of Nantucket, the fishing was good in around 300 feet of water. Anglers were reeling in cusk, cod, pollock, redfish and more. Phillips reported that Captain Joe Huckemeyer said the fluke fishing had been challenging recently, which is why they opted to focus on groundfish. Little did he know that there were other, larger flatfish for the taking.
Anglers aboard the Helen H. used 24- to 32-ounce sinkers to hold the soft bottom in heavy current that day. After some time, Phillips felt like he had snagged his rig on bottom, but he had never felt the bottom “shake” as it was. That’s when he realized there was a massive fish on the other end of the line. From there, a battle ensued.
After collecting some of the 60-pound-test braided line with the help of his Daiwa Saltiga LD40 and Shimano Terez, he shifted the 2-speed reel into lower gear, because the fish wouldn’t budge. Eventually, Phillips got a glimpse of the 80-pound leader before the fish took a strong dive back toward bottom. Five times he brought the fish close to the surface, and five times over it dove for the sea floor. Then, after thirty minutes of give and take, Phillips brought the fish boat side one last time where it was met with 4 gaffs to effectively and safely hoist it into the boat.
Of the 2 species of halibut available to fishermen in the US—the Pacific halibut and Atlantic halibut—Atlantic halibut grow the largest. According to NOAA, the largest Atlantic halibut ever recorded was caught off of Cape Ann, Massachusetts and weighed 615 lbs dressed, which means it would have been nearly 700 pounds alive.
When they finally brought the halibut on board the Helen H, it weighed a whopping 135 pounds. The current Massachusetts State Record halibut was caught in Massachusetts Bay by Norman Cournoyer in July of 1965, and weighed 321 pounds. While it may not challenge the state record, Phillips said it is the largest fish he has ever caught, and a fish he’ll remember for a lifetime.
Unfortunately, halibut were not part of the pool, which was awarded to an angler with a 10-pound cod, but that’s fine by Stephen. “Anytime I can be on the water, it’s like touching the hand of God,” he said. “That’s why I’ve been doing this since I was 5 or 6 years old.”
At the end of the trip, the mates dressed his catch, along with the rest of his mixed bag. Anyone who stuck around long enough at the dock got some halibut to take home, and the rest went to Stephen’s family members who dropped by to hear him tell the tale of this fish of a lifetime.
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