Fishing for flatties: Halibut anglers enjoy a sunny day in the Strait [**Gallery**]
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Chris Moen plays a vital role at Venture Charters, setting up the halibut fishing gear and baiting the hooks for waiting deep-sea fishermen. -- Photo by Jeff Chew/Peninsula Daily News
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Jeff Chew/Peninsula Daily News
Joker, Venture Charters’ 46-foot 1967 Youngquist fishing and tour boat, sits moored and ready for launch at John Wayne Marina.
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Jeff Chew/Peninsula Daily News
Randy Jones, a charter boat skipper most of his life, drives the Joker out of Sequim Bay for a halibut fishing trip in the Strait of Juan de Fuca.
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Jeff Chew/Peninsula Daily News
A happy halibut hunter, Jim Carlisle of Sequim, shows his 40-pounder caught aboard the Joker.
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Jeff Chew/Peninsula Daily News
Close up views from the water of New Dungeness Lighthouse on Dungeness Spit are one of the highlights.

By Jeff Chew
Peninsula Daily News

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STRAIT OF JUAN DE FUCA — It's just after 6 a.m. as the sun peaks above the eastern treeline above the bay.

It's one of the three days of the week during May that halibut can be fished out of the waters off Dungeness from Protection Island to the tip of Dungeness Spit.

Venture Charters' Capt. Randy Jones still looks half asleep, but coffee's on in the galley and he's ready to take out six clients to catch those flat, ugly, bottom fish — the legendary stuff of gourmet Northwest cuisine.

Jones, who hails from Port Orchard but has parents in Sequim, quickly comes to life once he fires up the 46-foot Joker's engines before crewman Chris Moen pulls the mooring lines and the 1967 Youngquist slowly rumbles out of John Wayne Marina near Sequim to the deepwater trenches and plateaus where halibut live.

Jones sees Moen as critical to his operation, and that is evident after about an hour.

Moen, in his waterproof orange overalls, is responsible for everything else on deck while Jones steers the boat and keeps a constant friendly banter going with the clients.

Moen keeps the hooks baited and the lines properly set to maximize the likelihood of landing fat flatties.

He does everything else, even picking up the trash to keeping the coffee coming.

He's responsible for halibut hooking harmony on deck.

Talking about how he finds fish, the 52-year-old Jones, who at 13 snuck off to skipper his first charter boat in Westport, explains that it's all about networking with other charter operators, phone to phone.

While out on the Strait of Juan de Fuca, he periodically phones other charter skippers such as Wayne Bibbins out of Port Townsend, whose boat is within distant eyeshot of the Joker.

Pat Neal, Peninsula Daily News humor columnist, historian and river fishing guide, is aboard Bibbins' boat and quips about how he'd prefer to be fly-fishing for whales than wasting a sunny, calm day struggling to reel up an agitated, fighting halibut that prefers a quiet, dark, sandy bottom 200 feet down.

“We don't let everyone in the potluck,” the jovial Jones said of his social fishing network.

“But with any luck, we establish a pattern, and that pattern changes every year.”

He points to his electronic fish-finder's screen where he has carefully marked X's showing areas in which halibut have been caught since the season, which closes May 29, opened May 5.

There are quite a few X's marking the sweet spots.

While fishing charters make up about 75 percent of Jones' business, he fills in between the seasons with jobs that include everything from floating a film crew to scattering the ashes of those dearly departed to moving workers under construction of the Tacoma Narrows Bridge nearly around the clock.

But perhaps his most exciting job was ferrying Navy divers out to pull up old ordnance for disposal.

“It was cool to see but luckily uneventful,” Jones said with a wry grin.

Jones has owned the Joker, which is moored near the riprapped jetty entrance to John Wayne Marina, since 2002.

The boat was once owned by the former mayor of Bremerton, the late Glenn Jarsted, who welcomed among others U.S. Rep. Norm Dicks of nearby Belfair aboard to go fishing at times.

The former Bremerton Sun columnist Adele Ferguson also fished aboard the Joker.

Jones said he started operating out of the Boat Haven Marina in Port Townsend but found it easier to work out of Sequim Bay after his parents moved to Sequim.

“This is an oceangoing boat in the Strait, and when the Straits pick up, this is a comfortable boat,” Jones said, adding that it can be occupied by as many as 30 people.

“In the summer, July and August, it's party cruises,” he said.

“People can barbecue and swim from the boat. We've had three kegs across the back and three wheelchairs across the back. We've gone from wild to mild.

“I think of myself as the luckiest skipper out there. I am diversified.”

Jones estimates that about half his customers have their own boats but see the economy in going on a charter, which is far less expensive than maintaining the floating hole where the money goes.

“I feel like a bus on the water,” he said, citing the fact that as fuel prices go up, he sees a boost in business, similar to transit agencies on the road.

A twin-engine, 200-horsepower vessel can consume 30 gallons an hour, he said, and the costs soar if the boat has to be pulled by a gas-guzzling truck. Lodging and food just add to the cost.

Moen said his most memorable moment aboard Joker was helping a 70-year-old one-armed man catch a fish. The man reeled while Moen pulled the fishing pole.

“That was pretty cool,” Moen said, while tying leaders and hooks for the day.

It's a slow fishing day, with only one 40-pounder caught by Jim Carlisle of Sequim, but the water is mostly flat calm, a sunny Sequim kind of day, and the sun intensifies as the morning progresses, with fishermen beginning to shed their jackets.

Carlisle said it was his third halibut season with Jones' operation.

“I've caught fish every year,” he said, including a 60-pounder and a smaller halibut of 25 pounds.

Jones moves from one bar to another, fishing at depths of between 40 and 300 feet.

“That's what makes it that no spot is the hunting hole,” he said, adding that he prefers to fish in the waters off Sequim Bay because he can always find a place to fish.

Unlike the clientele who drive long distances to Neah Bay to fish, Jones said he prefers his mostly Sequim-area clients because they know the reality of fishing close to home and don't necessarily expect to catch fish.

He also charters salmon and lingcod fishing trips and has other boats operating out of Ballard Locks with pickups in Seattle.

For more information about his operation, visit the website at venturecharters@venturecharter or phone 360-895-5424.

“When they catch fish here, everybody appreciates it,” Jones said.

“Here, everybody knows you're going to have days when you don't catch fish.”


Sequim-Dungeness Valley Editor Jeff Chew can be reached at 360-681-2391 or at

Last modified: May 15. 2011 10:18PM
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