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Halibut

Posted by on Mar 14, 2000 5:12 AM | Fishing Tips & Techniques
Halibut Halibut NOAA

Appearance

Flat, diamond-shaped bodies; their colored side is mottled brown.

Maximum Size

Halibut can weigh over 500 pounds (227 kg) and grow to 9 feet (2.7 m). Males are smaller than females.

Growth Rate

Both female and male halibut grow about 4 inches (10 cm) per year until about age 6. From then on, females grow faster and reach substantially greater sizes. Growth rates of both sexes have varied greatly over the last century and depend on abundance of both halibut and competing species.

Geographic Range

Coastal waters of Alaska, British Columbia, Washington, Oregon and into northern California. The center of abundance is the central Gulf of Alaska, particularly near Kodiak Island. About 2% of halibut that can be fished is found off Oregon and Washington, about 15% off British Columbia, and the remainder off Alaska.

Habitat

Juveniles (one inch and larger) are common in shallow, near-shore waters 6.5 to 164 feet (2-50 m) deep in Alaska and British Columbia. Halibut move to deeper water as they age and migrate primarily eastward and southward.

Life Span

Females and males both live to be quite old. The oldest halibut on record (IPHC) was a 55 year old male, but halibut over the age of 25 are rare.

Food

Juveniles eat small crustaceans and other bottom-dwelling organisms. Mature halibut prey on cod, pollock, sablefish, rockfish, turbot, sculpins, other flatfish, sand lance, herring, octopus, crabs, clams, and occasionally smaller halibut.

Reaches Reproductive Maturity

Females mature around 12 years old; males mature around 8 years old.

Reproduction

A 50-pound female can produce about 500,000 eggs; a female over 250 pounds (113.4 kg) can produce 4 million eggs. Females spawn once per year. They release their eggs in batches over several days during the spawning season. Eggs hatch after 12 to 15 days. The larvae slowly float closer to the surface where they remain in the water column for about 6 months until they reach their adult form. They then settle to the bottom in shallow water.

Spawning Grounds

In deep water (approximately 600 to 1,500 feet (183-457 m)) along the continental slope, concentrated at a number of locations in the Bering Sea, Aleutian Islands, Gulf of Alaska, and south to British Columbia.

Migrations

Adults migrate seasonally from shallow summer feeding grounds to deeper winter spawning grounds.

Predators

Marine mammals and sharks sometimes eat halibut; halibut are rarely preyed upon by other fish.

Information above courtesy of NOAA.

Introduction To Halibut Fishing

When it comes to fishing, there are those who like to dip a toe into water and there are those who simply wish to plunge in and go for it. Halibut fishing is for those who are ready for more than a mere trip to the lake during a family barbecue.

Get ready for a monster fish fight in a saltwater setting if you are after one the ocean’s biggest and toughest fish.

What You Need To Know To Fish Halibut

Halibut belong to the genus of fish known by the scientific name Hippoglossus. The common name halibut actually comes from two Latin words ‘hal’ meaning holy and ‘butt’ meaning a flat fish, such as a flounder. Halibut are members of the flounder family and the reason they were referred to as ‘holy’ is because they were a popular fish at Catholic dinner tables on holy days when other meats are forbidden.

Halibut begin their life cycle looking like a typical fish with an eye on each side of their head. Over time, one eye migrates to the other side of the head, and the fish starts swimming on its side. This allows them to lay flat on the ocean floor and use both eyes to watch for prey. Their color changes to match the sounding ocean bottom, which makes they very difficult to spot while they wait for unsuspecting prey.

This species is a deep sea fish that can feed either along the ocean’s bottom or at mid-water level. They are capable of traveling up to 2,000 miles with ease, sometimes even being found in shallow water. Most halibut are caught at depths of between 90 to 900 feet, but a few have been caught at depths of nearly 4,000 feet.

In order to catch halibut you will need a boat – this is not optional. You need a vessel that is capable of handling rough water conditions since you will be quite a ways out from shore, but generally within sight of it.

While halibut exist in both the Atlantic and Pacific oceans off the coast of North America, today it is only the Pacific halibut which are permissible to fish for due to the scarcity of their Atlantic cousins.

They feed on squid, crabs, clams and other fish that share their waters, and are generally fished for with quite heavy tackle. Bait for halibut can include, but is not limited to: mackerel, small flatfish, squid, herring and cod.

These are some of the best known fish in the world due to how sought after they are as food items. The fish can be grilled, baked, fried, poached, barbecued or even smoked, and they make for a delicious meal. The fact that they do not taste ‘fishy’ and have an incredibly low fat content that is packed with highly useful protein doubles their value.

However, it needs to be noted that halibut are often very large. In fact, since they are one of the largest fish species in the ocean anything smaller than 20 lbs is referred to as a ‘chicken’. Fish of up to 8 feet long and over 700 lbs are not uncommon. These whoppers are called ‘soakers’ or ‘barn doors’. The largest halibut ever caught by an angler was caught in Alaska and it weighed 459 lbs.

Due to the immense size and strength, halibut should be either be subdued before bringing them into the boat, or released at the side of the boat. They most often trash violently when brought onboard or netted. There is no easy way to subdue a 300 pound, 6 foot fish that is still fighting for its life. Once brought alongside the boat, a heavy gaff or club is used to kill the fish before it is pulled into the boat.

When Is Halibut Fishing Season?

The season for halibut fishing is determined by the International Pacific Halibut Commission in conjunction with the individual US states or Canadian provinces. Most seasons will begin sometime in May and last until any time between July and October.

Remember that you absolutely must check with your local Fish and Game Department to make sure that the season dates have not been changed. The regulations are reviewed annually and any changes in the environment or issues with over fishing could alter these dates. This means you could be slapped with a heavy fine if you fish on the wrong day.

Careful fish management is now the international standard in order to ensure the longevity of halibut for generations to come.

Halibut Fishing Equipment & Gear

The most essential part of halibut fishing equipment you will need is the boat. The motor must be strong enough to get you back to shore if the sea decides to get harsh, so do not skimp here. A boat you can pull by trailer will work, but again, be certain the motor is powerful.

Generally, a minimum of an 8 foot beam is needed and the boat should range between 22 and 28 feet in length. Fiberglass craft can work, but an aluminum boat is capable of withstanding far more damage without failing.

In addition to fishing rods, lines and reels that will be discussed below, you will want to have sunglasses, a hat to shade your face and sun block for any exposed skin. Solar radiation levels are doubly high in a marine environment due to the sunlight reflecting off the surface of the waves.

A proper fitting life jacket cannot be avoided – ever. Make sure everyone on board your boat has one that fits them.

Finally, if you are not going to release your catch, you will need a called a gaff. This gaff is a long handle which has a curved, sharp hook at the end. It is used to pull the fish up into the boat after it has been caught, but it is not used for fish which are to be released. A gaff should never be used on a halibut that is to be released since it injures the fish. A heavy weight gaff can be used to subdue the fish before bringing it aboard. Target the head with the spike on the gaff to ensure that the fish is killed quickly and humanely. Have a wooden or metal club onboard incase the gaff is ineffective at penetrating the skull of the fish.

Halibut Fishing Rods, Fishing Line, Fishing Reels, Bait, Rigs

The halibut fishing rod you will want should be between 5 and 6 feet long. This shorter pole should be a heavy-action rod that is going to withstand the massive fight you face.

The proper fishing reels for halibut need to be heavy and hold a great length of line. Halibut are bottom feeders that can be as far down as 1,000 feet, so the reel needs to hold at least 500 feet of line.

You need a heavy line to fish for halibut, the line should be at least 100 pound test. Most halibut caught by anglers will be between 35 and 100 lbs, but you want to be sure you can handle bigger ones.

Halibut fishing hooks will vary by area and it is best to ask either your guide or locals in the region. Many will turn to VMC hooks and go with either single or treble hooks. The choice is yours and is primarily about personal preference.

Bait for halibut often includes octopus, cod or herring, but never use live salmon as this can be in violation of fishing laws – especially in Alaskan waters.

When it comes to halibut fishing rigs, you can be extravagant. If you want to use flashers, this is fine. You want to rake up the muck because that will attract the fish. Since they are so voracious, you can feel free to experiment with your rigs.

Halibut Fishing Guide

A guide is generally the wisest idea for those who are first timers after halibut. This is not an easy fish and due to their size, one can never be too careful. Most people charter a boat, particularly in Alaska where the weather conditions can get dangerous quickly.

When looking for a guide, the first thing you want to know is their level of experience. You need someone you can trust and also someone who knows where to find the fish.

You need to specify that you want a halibut fishing guide, not just any fishing guide. Be clear on whether you are looking to keep your catch or release it.

Check that the charter boat is capable of giving you the fishing experience you seek. Find out your guide’s recent successes and what style of boat he or she is running. This is a must since you won’t want to bring the kids around certain types of fishing expeditions. Be upfront about your expectations and demand honesty in return.

Three Basic Beginner Halibut Fishing Tips

  1. Drift fishing for halibut can be a great time. It’s a relaxed way to grab a catch, but the fight is just as intense. Halibut are notoriously line shy so go with a fluorocarbon line if you can.
  2. Fish before a full moon when tidal flow is biggest. If you concentrate on the time from high tide to outgoing tide, you should get the best results.
  3. Don’t forget to consider the use of live bait when you can because this can cut your fishing work in half.

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