Kayak fisherman capsized by huge halibut but hangs on for record catch

Kayak fisherman Leo Vergara lost a rod and reel but didn't lose this record 124-pound halibut.
Kayak fisherman Leo Vergara lost a rod and reel but didn’t lose this record 124-pound halibut. Photo: Courtesy of Merrylin Vergara

Despite ending up swimming in the chilly water of the Pacific Ocean and losing his rod and reel, kayak fisherman Leo Vergara somehow managed to land a massive halibut he hooked 5 miles offshore in Makah Bay, Washington.

The 34-year-old, fishing for halibut from a kayak for the first time, might have a difficult time topping his first catch: a whopping 124-pounder that set a new standard for halibut caught from a kayak.

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According to Kayak Fish Magazine, Vergara broke the kayak halibut record for halibut taken from a kayak outside Alaska, shattering the previous mark of 85 pounds set by Lee Landrum, also caught off Washington.

“I had hopes the fish weighed 60 or 70 pounds,” Vergara told Kayak Fish Magazine. “When it hit the scales at 124, I was shocked.”

On the final day of halibut season earlier this month, Vergara joined up with members of Heroes on the Water and pedaled out to sea to a depth of 120 feet where he dropped his bait. Soon he felt a thump.

“I thought I’d snagged the bottom,” Vergara told Kayak Fish Magazine. “But when I yanked on my line and it vibrated back I knew I’d hooked a fish. This was my first halibut season, so I had no idea what to expect.

“I grabbed the rod with both hands and got it up to about 60 feet, but it went right back to the bottom. I slowly managed to pump it up again, praying the 35-pound braid wouldn’t break.”

He finally reeled up the halibut next to his kayak and radioed fellow kayak fisherman Rich Fargo for help. Once Vergara put the radio down, the halibut swam back down to 120 feet and the reeling process began anew.

Once he got the fish back to the surface, he asked Fargo where he should harpoon the halibut. Halibut fishermen often use a harpoon connected to a rope with a buoy attached as a safer means of landing big fish.

“Anywhere, man, just get it anywhere,” was Fargo’s reply.

Vergara stuck the fish in the belly right behind the gills.

Kayak fisherman Leo Vergara stands next to his kayak to give perspective.
Kayak fisherman Leo Vergara stands next to his kayak to give perspective. Photo: Courtesy of Merrylin Vergara

“The fish was getting crazy, and the buoy rope got tangled up with the harpoon and it ended up sending me overboard,” Vergara told the Peninsula Daily News.

He was wearing a dry suit, so he wasn’t worried about the cold water.

“When I surfaced, Rich reassured me that the buoy came back up,” he told Kayak Fish Magazine. “The fish fought so hard that it ripped my rod’s tether from my kayak. I righted my kayak and climbed back in.

“The buoy continued to bob as I pedaled closer and grabbed the rope. After a 20-minute fight, I managed to get the fish on the stringer, and my friend John came over and cut the huge halibut’s gills, and helped me haul the fish onto the stern of the kayak. John later described the image of me holding on to the stringer like someone riding a bull.”

Vergara started pedaling back to shore, all the time worrying seals he had seen earlier might try to steal his fish.

“My safety flag was snapped in half, and my rod and reel are still at the bottom of Makah Bay, but I managed the five-mile trip back to shore with the huge fish hanging over the stern, the bow of the kayak high in the air,” he told Kayak Fish Magazine.

The halibut was taken to Big Salmon to be weighed and was returned to the campground where it was filleted and a portion cooked for the group’s dinner. He also estimated that 15 people received halibut steaks as presents.

Now, Vergara can’t wait for his next kayak halibut trip, but what could he possibly do for an encore?

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