Gearing Up for Halibut Fishing
Halibut are one of the most sought-after saltwater game fish on the West Coast. They are revered for their flaky, snow-white meat and can grow to massive sizes with fish of over 400lbs swimming around out there.
That being said, a large 400lb fish would be a spawning female with millions of eggs and she would not make good table fare. There are size restrictions on these fish to be aware of. Anglers may not retain a halibut over 133cm in length. The current regulations for halibut are a daily and possession limit of one fish between 90cm-130cm or two fish less than 90cm in length. A retained fish must be recorded on your tidal water license. You may retain a maximum of 10 halibut per year.
While there is the odd incidental catch of halibut in our Southern BC waters, they’re not abundant. Most halibut fishing for residents in the Lower Mainland occurs off the southern tip of Vancouver Island (Victoria/Sooke), up the West Coast to the northern tip of Vancouver Island, and all the way up the remaining portion of the coast.
Ways to Fish for Halibut
Before discussing how to fish for halibut, knowing where halibut like to frequent is important. Their preferred bottom type is sand or gravel and depths can range from 100’ to 300’.
The most common way to fish for halibut is to anchor, drift, jig or troll.
Anchoring is a very productive way to catch halibut, especially for fish that are on the larger side. Halibut have an incredible sense of smell and can smell in the parts per million. When anchoring, you’re hoping to use the current and tide to lure a big halibut to the boat.
Sometimes, you can get lucky and drop right in on a bunch of fish but more often it takes a bit of time for them to sniff out your baits. Anglers will sometimes use a bait bag or bait jar loaded with fish guts and other inedible parts to really get a scent trail going. The use of scents is highly recommended to increase the scent trail under your boat. Check out The Benefits of Using Scents and Attractants blog post.
Drifting with the current is another popular method. When fishing this way, you’re able to cover a lot of ground and really search out where fish may be hanging out. With both the drifting and anchored method, your gear is lowered to the bottom. Once it hits, you’ll want to reel up a few feet. When your gear isn’t laying directly on the bottom, you’ll be able to see bites better, set the hook quicker and more effectively and put more fish in the boat.
Halibut can also be caught by jigging with a traditional jig lure or large swim baits. We will look at these in depth when we look at the different baits and lures.
Halibut can also be caught with salmon trolling gear. Sometimes this occurs as a by-catch when salmon fishing. If fishing in an area that’s been producing a lot of halibut, trolling a spoon, plug or an anchovy can get you into fish. We recommend a slightly slower troll than you would normally be doing for salmon.
Rods for Halibut Fishing
Halibut can attain large sizes and live close to the bottom. The lures and weights being used are often at least 1lb, so a stout heavy-duty rod is the order of the day. Typically, one-piece rods in 5’11”-7’ in a medium-heavy to extra-heavy power are the norm. A one-piece rod may not be as convenient to transport as a 2-piece, but they’re more durable.
Popular rods for anchoring or drifting are Shakespeare UglyStiks and the Trophy XL 600 Series Halibut Rod. If you’re going to be jigging for halibut then consider the Shakespeare Tiger Jigging Rod or the Luhr Jensen Legacy Jigging Rod.
Reels for Halibut Fishing
The same type of reel can be used for anchoring, drifting and jigging. A large baitcasting or levelwind reel is the best. You can put them into free spool to get your gear down into the strike zone faster. The drags are strong and capable and line capacities are generous enough for the heavy line used in this fishery.
Also, these reels are geared so they have a greater gear ratio for a faster pick up which is especially nice when fishing deeper water.
Ideally, we like to stay away from reels that have the levelwind feature on them. It’s nice to have your line guided onto the reel while you retrieve but this is one of the three parts that could fail and make your reel inoperable. This is much more inconvenient than guiding your line onto the reel yourself. Good options for reels that do not have a levelwind mechanism would be the Penn Squall, Shimano Torium and the Shimano Talica. Reels that have levelwinds that are good would be the Penn Rival and Penn Warfare.
Mainline and Leader for Halibut
When anchored, drifting or jigging for halibut there’s not much of a discussion about which fishing line to use.
Braided line is the only way to go. The small diameter of the line for the breaking strength is a positive, no stretch for instant better hooks sets and better strike detection are all reasons that there’s no debate on this topic. Braided line is the superior mainline. We usually use 80lb or 100lb. Power Pro, Tuf-Line XP and Suffix 832 braid are the most popular choices.
Now when trolling, monofilament mainline is still quite popular and acceptable. Braided line with a top shot of mono is also a viable option and is becoming more and more popular with salmon anglers. Maxima Ultragreen in 30lb or Berkley Big Game 30lb are good monofilaments to go with as an entire mainline or as your top shot to a 50lb or 65lb braid.
Leader material for anchoring, drifting and jigging would be monofilament of 80lb, 100lb or 130lb. You leader length should be 6’-8’. Maxima Ultragreen or Berkley Big Game are once again the popular choices. When trolling your standard salmon sized leader material of 30lb or 40lb mono is sufficient.
Terminal Tackle Setup
The most common way to set up for halibut fishing when anchoring or drifting is using a spreader bar. A Gibbs Halibut Spreader Bar gives you a place to attach mainline, weight and leader. It helps to give you separation from the leader and mainline, reducing any chance of tangles when lowering gear.
Spreader bars come with a swivel to tie your mainline to, a clip to attach the weight to and a clip for the leader. You will need a swivel off the leader.
When jigging you would attach a swivel to the mainline and then run a 2’-3’ leader and then you lure.
When trolling, your typical salmon setup would be used. A swivel off the mainline with a quick-change clip, a flasher, a 6’ leader and the lure. The exception to this setup is when using a Tomic Plug. Then the lure gets attached directly to the mainline and no flasher is used.
Lures and Baits
There’s an array of different things to use as a lure or bait off the end of a spreader bar rig. Halibut will take pieces of octopus, squid or salmon scrap pieces.
These are all baits that will work on their own, but we really do like to fish these along with an 8” Berkley Power Grub in white or glow or 6” Berkley Gulp Grubs in white, white glow or chartreuse. These grubs work well by themselves, but adding a little extra flavour is never a bad idea.
One of the advantages of using the grub/bait combo is if a bite occurs and the bait gets pulled off you still have an effective lure in the water. If you were using only a bait then you would have only bare hooks down there, which is highly unsuccessful. When setting up the combo rig we like to use tandem 8/0-10/0 Gamakatsu Octopus Hooks, Owner Cutting Point or the VMC Octopus Hooks.
Another quick way to set up grubs is to thread them onto a Gibbs Bullet Jig Head. This would only require a swivel and short leader and you’re ready to fish. The only comment we would make is that the bullet jig heads hooks are thicker and generally not as sharp as the Gamakatsu, Owner or VMC hooks, but they do work. Many halibut dinners have happened because of a bullet jig head success.
Another effective option to use off a spreader bar would be large swim baits. We like the Delta Power Paddle in the 10oz or 16oz size in the Herring Aid, Glow Green or UV Orange Black or Lighthouse Lures Max Shad 6oz in the Bazooka, Garfield White Line or Glowcaine.
The Lighthouse Lures Electronic Flashing Squid 7” or 9” in the Glow Menace or White Monster are also effective. The swim baits and the squid have an incredible action to them. A natural bait could always be added to spice them up a bit.
As mentioned earlier in the article, when trolling for Halibut, they will bite standard salmon gear such as spoons like the Luhr Jensen Coyotes, Gold Star Kingfishers, Gibbs G-Force and Lighthouse Lures Big Eye or bait like anchovies or herring in a Rhys Davis Teaser Head.
We hope this article has been helpfully if you have any questions at all feel free to call us at 604-931-5044, send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org or stop by the shop 110-1140 Austin Ave Coquitlam.
Good luck on the water.
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