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September 16, 2003|PETE THOMAS

Flat-out huge

Big halibut often are referred to as "barn doors" because of their rounded, flattened bodies, but one that commercial fishermen set their hooks into this month must have felt like the entire barn.

When they saw it, their eyes bulged. What they hauled in, fishing with long-line gear in the Bering Sea, might be the largest Pacific halibut ever landed -- it's certainly one of the largest.

It measured 8 feet 2 inches and weighed 553 pounds. No official records are kept on the size of halibut caught by commercial fishermen, but the Alaska Department of Fish and Game has recorded a 495-pounder caught near Petersburg, Alaska. The all-tackle world record for sport-caught halibut is a 459-pounder reeled in near Dutch Harbor, Alaska.

The latest big catch was aboard the Miss Mary near St. Lawrence Island off west-central Alaska.

Spear fear

They place themselves directly into the food chain as they search for prized tuna, white sea bass and yellowtail. Yet not all of California's free-diving spear fishermen are as bold as they once were.

Sharks have gotten into their heads. The fatal attack on a swimmer last month off California's Central Coast and frequent sightings off San Onofre State Park in San Clemente are two reasons. But there is a perception among many in the tight-knit community of breath-hold divers that there are more of the predators around. And unusually murky water has added to the danger.

Skip Hellen, 53, president of the International Underwater Spearfishing Assn., cited in his September newsletter "reports of great white sharks up and down the coast this year," noting that "I personally will be looking for clear water, or I will be hunting inside the kelp cover. I like at least 60-foot visibility before I feel comfortable in open-water areas. Hunting in open water in limited visibility this year is asking for big trouble."

White sharks are protected off the California coast, and scientists say they lack enough data to determine whether their numbers are increasing.

Slam bam

Local anglers continue to enjoy limit-style fishing for albacore at the offshore banks off San Diego and sporadic yellowtail flurries at Catalina and off Dana Point, but long-range boat crews are hanging out at the Ridge off Baja California and having the times of their lives with one of the world's fastest fish.

Several of the missile-shaped speed demons literally slammed into the hull of the Polaris Supreme while chasing jigs, giving new meaning to the phrase, "The fish are committing suicide."

Field and stream

Beer drinkers need not read any further. River Wild Winery and hunting clothing manufacturer Mossy Oak have teamed to produce a series of wines specifically for those bringing dinner home from the fields and streams.

The Turkey Blend, for example, is a mixture of Central Coast Zinfandel, Grenache and Petit Syrah.

The Waterfowl Blend is a careful balance of Syrah, Mourverde and Grenache made to go with duck and goose. "But it also happens to work very well with wild boar and even pork," its makers say. There also are trout and venison blends.

Can catfish Chablis be far behind? For details, go to

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