Photo submitted
                                Tom Hellinger stands next to a halibut he caught in Puget Sound.

Photo submitted Tom Hellinger stands next to a halibut he caught in Puget Sound.

Whidbey Island man reels in the ‘fish of a lifetime’

The halibut was 79 inches long and was estimated to weigh around 260 pounds

OAK HARBOR — Tom Hellinger didn’t know he had hooked into a monster until the bottom feeder rose to the surface.

“I knew it was a nice fish,” he said. “I knew it was big, but I didn’t know how big.”

It turned out to be huge. Hellinger said the halibut was 79 inches long and was estimated to weigh around 260 pounds. The state record is 288 pounds, but that halibut was caught on the coast. Hellinger questions whether his fish might be a record for Puget Sound.

“It’s the fish of a lifetime,” he said.

Hellinger went halibut fishing May 27 with his fishing partner, Luke Reid, his daughter, Aleisha Hellinger, and son, Caleb Hellinger. They were off the Strait of Juan de Fuca, using large herring as bait and allowing the weighted line to touch the bottom.

After the big fish hit, it quickly pulled out about 50 to 60 yards of line from his reel, Tom Hellinger said. He handed the rod to his son to bring it in.

Caleb Hellinger struggled with the fish for about 40 minutes before it finally surfaced, Tom Hellinger said.

“When we all saw it, we were completely awe struck,” Aleisha Hellinger said, adding that she was impressed the relatively modest rod didn’t snap.

The fishing companions tried to harpoon the monster halibut, but the spear only went part way into the fish and apparently made it mad. The fish headed back to the murky bottom of the sea.

After Caleb Hellinger got tired, it was his dad’s turn to fight the fish.

After another lengthy struggle, it surfaced a second time. This time the three men used a couple of gaffs to grab the fish.

“It was really a group effort to get the fish into the boat,” Tom Hellinger said.

Back on shore, he measured the fish at 79 inches.

According to charts, that size of a halibut that long would weigh 254-265 pounds, he said.

The crew desperately tried to find a certified scale so that the halibut could be officially weighed for a possible record. But it was Sunday on Memorial Day weekend, Tom Hellinger said, and nobody could be located.

An official from the state Department of Fish and Wildlife said it could be weighed with the department’s scale, but they would have to wait until Tuesday.

But Tom Hellinger didn’t want the fish to go to waste. He took it to Seabolts in Oak Harbor, where it was processed by a professional.

The lunker wasn’t the only halibut the crew has reeled in. So far this season, Tom Hellinger said he also caught a 75-pound fish, his daughter caught a 60- and a 40-pound halibut and Reid brought in a 30-pounder.

“We’ve done well this year,” Tom Hellinger said.

That’s thousands of dollars worth of halibut between them. Tom Hellinger said he’s going to share it with friends and possibly donate some to a food bank.

“I’m just grateful and thankful,” he said. “I never expected to catch one this size.”

_______

This story was first published in the Whidbey News-Times.

More in Northwest

Snohomish County man is first U.S. case of new coronavirus

A man in his 30s was hospitalized in Everett after contracting the virus during a trip to China.

Photo courtesy of Carol Kaelson. Christel Tucker, a Renton resident and flight attendant, stands at the wheel at Wheel of Fortune. Her episode airs Monday, Jan. 20.
Rentonite spins the wheel of her dreams

Local finds herself winning thousands on Wheel of Fortune

Matt Marshall, leader of the Washington Three Percenters gun rights group, addresses a crowd rallying for Second Amendment rights Jan. 17 at the state Capitol in Olympia. Marshall condemned Republican leadership in the House of Representatives, which expelled Rep. Matt Shea from the Republican Caucus. Marshall announced his candidacy for the 2nd District seat held by House Minority Leader J.T. Wilcox. Photo by Cameron Sheppard, WNPA News Service
Gun rights advocates rally at Capitol

Criticism levied at Matt Shea investigation, Republican leadership.

Washington State Attorney General Bob Ferguson (center) announced a lawsuit against Johnson & Johnson in a press conference Jan. 2. Debbie Warfield of Everett (left) lost her son to a heroin overdose in 2012. Skagit County Commissioner Lisa Janicki (right) lost her son to an overdose of OxyContin in 2017. They are joined by Rep. Lauren Davis of Shoreline (second from right), founder of the Washington Recovery Alliance. (TVW screenshot)
AG Bob Ferguson talks lawsuits, gun control

Washington state Attorney General stopped by Sound Publishing’s Kirkland office.

Sen. Mona Das, D-Kent, the primary sponsor of SB 5323, speaking on the bill. (Photo courtesy of Hannah Sabio-Howell)
Proposed law adds a fee to plastic bags at checkout

Senate passes bill to ban single-use plastic bags, place 8-cent fee on reusable plastic bags.

In November 2019, Washington voters approved Initiative 976, which calls for $30 car tabs. Sound Publishing file photo
Republicans try to guarantee $30 car tabs amid court hangup

Lawmakers sponsor companion bills in the House and Senate.

King County Metro’s battery-electric bus. Photo courtesy of kingcounty.gov
King County could bump up Metro electrification deadlines

Transportation generates nearly half of all greenhouse gas emissions in the state.

Photo by Haley Ausbun. Opponent of the Energize Eastside project, Coalition of Eastside Neighborhoods for Sustainable Energy (CENSE) president Don Marsh presents to the Renton Hearing Examiner during a public hearing, Jan. 8, for the project.
Contention over Energize Eastside

PSE, the public and opponents discuss issues for 5 hours

Gov. Jay Inslee delivered his 2020 State of the State Address on Tuesday, Jan. 14. (Photo courtesy of Washington State Office of the Governor)
Gov. Inslee delivers State of the State Address

By Leona Vaughn, WNPA News Service OLYMPIA — Gov. Jay Inslee stood… Continue reading

Most Read