"That's right," I said. "It was as big as a little horse and they had to bring the ass-cart down for it and the tail was dragging the ground all the way back to Belmullet."
"You've been talking to Paddy already," said my informant, but I hadn't. I was just well acquainted with poetic convention west of the Shannon.
The odd thing was that I did hit into a halibut in the Achill Race on my first day out. I wasn't even seriously trying. There was a run of big pollack, 25-pounders and better, and I was using a Norwegian "pilk," a very heavy stainless-steel jig designed for commercial cod fishing.
The pollack kept coming but then, with the pilk on the retrieve and a fathom off the bottom, the rod was wrenched hard again, just as it had been off Stavanger. It was no pollack. It thumped sullenly under the rod point for a while, certainly a fish of more than 100 pounds. Nothing of that size but a halibut would take an unbaited lure in those waters.
It kept sulking for a while and with surprising ease I gained five or six fathoms of line. Then, slowly at first, but with an increasing rhythm, came a series of heavy blows at the rod. The fish was arching its back, undulating just like those little flounders had long ago, building its strength for a crash dive.
I weathered the powerful plunge that followed and two more like it and I was beginning to feel that I had the fish mastered when the split ring that joined the treble hook to the lure snapped. Some flaw in the metal, I suppose.
I babbled all this out that evening in Walshe's bar. "I was telling you, wasn't I?" said the man I'd first met. "There's platoons of them down there. Regiments." But, though I fished for two more weeks, I never touched another Irish halibut.
And so to Act Five and the Anglo-Icelandic Giant Arctic Halibut Expedition. It would be the final act, I was convinced. Collins was the man who started it off by meeting Johann Sigurdsson in a London pub and getting into an argument with him over the Cod War that had broken out when Iceland declared she was extending her fishing limits to 50 miles. What with British trawlers thumping Icelandic gunboats, cut nets and violent feelings, it was the stuff of stern dispute. To forever prove some point, Johann nourished a copy of the Reykjavik daily, Morgunbladid. Collins gaped at it silently.
"So I am right, then," said Sigurdsson, taking this as a concession of defeat. But Collins had forgotten the Cod War. He was looking at a picture of a burly Icelander, rod in hand, beaming beside a noble halibut. "A 152-pounder," marveled Collins. "It looks bigger."
"Kilos, not pounds." corrected Johann. "Now you can see the quality of fish we are trying to protect from the ruthless British fish exploiters." Collins was not listening. Already he had begun to plan.