Whidbey Island fishermen catch giant halibut, but can't find scale for record books

WHIDBEY ISLAND, Wash. -- It was the catch of a lifetime. And could have been one for the record books.

That is, if only they could have found a scale.

Tom Hellinger, of Whidbey Island, caught a 79-inch halibut in the Strait of Juan de Fuca over Memorial Day weekend  that was more like the size you'd see off the coast of Alaska, not Washington.

"It was a dream fish," Hellinger said. "The fish of a lifetime."


Hellinger was with his son, daughter and a friend fishing for the prized flatfish in Washington's Marine Area 6. He won't give any more details as to exactly where they were, because... well, you know.

"There's a lot of guys I work with asking for that spot," he said, chuckling.

Earlier this year his daughter caught a 60-pound fish, and he caught a 75-pound halibut. But as soon as the 200-plus pound halibut took the bait that weekend, he knew he had something different.

"It came up like the mother-ship," Hellinger said. "Bigger than a folding table."

It took more than an hour to get into the 24-foot boat, Hellinger said. Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife officials helped measure the fish once he got it to shore. But they couldn't find a scale to get an official weight.

"We tried to find a hanging scale to weigh it on," Hellinger said. "But the best Fish and Game could do was to tell us to bring it to the office on Tuesday."

Rather than waste the meat, Hellinger decided to have it processed. He said all-in-all they got 140 pounds of filets off the fish, but threw away much of the stomach and excess parts. Most size comparison books put a 79-inch Pacific Halibut at about 270 pounds, he said, just short of the 288-pound state record set in 1988.

Regardless of the record, Hellinger is still happy to get the "fish of a lifetime."

"It was a surreal moment," Hellinger said. "I was hoping for a 100 pounder. But that was something way, way bigger."