Big Dan’s Fishing Charters
Article by Rick Birch
Big Dan’s Fishing Charters: A Shared Experience Aboard the Game Changer
Arriving early in the morning at the Homer dock, we met our boat mates, new friends we would be fishing with for the next 48 hours. My buddy, Dave Atcheson, and I were both excited to be there. We reside on the Kenai Peninsula and get to fish a lot, yet each new Alaskan adventure can be epic, to be reminisced about for decades to come. Joining us on this adventure would be a group of three from California, a couple from Ohio and four brothers from various states. Our common denominator was being stricken with enthusiasm for the coming adventure.
We’d be heading out with Big Dan’s Fishing Charters. It is easy to see that both Big Dan and his wife, Sarah Spies, share a passion about their business. Sarah is outgoing and enthusiastic, a wonderful host who put a lot of energy into preparing for incoming guests. Before launching, even during the safety speech, the message that stood out the most was Dan’s passion for being on the saltwater. He’s a knowledgeable captain, aware of the tide, wind direction, weather forecast, and most importantly, the fishing.
I first met Dan and Sarah in April of 2018. They live in my hometown and I became intrigued with the new boat they were having built, and the overnight fishing they would start offering with it.
I jumped at the chance to go on such a trip. I have done one other overnight trip like this in my lifetime; it was truly a unique experience, and for this one my calendar was marked months ahead of time, the anticipation building; no telling what might unfold on an overnighter on the saltwater.
All the groups aboard had come for different reasons. The California contingent was rewarding a graduate for his hard work in high school, a motivator to keep him working hard when starting college, and to broaden his horizons.
Dave and I were both inspired by the group of four siblings, connecting again, in tribute of their recently lost brother, Christian McGinnis.
“Losing a brother is not easy, but it is bearable to know that the four of us have each other to lean on,” Michael McGinnis shared with me. Christian McGinnis was a good friend to all of his brothers. Michael, John, Mark and Wes were here to start a new tradition together, and the Game Changer was a fitting vessel on which to do this. We all know change is not easy, but pressing on with new memories, together, makes all of our lives richer. We depend on each other; a trusted family member or friend by our side makes every day better.
The Game Changer would be ideal for sharing a new chapter together. We would cover a lot of water and as a group share many new and rewarding experiences. The Game Changer is a 42’ x 15’ catamaran. I have become a big fan of catamarans on the saltwater, liking the way they smooth out the ride in otherwise rough and sloppy water conditions, especially when heading out to areas not too many boaters go.
A little more than an hour into our journey, we came across a pod of humpback whales chasing small fish to the surface. With birds feeding all around us, we could see baitfish flipping out of the water, just ahead of the boat. Mesmerized to see this in real life, we thoroughly enjoyed the show.
We enjoyed a smooth ride as we cruised for about an hour and a half at a speed of roughly 32 knots to our first stop—the Barren Islands. With nobody else in sight, deckhands Morgan and Daniel quickly set up rods for halibut fishing in about 140 feet of water. With a flood tide still running strong, we initially needed heavy weights to keep our bait down.
With baits and a chum bag in the water, we were starting a trail of scent. Stoked to be fishing an area with such little pressure, predatory strikes would not take long. Within 40 minutes, we had three halibut in the box, all in the 30- to 50-pound range. Soon, however, they started coming in one after another, gaining in size as enthusiasm mounted. We were catching a lot of halibut in the 50- to 70-pound range. By the hour-and-a-half mark, Patti (from Ohio) hooked and landed a 95 pounder. In the next couple hours, two more big fish, well over 100 pounds, were landed by Amir (from California) and my friend Dave. High fives abounded. Only five hours in, this trip was already a huge success, with whales, big fish and everybody getting their first day’s limit of halibut.
Finding that many big halibut was a tangible reward for choosing a long-range, overnight fishing trip.
Big Dan first got started with his business after going out on a charter boat. After catching his first halibut he became hooked for life. Years ago, he would have laughed at the thought of becoming a charter captain. Dan loves to take on the challenge of saltwater sportfishing and enjoys putting a smile on other people’s faces. Both Dan and his two deckhands have a passion for sharing this fishery with others. The energy created by seeing a big fish brought in “Is like a playoff football game,” Dan exclaimed. “Everybody feeds off the energy and fishes a little harder.”
Daniel and Morgan were skilled deckhands who willingly served others with an upbeat and helpful attitude. An overnight trip would take a tremendous amount of work. A good attitude to accommodate 11 anglers was appreciated, and made the best experience possible for each customer.
Dan stated that he likes fishing the overnight trips because there is not so much of a time limit, compared to the day trips. He can spend a lot more time on the water, watching the sunrise and sunset. Dan likes fishing out of Homer because there are so many different areas they can explore: fishing around the Barren Islands, running all the way to Afognak, or hiding out in the bay, depending on what the wind direction and weather conditions offer.
Our next stop was somewhere off Shuyak Island, setting up with lighter gear for lingcod, yelloweye and other rockfish. We jigged with lead-head jigs with grub tails, 80-pound-test braided main line, with a 400-pound-test leader. We repeatedly drifted over rocky-bottom areas, multiple rods doubling over, with battles ensuing from all sides of the boat. Enthusiasm abounded, but sore arms and shoulders were starting to prevail.
Limits were had, so we headed toward Afognak Island, off Kodiak. We anchored up again to fish after midnight and into the early morning. Day one was an amazing success. Anything more would just be icing on the cake.
The whole time we were kept well fed, with plenty of hearty, Italian sub sandwiches and steaming-hot lasagna. We were able to sleep as needed, with multiple bunks below deck. Exhausted and stuffed, a cinnamon-apple cake appeared. Surely, we had to oblige. After the cake, with the option of fishing through the night on the back deck, most of us opted to stretch out and sleep.
In the morning we were greeted with tasty breakfast burritos and sticky, glazed cinnamon buns. Our game plan on day two would be altered by a forecast that included strong winds, which were already starting to show up.
Having already enjoyed great success, there was no sense trying to fish these areas as the conditions would only worsen. Dan knew the best window for taking advantage of wind and tide combinations, so we headed back toward Homer to fish some more protected areas in the bay. Captain Dan did a great job getting us through, with the Game Changer handling the adverse conditions amazingly well.
Closer to Homer, with waters much calmer, we continued to fish for halibut. A variety of salmon would also be caught by trolling with downriggers. For the convenience of his guests, Dan chose a quick rest stop in Seldovia. We enjoyed some coffee and a walk around this secluded little Alaska town before finishing our return to the Homer harbor.
I have been lucky enough to fish with a lot of saltwater charters in a variety of towns in Alaska. I was impressed with the crew’s upbeat attitude and attention to detail. Big Dan, Morgan and Daniel did an exceptional job keeping up with their customers. They must have taken turns sleeping, but we didn’t notice.
The success of this trip was not measured by the size and amount of fish caught, despite some of the best results I have ever experienced. Most impressive to me was witnessing the experiences shared together by brothers and friends, and this crew successfully sharing their passion with the whole group. This was easy to tell by hearing the others talk about wanting to come back again; several planned to refer family and friends to Big Dan’s Fishing Charters.
Life is much richer when connecting and sharing experiences together. Sharing Alaska and the great outdoors is one of those opportunities. A close family member or a friend makes the experience better all around. It is the journey that counts.
Creating and sharing new memories together, and finding a skilled skipper and crew with an upbeat attitude, goes a long way. Those are the ones you want to fish with year after year. Change it up. Share an amazing adventure together with friends and family—and Big Dan’s Fishing Charters in Homer, Alaska. Visit their website here.
This article originally appeared as “Big Dan’s Fishing Charters: A Shared Experience Aboard the Game Changer” in the February 2020 issue of Fish Alaska.