BROOKINGS — Larry Hood had already caught three halibut and released a smallish one when his lead weight and herring bait stopped bouncing along the ocean's sandy bottom near the California border.
"The halibut jerk on the line a few times, but this time there was no jerking," says Hood, 76. "This one felt more like a skate, which is a trash fish."
Several minutes later, the trash turned to treasure when Hood gaffed and boated son-in-law Mike Morroll's 84-pound Pacific halibut, the biggest flatfish along Oregon's South Coast this year for the region's reigning halibut slayer.
There's a new halibut king in town, and his name is Larry Hood.
The former halibut king of Trinidad, Calif., Hood has taken his talents to Brookings and he's personally lighting up this flatfish fishery, catching more fish in a single day than others have caught so far in the season that began in May and runs through October.
He estimates that anglers on his boat have kept close to 700 pounds of halibut, or almost half of the 1,660 pounds caught by Aug. 24 in the South Coast fishery, according to Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife catch statistics.
Brookings guide and charterboat operator Andy Martin says he met Hood last spring when Hood asked him if he could shoot a halibut before gaffing and boating it in Oregon.
Martin's answer was more than yes.
"I told him he'd be lucky just to get a halibut out of Brookings," Martin says. "Usually out of Brookings, it turns heads if you bring one halibut to the dock. He's brought back two or three on multiple days.
"He's probably better than anybody I've ever seen in Brookings," Martin says.
Hood catches his fish off the 25-foot Martha Ann, a converted commercial fishing boat that the former Bakersfield, Calif., furniture builder refurbished and named for his wife, who also happens to be quite the halibut killer.
They hauled their trailer and boat from Trinidad this spring, irked by California's on-again, off-again halibut season and the shrinkage of the black rockfish limit to five a day.
Trinidad was a tough place to leave, considering Hood was the six-time reigning champ in the halibut derby out of that Northern California port.
"They called me the Halibut King in Trinidad, because of all those derby wins," he says. "But, really, anybody can do it."
They came to Brookings for the weather, but are staying for the success.
"There's a lot of fish around here that nobody really fishes for, but me," Hood says. "I putter around and have fun."
He routinely fishes with family members or friends who head over from Northern California to get their fill of one of the finest white-fleshed fish the Pacific has to offer.
Hood tries not to have his fishing partners keep any halibut under 40 pounds, unless the fish has swallowed the hook and a safe release isn't likely.
Unlike most reigning fish-kings, Hood harbors no secrets. He shares his fishing spots with anyone listening to the marine radio when he's on the water. He'll show anyone how to rig up the weight, metal spreader and steel leader that serves up halibut the best and will even let rookie boaters follow him around the waters outside of Brookings-Harbor, the closest and most popular port to Rogue Valley's saltwater disciples.
And he gives all his halibut away, to family members who come fish with him and others around the Port of Brookings-Harbor, making him the best new friend to have in town.
"My kids got all they want, and we don't eat it," Hood says. "It's easier to go to the restaurant and order a fish meal instead of smelling up the trailer cooking it.
"Besides, I'd rather have lingcod," Hood says.
Pacific halibut have been a rather underutilized fishery off the South Coast, where salmon, rockfish and most recently lingcod grab the lion's share of the attention, with halibut something of an afterthought.
The season started May 1, and this year's quota for the so-called Southern Oregon Subarea of waters between Humbug Mountain near Port Orford and the California border is 7,318 pounds of halibut, with fish checked daily at the Port of Brookings-Harbor, according to ODFW.
The fishery had been pretty slow until August, with 1,200 pounds of the 1,660-pound catch coming in the first three-plus weeks of that month, says Lynn Mattes, of ODFW's marine program.
That spike in catch comes largely because of Hood's landings and coincides with the help he's been giving other Brookings-based anglers.
Anglers have caught about one-quarter of the quota, so it's unlikely the season will be shut down earlier than its Oct. 31 scheduled closure, Mattes says.
Most halibut fishing out of Brooking has historically been a one-trick show: motor north and jig big baits like herring or salmon bellies in water about 200 feet deep due west of the Thomas Creek Bridge.
Hood finds them by fishing deep pockets of sandy-bottom water in search of sand dabs, another small flatfish that is a staple of the Pacific halibut's diet here, he says.
"Find the sand dab, and you'll find the halibut," he says. "I've caught as many of them on sand dabs as anything."
Even knowing when, where and how to target halibut, it can take a lot of drifting and bouncing baits off the sand to get three people each their one-halibut daily limit.
"You have to be patient," Hood says. "It's not like you go out, drop your lines and boom-boom-boom you got your fish. Keep fresh bait on them, and you'll catch them.
"But they'll learn," he says.