Freediver Spears World-Record Halibut in Frigid Alaskan Waters
After a 5-day hunt, Lisa Stengel speared the biggest halibut in the world
A 32-year-old woman from Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., was just certified as the new International Underwater Spearfishing Association (IUSA) record holder for Pacific halibut in the Women Sling/Polespear category.
Lisa Stengel used a Headhunter NOMAD Roller Polespear to shoot the 71.4-pound halibut while freediving in 46-degree water just south of Homer, Alaska. Describing her accomplishment on the association’s records recording page, Stengel writes that the Alaska spearfishing expedition had been planned for several months.
Stengel was wearing a 7-millimeter wetsuit, needed for the frigid water, and diving with Homer-based Coldwater Alaska when she took the fish on July 12. The company specializes in freediving and spearfishing for halibut, lingcod, salmon and rockfish, hunting fish in water down to 50 feet or more.
Brad Conley, owner of Coldwater Alaska, praised Stengel’s achievement, noting that hunting the often-dense kelp forests, swaying in the current, can be incredibly tricky. “It’s been an interesting fishery,” Conley said. “These kelp forests can hold some big fish, ones that come and seem to take up residence. Thirty-foot visibility is great for us, but what’s interesting about hunting in the kelp is that it’s not just water clarity. You’re in a forest with a lot of shadows. In thick spots, it’ll block out the sun.”
Hook-and-line charter boats, especially larger boats, tend to avoid the shallower, kelp-choked areas that Coldwater Alaska frequents, Conley said. Although some smaller charters try to fish the challenging habitat.
Conley said Stengel and her crew hunted for five days, taking a smaller halibut earlier in the trip and collecting several rockfish and a couple king salmon. The salmon came from an inner, tidal lagoon estuary; not the kelp forests.
Stengel told USA Today Sports FTW Outdoors that she was hunting in 25 to 30 feet of water on the final day when she spotted the halibut swimming just above the kelp floor.
In her IUSA narrative, she wrote: “On the final day, we missed our window of diving at slack tide, fighting a very strong current while chumming the waters. I was close to exhaustion, but we were seeing halibut so I decided to persevere through one more dive.
“I cocked my polespear while descending so I would be ready once the bottom came into view,” she continued. “I spotted two halibut butterflying just above the kelp floor, the one closest to me being the biggest. I lined my polespear up just behind the gill plate toward the lateral line, kicked in for a close punch, and let it pile drive through the fish.”
The fish immediately went limp, causing Stengel to believe she had made a spine shot. With the big halibut limp in the current, she pulled up the rest of the float line to secure the fish and headed for the boat.
Conley said Stengel’s achievement reflected the sometimes split-second decisions freediving hunters must make in Alaska, when fish present just a short opportunity before moving away and out of visibility.
Stengel’s Instagram post about the feat noted, “I love a good challenge and Alaska was definitely the right playing field. The water is cold, the visibility is bad, the current is worse, but the abundance of wildlife and the coastline views are stunning.”
The IUSA has Men and Women Speargun and Sling/Polespear record categories. Stengel’s halibut is currently the heaviest fish of any in the 37 listed categories in the Women’s Sling/Polespear division. A black grouper shot in Bermuda is second at 66.1 pounds.