July 23, 2024

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Halibut: An Angler’s’ guide

Reading Time: 6 minutes

Available in the northern Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, Halibut are prized fish wherever you find them. Revered for their unique characteristics and incredible sizes, they’re also renowned for putting out excellent filets. Such traits make them attractive to recreational anglers who quickly become obsessed with their interesting behaviors, aggressive strikes, and long battles.

Photo courtesy of Fantasea Charters

That being said, the size and availability of the fish depend on where you are. You’ll also be targeting different Halibut species whether you’re in Maine or Alaska. But wherever you are, catching a Halibut is no easy task. It takes time to learn their habitat and how to make a presentation that works.

But, once you’ve found that winning formula, the fishing can be reliable and exciting. For this reason, Halibut are a staple food source in many households and are a favorite target for many anglers. Want to find out how you can get in on the action? Read on to learn about all things Halibut fishing!

What makes Halibut a unique species?

You won’t find many fish species with characteristics similar to Halibut. As juveniles, they have eyes on the sides of their heads like most other fish. But, as they mature, those eyes shift to the tops of their heads so they can hug the bottom and camouflage as ambush predators. Flounder are their closest relatives but they don’t reach anywhere near the same sizes as Halibut.

Two happy male anglers aboard a boat in British Columbia, each holding a Halibut on a cloudy day
Photo courtesy of Fish On Tofino

Much like Flounder, though, they vary in color depending on which side you’re viewing them from. Their eyes are positioned on the brown or darker side of the fish that blends with the ocean floor. The underside of a Halibut, meanwhile is completely white. But you’ll rarely see this unless you hook one out of the water.

Their flat body shapes allow them to conform to the bottom where currents are low and where they can ambush prey. This presents one of the greatest challenges for Halibut anglers – yanking them off the sea bed! At times, there’ll be multiple subsurface currents with the fish sitting on the lower layer where there’s no current. Getting your hook in the zone isn’t always easy, and lifting the fish up is even tougher.

Where to Find Halibut

The two primary distinctions occur between the Pacific Halibut and Atlantic Halibut. Other similar species, such as the Greenland and California Halibut, are actually Flounders. Both true Halibut species have the ability to reach massive sizes and each variety occupies a large area within its home range, however, the Pacific variety severely outweighs its Atlantic brethren.

A group of four anglers standing on a dock in Astoria, Oregon, holding a large Halibut each with the famous green bridge behind them on a clear day
Photo courtesy of Photo courtesy of Good Time Charlie Sportfishing

Pacific Halibut are prolific in the coastal waters of Alaska and they also have populations farther north in Russia, and even in Japan. You’ll find them south of Alaska all the way to the Bay Area of California but the fish are fewer and the limits stricter as you go south. Anything further south than here, such as in Mexico’s Baja California region, is likely to be California Halibut – the Flounder species I already mentioned.

Atlantic Halibut have strong numbers in far northern waters around Greenland and Iceland, where you can catch some serious monsters. Canada has some productive fisheries for recreational and commercial anglers too.

You can also find them on the northern Atlantic coast of the United States. Expect the best numbers in Maine, although populations do extend farther south. The fish have seen a major decline historically and are being managed to recover at this point in much of the country. There are sure to be plenty more recreational opportunities as the numbers rise, however.

When to Go Halibut Fishing

An infographic featuring a vector of a Halibut fish, a boat, and the FishingBooker logo, along with text saying "Halibut Fishing Seasons: All You Need to Know" against a blue background

In terms of timing, Halibut fisheries are regulated for specific seasons. Fishing is most popular during summer when the seas are calmer and more manageable. Let’s take a look at the seasons in the most popular states:

  • Alaska: Mid-March to November. This is one of the longest seasons you’ll find for Halibut, but most anglers stick to the hottest activity which coincides with the warmest weather.
  • Washington and the Pacific Northwest: Spring and Summer. The seasons vary by state but they almost always focus on spring and summer, and are shorter than Alaska’s season, with stricter catch limits too.
  • Maine and the East Coast: May/June/July. The season here is always short and usually lasts for less than two months. Try to visit in June when the bite is hottest and the season is most likely to be open.
  • Canada: Varies by territory. Again, the season is likely to be short in Canada but it changes year-by-year and from territory to territory. Keep an eye out for the latest rules and regulations before booking your trip.

Halibut seasons aren’t the only factor to consider when booking your trip. Conditions change depending on the day and even the hour in these unpredictable spots. Getting your bait to the bottom is the goal and heavy currents make this difficult, not to mention the choppiness of the waters.

Try to pick a calm day with slack tides, when currents are moving in or out with extreme force. You can certainly catch fish in more adverse conditions but calm waters are ideal and make for a more pleasant overall experience.

How to Catch Halibut: Fishing Techniques

There are plenty of different techniques to put to the test to land a Halibut but each one has something in common. Make sure to get your presentation near the bottom! Using baits is the most common approach but you can also occasionally catch Halibut without a strong scent. Heck, I’ve even caught a few California Halibut on the fly in Mexico but that’s a very uncommon situation – and almost impossible for the bigger species in Alaska.

Find the Fish

A view out the back of a fishing boat in Seward, Alaska looking across the water towards a mountain covered in snow, with a table visible in the foreground including bait fish, lines, and ore fishing gear
Photo courtesy of Saltwater Safari Company

We know Halibut hug the ocean floor but that leaves a ton of space to explore. Narrow down the prime locations by finding structure and prime Hali feeding grounds. Halibut will eat a large variety of bait fish and unsuspecting food sources that cruise within reach of a short strike off the bottom.

The actual depth can range from 40 feet to several thousand. It’s the structure of the bottom that’s most important. You want to look for drop-offs that break current and provide fertile feeding areas. Hills are also great features in the subsurface landscape.

Studying your depth finder, charts, and other resources revealing bottom features is critical to becoming a successful Halibut angler.

Rigging and Bait for Halibut Fishing

One angler helping another with a heavy-action fishing rod aboard a charter boat in Seward, Alaska, on a clear day, as they try fishing the deep waters
Photo courtesy of Saltwater Safari Company

Once you’ve found your fishing area, it’s time to rig and sit in place. In general, you’ll want to work a specific spot rather than trolling across a broad area. Whenever possible, drop an anchor to work a smaller area thoroughly.

Herring is the favorite bait but rigging with salmon, squid, and other baits works very well, too. Rig on a circle hook with a leader designed to reach the bottom. There are many rigging variations but the simplest is a three-way swivel. Tie a heavy sinker to a 3′ leader off the bottom, tie the main line to the top, and tie the hook to a 2′ leader section. You can play with the leader segment lengths but your bait will be just off the bottom – and that’s the main objective.

The other favorite option involves jigging, which is more active. You’ll get to feel the strike and have your hands on the rod at all times. Baited jigs work great or you can choose an artificial and drop a chum bag to build a scent profile around the jig. Dropping a chum bag is popular as a general tactic regardless of what’s on the hook.

Get in the Strike Zone

Despite their awkward shape and profile, Halibut are actually lightning fast and they hit hard. Once you anchor, rig and start fishing. Make sure your hook is sitting near the bottom, as underwater currents can displace baits quickly. Compensate as needed! Heavy ball weights in the 2-pound range will help hold your bait on the bottom.

Are you ready to catch a big Halibut?

A woman lying down on the floor of a fishing boat in Seward, Alaska, next to a Halibut splattered with blood that's just as tall as her
Photo courtesy of Blue Ice Alaska Charters – Yanichka

Get your frying pan ready because fresh Halibut is hard to beat. If you’re lucky enough to live in Alaska or you’re visiting for a fishing trip, freezing filets and bringing them home is common practice. Many sportfishing charters will package the fish in waxed boxes that you can even check in on airplanes! If you haven’t caught a Halibut, put it on your bucket list because the fish live in beautiful environments and they’re a blast to chase.

Are you in love with Halibut? Need any advice on planning your next trip? We’d love to hear your tips and tricks – or even questions – in the comments below!

The post Halibut Fishing: An Angler’s Guide appeared first on FishingBooker Blog.

By: Zach Lazzari
Title: Halibut Fishing: An Angler’s Guide
Sourced From: fishingbooker.com/blog/halibut-fishing/
Published Date: Mon, 24 Jun 2024 13:03:31 +0000

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