A group of Quebec fishermen recently made an incredible catch: On March 4, Denis Lavergne, Stéphane Rivard, and Jean-François Simard teamed up to land an absolutely gigantic Atlantic halibut while ice fishing—yes, ice fishing—the Saguenay Fjord.
Recreational Atlantic halibut fishing is prohibited in Quebec. But in the winter of 2022, the provincial government instituted a program on the Saguenay Fjord that pairs anglers with government scientists. Under the program, anglers are allowed to fish for the species but must submit their catches to scientists, who record biological data from the fish. According to Simard, who is a wildlife technician for the Quebec government, the Saguenay Fjord is a one-of-a-kind fishery.
“The Saguenay Fjord is a unique and very special ecosystem,” he tells Field & Stream. “The main species caught here are redfish, Atlantic cod, and Atlantic halibut. A layer of freshwater flows over the saltwater, which provides us with a solid, safe covering of ice in winter, allowing us to fish for saltwater fish at depth. This glacial valley has very steep walls and a depth that can reach slightly more than 800 feet.”
Simard says that he and his buddies planned a trip to the fjord specifically to target Atlantic halibut, though only a handful of the fish had been landed so far this year. They used 8-ounce vertical jigs with a special locally-made heavy-duty ice fishing rod equipped with a PENN Battle III 8000 spooled with 65-pound test Spiderwire braid. They also baited their hooks with smelt.
It was Lavergne’s first time fishing the Saguenay Fjord. After two hours of fishing, something big took the bait. At first, the anglers thought it was a large cod. After ten minutes of fighting it, Lavergne passed the rod to Simard, who then passed it to Rivard. As the trio took turns fighting the heavy halibut, they realized they had to widen the ice fishing hole without breaking the line, which they were able to do.
“When we saw the fish in the hole for the first time, our stress and adrenaline levels reached their peak,” says Simard. “We managed to hook it a first time with a gaff, but it broke free from the gaff and dove about 50 feet below the surface of the ice. Given the size of the fish, we widened our hole a second time to make it easier to pull it out…The final moment came soon after and I had the honor of hooking the fish with the gaff the second time. I must admit that I still get goosebumps when I remember the moment I felt the fish struggling in my hands.”
The fish was weighed, measured, and had its stomach contents analyzed at the Musée du Fjord. The halibut came in at a whopping 112 pounds. According to NOAA Fisheries, the Atlantic halibut is the largest species of flatfish in the world. They can grow up to 15 feet long and are found throughout the northern Atlantic. In the U.S., they can be caught in the Gulf of Maine.
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“From the moment the fish was hoisted onto the ice, it was total euphoria,” says Simard of the catch. “We were running on adrenaline and were all very proud of accomplishing this feat. We were also in awe of this enormous fish. And we felt honored to be able to have had such an experience so close to home and surrounded by the beauty of the Saguenay Fjord mountains. As a team, we caught the fish of a lifetime, and we know that this memory will stay with us forever.”