Now that’s a big fish: Nova Scotia man reels in over 200-pound halibut

Jonathan Riley
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Beau Gillis landed a 219-pound halibut, fishing solo out of Freeport.

Beau Gillis, who reeled in a 200-plus pound halibut last week, shows off his catch.

About three years ago, he caught a 240-pound halibut but had to use his hauler to get it aboard. This one he pulled aboard with his own strength.

When he saw the 83-inch fish lying on the deck of his little boat, it was the crowning moment of a great day on the water.

“Fishing is hard, sometimes brutally hard,” he said two days later. “But this day there wasn’t any work to it. The fish were coming and I was loving it.”

Gillis still had the 25-pound head of the halibut in a bucket of the back of his truck when I ran into him in Digby on Saturday. It didn’t take much to get the story out of him.

Last Thursday didn’t start so great for Gillis; his crew backed out on him, but with a wife and kids at home, Gillis has to earn a living. So he went alone.

Up at 2:30 a.m., he loaded the boat by himself and set off on to the dark sea.

Gillis taught himself to fish alone when he first started in 2008.

“Crew don’t want to go with you when you’re just starting and you don’t know what you’re doing, because they don’t make any money,” he said.

Gillis wears a tether attached to the boat when he fishes alone.

“If you ever fell over aboard, you’d never get back to the boat, you’d freeze to death,” he said.

Thursday, he had more trawl and hooks then he’d normally set when fishing by himself so he went looking for lots of room.

The Bay of Fundy is full of lobster traps right now and lobster and halibut fishermen usually set in the same places  – so it took him a while to find a spot where he could get his line out.

But it was warm and the water was calm and once his gear was in the water, he took a two-hour nap.

When he woke up, the fishing was the best he’s ever had.

“Normally the tide is pushing you around, the waves and the wind are pushing you and it’s impossible to stay on the line,” he said. “But it was so calm, everything just went right along.”

He was getting lots of regular halibut between 10 and 50 pounds, and then the line went extremely tight.

“It was humming tight,” he said. “I thought the tide was moving me and I was caught on bottom, and then it went slack and then I thought it was caught again.”

And then he saw it, a big fish.

Trying to land the 240-pounder three years ago, he wore himself out, as he held the fish steady between swells and eventually gave up, tied a rope around its head and brought it aboard with the hauler.

“This time I thought, I’m not going to wear myself out, I’m trying this once,” he said.

He reached down and put a meat hook through the fish’s mouth and then, because it was so calm, he was able to stand on the washboard, and lean back pushing with his legs.

“And I got enough of him aboard,” he said. “I was able to adjust my feet, and it was so calm, I gave another pull, leaned right back and he slid into the boat and never moved. He just laid there. I guess he did all his fighting on the bottom.”

Gillis says he thought about letting the halibut go.

“If only for a split second, I did think about letting the big guy go, and not ever telling anyone,” he said. “He seemed pretty okay to stay though and then I thought of the glory, then the money all in quick succession.

“I just thought, that’s a $1,000 fish,” he said.

Gillis has heard of another half-dozen halibut of this size, some over 300-pounds, that fishermen on the Islands have caught in the last dozen years.

The halibut was purchased by the Digby Pines Golf Resort and Spa.

Organizations: Digby Pines Golf Resort

Geographic location: Nova Scotia, Digby, Bay of Fundy

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