Fishers have been known to spin a yarn or two, but three Quebec men out on a scientific ice fishing expedition in the Saguenay over the weekend made sure to document their adventures.
And it’s a lucky thing too, because Mathieu Aubin reeled in a 109-pound Atlantic halibut on Sunday for the catch of a lifetime.
Aubin said the trio, consisting of him, his uncle Rémi Aubin and a friend, set out on foot Sunday morning after first making sure the ice on the fjord was thick enough.
Every now and again they would stop and drill holes, to check not only the ice thickness but also the depth of the water.
To catch a halibut, they figured a depth of about 650 feet was ideal. It’s information the group has gleaned over the three years halibut fishing has been allowed there.
Not much is known about the species living in the Saguenay — hence the need for a scientific study.
Anyone hoping to catch the fabled fish has to be registered to do so.
After walking for two kilometres, dragging their gear and drilling their holes, the men put in their lines and settled in as best they could.
“It was difficult,” Remi said. “It was very cold on the ice with high winds — up to 40 kilometres an hour.”
Mathieu dropped his line and immediately pulled up a cod. It would be another hour before the action really got underway.
In the meantime, there was a bit of back and forth and Mathieu was reflecting on his new fishing rod. He made it himself, specifically to catch halibut, at the fishing shop he now owns. The store has been in the family since 1932 and passed down from one generation to the next.
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“So I was telling my uncle I really liked the hatch and I really liked the rod and I’m so happy about it,” Mathieu recounted. “Then five minutes after I got really a big hit.”
He said he knew right away that it was a halibut because of the drag on the line and yelled out to his uncle who didn’t quite believe him at first.
“It’s not true,” Remi yelled to his nephew. It was only when he saw the line bend himself that reality started sinking in.
Mathieu was struggling to keep the fish reeled in and eventually had to pass the line over to his uncle to take a break.
They took turns after that, switching off every 20 minutes or so, as the fish kept pulling and fighting.
Knowing they had a big fish on their hands, Mathieu decided to start hacking away at the ice to make the fishing hole bigger.
For safety reasons, fishing holes are kept at around eight inches, he explained. “So I made a four-foot-wide hole.”
By all accounts, it took about four hours before they were able to haul their catch onto the ice.
“We were sore everywhere,” Remi said.
“We were really, really, really tired,” added Mathieu, who couldn’t quite fathom how they’d be able to make the trip back to shore lugging a fish weighing more than 100 pounds.
Luckily for them, a man with an ATV happened to be in the vicinity and was able to ferry them back to their vehicle.
Meanwhile, the group called the Musée du Fjord to report their catch and let them know they’d be dropping by.
The museum is one of the partners involved in the fish study and is responsible for harvesting the needed organs.
By the time Mathieu and company arrived at the museum, news of the catch had spread.
“It was unbelievable, like 50 to 60 people were there,” an incredulous Mathieu said. “Everybody was really enjoying the moment.”
After the official weighing-in, the photos and the lab, Mathieu was able to take the remainder of the fish home.
He said he didn’t name his fish, but gave it the respect it was due.
His cousin, who is a chef, cooked up a meal for the whole family and the leftover meat was put sous-vide to be delivered to those in need.
“Me and my uncle, we decided to give back, we want to share with people who maybe don’t get to enjoy some good fish,” Mathieu said.
While the halibut fishing season is only kicking off, Mathieu and Rémi might find Sunday’s experience hard to top.
Mathieu said he’s happy to have been able to share such a moment with his uncle, who not only taught him to fish when he was little but also served as a role model for him growing up.
“He passed on not only his passion but more importantly his values,” Mathieu wrote in French on Facebook.
He went on to thank his uncle for being a source of comfort over the years and for making him the person he is today.
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