Upgrade: Lee Landrum's Neah Bay halibut measured 55.5 inches, charting out to an estimated 85 pounds, narrowly edging Brad Hole's 82 pounder for a Lower 48 Pacific halibut.

Upgrade: Lee Landrum’s Neah Bay halibut measured 55.5 inches, charting out to an estimated 85 pounds, narrowly edging Brad Hole’s 82 pounder for a Lower 48 Pacific halibut. Photo courtesy Lee Landrum.

Muscle Man: Lee Landrum's 85-Pound Pacific Halibut
The heaviest flatfish we've heard of from the Lower 48
As told to Paul Lebowitz

At Neah Bay, near the very northwestern tip of Washington State, a group of daring kayak anglers are setting big game records. In cold water, miles offshore, for only four days a year (the season is short), they target Pacific halibut, powerful slabs of saltwater muscle. Last year, Brad Hole's 82 pounder set a kayak fishing mark for a Lower 48 Pacific. Just a year later, a new angler stands on top. That's Lee Landrum, who with his wife Marie set out aboard their Hobie Oasis tandem to tackle a new record. Here's Landrum's account of the big day. – PL

Bigger Pacific halibut tend to hang out around structure, not on it. It's an easy food source for them. That morning, conditions weren't perfect but they were pretty good: a three-foot swell, kind of windy. By the time we'd launched through the surf and reached our spot two miles out the wind had really died down.

We were drifting .7 or .8 knots consistently. We were on our fourth or fifth drift across a good reef dropping off to a sandy bottom in 82 feet of water, dragging a 12-inch brined herring. That's when it hit.

I knew right off the bat that it wasn't a lingcod or cabezon. Ten minutes in I figured it was a halibut and a pretty big one. I didn't know how big until later. Maria could see it, and so could my friend Hung Nguyen. I couldn't.

Lee Landrum and friends released an entertaining YouTube video of his catch and its aftermath. It’s well worth watching in its entirety, but if you want to get right to Landrum’s specialized landing technique, fast forward to 2:20.

The fight took about thirty minutes. It was so heavy even when it wasn't swimming against me my drag wanted to let line out. I was using a Penn Fathom 60 levelwind reel on a Penn Bluewater Carnage rod.

In hindsight, I pulled it up a little too fast. I'm really glad I didn't pop the 65-pound braid. That was the most nervous thing for me. I didn't want it to come unhooked.

When I hit it with the gaff, it gave us a couple good runs. It dragged my landing buoy down a couple times. Big butts are too dangerous to bring onto the kayak until they've been subdued. It's a team effort. Every one of our small group who fishes the short halibut season is open and friendly.

We share what has worked in the past to land these big fish on our tiny Tupperware boats. We use a big barbed shark hook attached to a wooden fish bonker, connected with 550 cord to an A2 float. We hook them and just let it go.

It's dangerous. You don't want to miss with the gaff and stick it in your leg, or get smacked by 85 pounds of muscle. If you're caught off guard you could easily end up in the water. We make sure all the buoy line is in the water. If it were on the kayak when you gaffed it, it could rip the boat right out from under you. You don't want to be alone out there. We each run a VHF radio and stay within sight of at least one other kayak.

When it seemed tired I got a hold of it, gave it a good pounding and tried to figure how to get it on the boat. We tried dragging it in for a while but were only making one knot. I ended up dragging it halfway onto the back of the Oasis. We got back to the beach relatively quickly.

The fishmongers on shore didn't have a scale. The Fish and Wildlife officers measured it at 55 and a half inches. By the growth chart, that's 85 pounds. Our friends did well too. Hung had a 25 pounder that day. Nate Franks got a 49 incher, 65 to 67 pounds later that afternoon. There were eight fish for ten kayakers over two days.

Landrum with his estimated 85-pound Pacific halibut on the beach.

Landrum with his estimated 85-pound Pacific halibut on the beach. Photo courtesy Lee Landrum.