Whether you are an experienced fisherman or just starting out, learning how to catch Halibut can be both a fun and rewarding experience. Halibut are a highly sought after fish located in salt water environments right across the northern hemisphere. They can grow quite large in size and are fantastic table fish as well making them a popular target species for many anglers.
So, with that, welcome to my 5 tips for catching Halibut this year as we see what we can come up with to assist you in getting them onto the hook and into the net…
What are Halibut?
Halibut is actually a name for a group of three species of large flatfish from the right eye flounder family. They are a saltwater ground dwelling species found in the North Pacific, North Atlantic and Artic Oceans. As above, they are an extremely popular table fish and often targeted for food rather than just for sport.
It draws its name from haly (holy) and butte (flat fish) for its popularity on Catholic holy days with three species as follows:
- Atlantic halibut – lives in the North Atlantic
- Pacific halibut – lives in the North Pacific Ocean
- Greenland halibut – lives in the cold northern Atlantic, northern Pacific, and Arctic Oceans
Halibut are a flat fish with elongated bodies, a large mouth, and flanks that vary in colour from dark brown to greenish grey, pale grey or white. Their size range is also extremely large with males ranging upward to about 60 pounds and the females to about 600 pounds in weight. Additionally, Pacific Halibut can attain a length of over 8 feet and a width of over 5 feet and live to up to 40 years.
Note: Due to concerns around stock levels, many states/jurisdictions implement strict seasonal fishing timelines as well as other limitations such as the number of lines/hooks allowable at one time and slot limits too.
Tips for catching Halibut
Ok, so let’s get into some of my tips for catching Halibut below…
1. Use a GPS fish finder for the best location
Ok, so let’s get this straight from the start, Halibut generally live in deep water within the ocean hence the most common means of catching them is from a boat. Sure there are times when they can be caught from a bank or jetty etc. but a boat is generally where it is at. And with that, my first tip is to use a good deep sea fish finder to locate the best place to drop your line.
Halibut generally like to sit on hard sand or gravel, usually in deeper trenches beside a weed bed or reef. They also don’t tend to move around a real lot so using your finder will make sure you are sitting in the best location to get amongst them from the start. Oh, and if you get a good spot – mark it for next time too.
2. Use a Chum Bag
So as per tip #1 above, Halibut are not like faster moving species such as Striped Bass etc. and tend to stick to a single area. Hence once you have found your location, your best bet is to entice the fish to you using a chum bag.
Here, regardless of whether you are using bait or a lure to land your fish, your chum bag will be filled with all of the delicious live bait options that Halibut love such as Herring or salmon bellies and heads. Chop them all up with some fish oil etc. and drop it into water to get their tastebuds a watering.
One thing to note here is that when chumming you should start up current (we often refer to that as ‘up hill’) from where you plan to fish. This is probably obvious but there is no point in putting your burley bag into the water and have the current push it away from where you plan to drop your line.
One common mistake that many make when fishing for Halibut is only using bait and lures that sit on the bottom. I mean this is understandable based on how the fish look, and yes, they will take food off the bottom. However this is not the only method to use. As live bait is one of their staples, it goes to reason that Halibut will leave the bottom to feed as well.
So when fishing, use a rig – such as a running sinker or Carolina rig – that allows the bait to sit on the bottom as well as float a little as well. And use a circle hook! If jigging with a lure, allow it to bounce off the bottom first before you move it around. This not only gets it down to where the fish are, but the bouncing can also attract them as well.
4. Be patient
In all of the tips covered so far we have discussed the fact that this is species that lives at the bottom of the deep water and tends not to wander too far at any given time – hence the recommendations around the use of fish finders and chum bags. So it makes sense then that when it comes to Halibut fishing, patience is key.
By all means try some different bait or swap to a lure if need be, but if you are sure there are fish there and you are landing within your chum trail, then there really is not point in trying to move around too much. Give the chum and hookset a chance to work first.
5. Use heavy gear
And finally, it should be remembered that Halibut can grow quite large and, as discussed above, live in deep water. Hence my last tip here is centered on making sure that your rod and reel is up to the job. Afterall, there is no point in taking gear that can’t handle the load.
Most seasoned Halibut fishers recommend a good strong overhead trolling reel – minimum 200 – 300 in size with matching casting jigging rod. Use 60 – 70 lb braid for extra strength with a good strong Flouro leader and again – a circle hook.
And whilst we are talking about fishing gear, no matter what you are chasing, always do the following:
- Maintain your fishing reel – Make sure it is clean with a good quality line. Rinse it off after every use with a full clean and oil after each season.
- Clean your rod – Again, rinse your rod after each session and check for any crack or breakages – especially in the o-rings and guides. Remove the reel and clean the seat, screws and handle every month or so as well.
- Use new tackle – Blunt hooks means no fish. I am a strong advocate of replacing your tackle after every trip. This is especially important when chasing Halibut in salt due to their mouth shape. Also keep in mind that hooks are dragged over rocks, logs and along the bottom meaning they can go blunt even if you don’t catch anything.
- Check your tools – Tools should also be rinsed after each use however this is not always done. And trust me there is nothing worse than getting out there and finding out your pliers are rusty or knife blunt. Clean and lubricate tools and sharpen your knife every month or so.
What time of day is best to catch Halibut?
Rather than a specific time of day, Halibut fishing tends to work on tides and current. For best results, try and get out there on the 2 hours either side of high or low tide. This is when currents are slower meaning it is better for chumming as well.
Can Halibut be caught from shore?
Absolutely – Especially if there are some good gutters or trenches close to the shore. Use a good surf fishing rod or around 10ft and a 5000 – 6000 reel for best results on a running sinker rig.
So there you have it, my 5 Halibut fishing tips for those looking to get amongst these flat beauties this year. As always, these are not going to guarantee you a catch, however they should give you a little more chance of success that you may not have otherwise had.
Have you tried anything else that has worked well, or not so well for you – or of course have a different opinion than above? If so, please comment below and we can have a chat.