Written by Bob Melrose.
Halibut are a favoured target for the West Coast angler and no wonder. They are excellent eating, grow to very large sizes, and fun but heavy work to land. The world record halibut for rod and reel is around 450 pounds! That is a lot of steaks. Unfortunately, any halibut over the 80 pound mark are egg laying females and should probably be released to preserve the stock. We grow some very large Halibut here in BC and every year you hear of triple digit fish being taken off our coast. Limit for halibut is 1 per day with a possession of 2.
Where Found: Halibut favour sand and/or gravel bottoms and that is the first thing to look for on your depth charts of the area. S denotes sand, G- gravel, R-rock, SH-shale, M-mud. Look for a plateau or hump surrounded by deep water, a smooth decline in depth off a fjord, the mouth of a creek or river especially if salmon carcasses are drifting down and medium depth banks at moderate depth. By recognizing these spots you will save your self lots of time.
Tackle: A good sized halibut will have inadequate tackle crying uncle very quickly. Recommended tackle will include a reel capable of holding 300 yards/meters of minimum 50# braided line such as Tuf Line. The braided line has virtually no stretch and allows you to feel both the bottom and the bite at depth. Most serious anglers use 80#-100# braid. Rods should be proper halibut rated rods/sturgeon rods. Most anglers fishing bait have switched to CIRCLE hooks. When the commercial fishery changed to circle hooks it was estimated that the catch rate quadrupled. Circle hooks once in a fish just do not come loose and the fish are usually hooked perfectly in the corner of the mouth. They are also easier on the halibut if you want to release them. The only problem with a circle hook is the angler. You must be patient. Allow them to take the bait and turn and almost set the hook themselves. Many anglers are so used to quickly setting the hook they have trouble with the wait. A high quality ball bearing swivel is recommended such as a Sampo with a welded ring. This is no time to use an offshore cheap split ring or imitation. Leader should be 125#-150# mono about 4 feet long to stand up to the abrasion. 20-24 ounce cannonballs are used if fishing depths of +200 feet or heavy tidal flows. Various styles of jigs work well but are always enhanced by tipping with bait or scent. The addition of bait or scent is said to make the jig 4 times as potent leaving a scent cone for the halibut to key in on. There are many scent combo's on the market such as Butt Juice or Halibut Jelly which work well.
Method: Successful halibut fishing is a real teamwork affair. The captain must try to keep the anglers line as close to vertical as possible while moving with the tide. The captain will be making constant corrections to get the proper drift and the angler will be walking the bait or jig along and keeping in touch with the bottom. Best fishing is downhill as the bottom gently drops. It is a lot harder to fish uphill and will involve a lot more bottom hookups. Rod motion should be gentle 1-2 foot lifts and touch bottom. The vibration of the weight/ jig hitting bottom and the scent trail insures a bite if halibut are present. It is very important to just touch bottom at the bottom of the stroke so you can strike upward after the bite if using a jig or J hook. When using circle hooks drop the rod and let them take it in. Once the spot has been found the periods as close to high and low slack are the best. By looking at the tide charts you can see the best times to plan a trip using the least amount of change between the high and low tides. It is very hard to get a good drift when you have 20 feet or more of change. In each month there will be a period of minimum change of between 5-9 feet. That is the best time and will allow the most relaxed drifts.
Bait/Lure size: Small lures/bait will catch small fish. There is an amazing variety of fish off our coast. You may waste a lot of time by using small jigs or bait that will keep you busy reeling up from the depths small rockfish, ling. greenling, ratfish, pollock, cod, sculpins, arrowtooth flounder, sole etc. When fishing for halibut use a big enough bait or jig to exclude the little ones. Got a whole salmon head, use it, Arrowtooth flounders are plentiful in many areas and you can waste a lot of time with them.
Landing: Boating a good halibut is tough, back breaking work. A fighting belt is a must have as a rod in the groin after an hour long battle certainly leaves a lasting impression. Many halibut are lost at the boat as anglers get excited and lift the head out of the water. That is sure to either end the battle or insure the angler will again have to bring the fish once more to the surface. Big halibut are best taken with a harpoon/spear and a rope tied to a float or strong cleat. Once subdued halibut should be bled for the best eating.