Fishing Report: Alaskan angler hauls in monster state record rockfish

Alaskan angler hauls in state record rockfish.
Published: Aug. 24, 2023 at 6:06 PM AKDT|Updated: Aug. 24, 2023 at 7:42 PM AKDT
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WHITTIER, Alaska (KTUU) - The morning of July 28 began like any other summer day for port captain and former fishing guide Keith Degraff, who took his fiancee and some friends out to fish the Prince William Sound — something he has done for clients in Alaska since 2016.

But on this day, without the weight of pleasing clients, Degraff had his eyes on a record-setting weight.

“I had been planning this trip for over a year now,” Degraff said. “There was a game plan going into it.”

After only three hours and just two drifts, Degraff reeled in the largest rockfish the state has ever seen from about 1,000 feet deep.

“When I hooked it, it was so big it made me think it was a halibut,” Degraff said. “I couldn’t get this fish’s head over the side of the boat — it was massive.”

The Alaska Department of Fish and Game weighed the fish in at 42.4 pounds and about 42 inches in length, breaking the previous record of 39.1 pounds set in 2013.

“I’ve done a lot of rockfish research myself, in fact, my thesis was on rockfish, so I have seen a lot of rockfish and I wasn’t certain what to expect,” said Donald Arthur, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game’s assistant area management biologist for the Prince William Sound.

“When I first laid eyes on it, it was bigger than my torso and my legs combined — it was the largest rockfish I’ve seen in my 11-year career with Fish and Game.”

“The funny part about this story is that I was fishing in a way that I could catch something other than a rockfish,” Degraff said. “I was just using hooks and bait, so I was hoping to catch black cod or something else that lives in sub-thousand-foot depths.”

Still, Degraff was surprised by what he hauled in.

“Did I know I was going to catch the state record? I’ll be honest and say no, but I was fishing in an area where I have caught bigger-than-average fish before.”

At time of catch, the fish likely weighed closer to 50 pounds. Even though it resulted in some loss of weight, Degraff bled the fish and put it on ice before it could be weighed three days after being caught.

“The sportsman in me prevailed to where I wasn’t willing to risk the quality of meat for sake of my name on a piece of paper somewhere,” Degraff said. “The fish is in my freezer, and I will say the cheeks were delicious.”

The fish is estimated to be between 60 and 120 years old and will officially be aged in the coming weeks using its otolith, also known as the ear bone.

“Just like a tree, these have annuli, or like tree rings on them that help us determine just how old they are,” Arthur said.

And because these species are slow-growing, long-lived and mature late, conservation efforts are put into place by ADF&G.

”We just want anglers to be conscientious when they do target rockfish, we do have conservative bag limits. So for a species like shortraker, they are a nonpelagic species, so in the Prince William Sound, you can only keep one per day and in one possession,” Arthur said. “And when you’re fishing that deep, for a species like shortraker, it is really difficult to deep water release one if you already have one in your bag and possession. You could end up having to use over 10 pounds of weight in dropping that fish in excess of 300 feet to even try to get those fish back down. State record in mind, just be conscientious about of stuff like that,”

Originally from Long Island, Degraff and his family have made Alaska home.

“When I found out I could come up here and fish with people who are stoked to be here and fishing is almost secondary, it made me not want to go back.”

And now currently owns the Alaska state record rockfish.

“I’ve said for years — especially when I caught my first one over 36 pounds — I said, now I’ve got it dialed in. The kid from New York is going to come catch the Alaska state-record rockfish.”