• Sterling hunting-fishing enthusiast waits all summer long to find out he caught the biggest
Chad Aldridge received a phone call on Friday night at about 9 p.m., the soonest Homer Halibut Derby organizer Paula Frisinger could possibly get the news to him.
He had won the champ’s pot in the annual halibut derby contest, $28,260.
Since Aldridge caught his 350.8 pound halibut earlier in the summer on June 19, he had some serious waiting to contend with before finding out if his fish proved the largest.
“I didn’t want to get my hopes up. I kept telling myself someone would beat me. A 339-pounder caught was pretty close. It would have been a tight contest,” Aldridge said.
That halibut was caught on Sept. 25 by Chriss Ryherd of Soldotna.
In the end, however, Aldridge’s fish stacked up as the largest. “This was so completely unexpected, it really was,” he said Monday morning, after a weekend to think over how he might want to spend his winnings. “I really haven’t decided yet, what I’m going to do with it.”
Aldridge grew up in Sterling and served five years in the Navy Seabes, then returned to the Kenai Peninsula. He works at Prudhoe Bay in the Corrosion, Inspection & Chemicals Group. At 32-years of age, he’s married, but has no children.
“I live to hunt and fish. If I’m not on the water, it must be the off season because it’s just not right for me not to be out there,” he said. In previous years, he has fished the halibut derby with friends, but never came close to a prized fish.
“Chad told me he has had a long summer, and will be glad it’s finally over,” derby organizer Frisinger said. “I’m sure it is.”
The Homer Chamber of Commerce sold 14,130 tickets at $2 each for the jackpot of $28,260.
Of the September winners, first place ($1,000) went to Chriss Ryherd for his 339.6 pounder he caught Sept. 25 on North Country Halibut Charters with Capt. Sean Martin aboard the Irish.
Second place ($750) went to Aksel Buholm of Palmer for a 266.8 pounder caught on Sept. 24 on a private boat with Capt. Josh Brooks aboard the Huntress.
Third place ($500) went to Larry Keller of Homer for his 240.8 pounder caught Sept. 27 on a private boat with Capt. Josh Brooks also aboard the Huntress.
Fourth place ($250) went to Jeff Van Landingham of Eagle River for his 202.6 pounder caught Sept. 4 on Good Time Charters with Capt. Jeff Cundiff aboard the Tillie Jane.
The September Lady Angler Winner ($500) is Sheryl Warmblood of Eagle River who caught a 178 pounder on Sept. 17 on North Country Halibut/Spirit Charters with Capt. Mike Swan aboard the Beausoleil.
The September Released Fish Winner ($1,000) was Aksel Buholm of Palmer. He caught and released his halibut on Sept. 24 on a private boat with Capt. Josh Brooks aboard the Huntress.
A total of 53 halibut were released all season.
Aldridge’s monster halibut will also mark the end of an era in the 26-year-old tournament.
Catching the biggest barn door is no longer the focus, say organizers. Those big barn-door halibut are all females. Rewarding people for removal of big, productive females from the population has brought the derby some criticism, though halibut biologists note the few big fish harvested during the derby are a tiny fraction of the large number of big halibut killed in off Alaska’s coast each year.
“Everybody wants the derby to get away from the big fish, so we’re doing it,” said Homer derby coordinator Paula Frisinger. “I think it’s time for a change.”
Next year’s emphasis should be on catching tagged fish worth thousands of dollars, raffles and prizes for released fish, she said.
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