Sussex County man captains winning catch in Alaskan Halibut Derby
Frankford native Ron Hurley has always had a passion for fishing, and ever since moving to Alaska 11 years ago, he has pursued that passion, heading a charter boat company in the nation’s last frontier. His love for the sport just earned him more acclaim, as his boat, “Sweet T,” pulled in the 2009 Halibut Derby Jackpot winner, a 354.6-pound fish, the largest the annual tournament has seen in quite some time.
From the first of May through the end of September, the tournament is open to anglers, who pay $10 each day they fish, in hopes of reeling in the largest halibut. The pool runs anywhere from 15,000 to 25,000 entrants during the five-month tournament, with the largest payout going to the largest fish.
“It was a great time,” said Hurley, whose charter service, In-2-Fishin charters, has taken off since it was established in Homer, AK, seven years ago. “Halibut are a lot like flounder, but can get much bigger.” The angler aboard the Sweet T to pull in the record-winning fish was Thomas Youngblood, a longtime friend of Hurley’s. The fish was pulled up in late June, so with months left in the tournament, the crew waited in anticipation. “We had to wait three months and four days,” said Hurley. “It was a very nervous summer for Thomas. It was the only halibut we caught that day, but after 30 minutes of fighting it, we knew it was going to be a contender for the largest catch.” The mammoth fish netted the crew a $40,440 grand prize.
Hurley has entered the competition in the past, but this year was the first time he took down the title. “There are a lot of ways to win in the tournament,” he noted. “Obviously, you’re trying to catch the biggest halibut out there, but you can win prizes and money other ways, too.” Each year, 100 fish are tagged and released, each worth a monetary prize, ranging from $500 to $10,000. “It’s pretty crazy,” said Hurley. “I have never had anyone on the boat catch any type of prizes, and here we are with the jackpot catch.”
With a crown to defend, Hurley wasted no time getting the Sweet T registered for next year’s tournament, too. “They already have the date scheduled,” he said, “and I’ll be out there again.”
Hurley said he feels right at home in Alaska, despite growing up in lower Delaware, a 1974 graduate of Indian River High. “I’ve loved sport fishing all my life,” he said. “When I was younger, I was a commercial fisherman in Alaska for a few years.” Since then, he enlisted in the Navy, manned an oil tanker and worked at Delmarva Power. “For thirteen and a half years,” he said, “all the time I was away from Alaska, I was wishing I never left. I’m very fortunate to be able to afford what I do here now.” He moved to Alaska in the late 1990s with no job lined up. Now, the charter business is half of his life, as he returned to the oil fields, working a two-week on, two-week off schedule. “It’s great,” he said with a laugh. “I get 26 weeks of vacation a year. There are so many fish up here, from cod and black bass to yellow-eye rock. Fishing is always a success, and the business is good.”
So what’s his recommendation for those wishing to test the Alaskan waters for behemoth halibut? “You need to know where to go,” he said. “As far as tricks go, get with a reputable charter operation and you will definitely catch fish. As for the jackpot winner, “That was a fish of a lifetime,” he said, “and I’m glad to be a part of it.” For more information about Capt. Ron Hurley’s charter service, check out www.in2fishin.com.