Fair enough. I filed the halibut away in my mind, next to the 50-pound salmon and the lunker rainbow trout of New Zealand. I had plenty of time, I reckoned.
It was 20 years, in fact, before the curtain went up on my halibut search. Act One was set in Stavanger, Norway, on my way back from a salmon trip that had failed to produce the 50-pounder. I found a man who claimed to know where the halibut were and was willing to take me to sea for a few hours. We steamed out after lunch and caught some bait-sized cod in the shallows—two-and three-pounders. With infinite care I mounted one on a marlin hook and sank it in 70 fathoms.
After three hours something formidable happened. My rod tip was dragged down with huge force and I slammed back hard. No resistance. I reeled up. The cod was smashed. "This was the halibut!" said the Norwegian brightly as I tremblingly mounted another bait. When I was finally ready, though, there seemed to be some misunderstanding. The skipper had lit a cigar and was heading back to port. He was still smiling. "In Norway," he announced, "we eat dinner very early so that we can have it with the children when they come home from school." End of Act One.
Act Two. Another part of the Norwegian coast, two years later. It was Kristiansund, said to be the halibut capital of Norway. On my first evening I went down to the quay to see about a boat.
"Yes, many halibuts are coming into Kristiansund!" said the first skipper I met.
"You catch them here in the fjord?" I asked.
"No, no," he said helpfully. "Mostly we are catching them off the Shetland Islands, off Scotland. We stay out for three weeks."
Act Three. The Shetland Islands. "No sir, you'll not take a halibut here in September. April is the month. There's a man fishes down at Sumburgh Head, he's a grand wee man for the big 'buts. Come back next spring and he'll take you out."
No time for that. Straight into Act Four. Belmullet, County Mayo, on the northwest coast of Ireland. Pretty far south for halibut, but they had been caught there and at least I knew that in Belmullet nobody was going to tell me I couldn't catch one. At any time of day or year.
"Paddy Lynch's father caught one of them horrorbuts back in the old days in the race off Achill Island," said the first man I met in Edmund Walshe's bar, "on a bit of green crab for bait."