Facts about Halibut
Halibut are an unusual game fish that many people have on their bucket list or list of fishing trips they do each year and rightfully so!
Everyone knows they are one of the best fish to prepare for the table and the white mild flaky flesh allows you to experiment with many different halibut recipes and cooking methods. I have put together a few interesting facts about the magnificent Pacific halibut.
The Pacific halibut is within the flounder family and has a few unique characteristics only found in the flounder family. When they hatch from the egg they have an eye on each side of their body and swim like all other fish. Then as the fish grows and after about 6 months one of the eyes migrates to the other side of the body. The juvenile fish begins to swim on its side with both eyes on the same side – the upper side. The top of the halibut is dark brown and mottled to match the ocean floor and the underside is white to match the light from above.
The Halibut Life Cycle
Halibut reach spawning maturity anywhere from 8-15 years old with the females taking a few extra years to mature. Halibut spawn in the winter months from November to March in very deep water ranging from 6-1200 feet! Females will lie up to 4 million eggs depending on their size and maturity. The eggs drift in the ocean currents into the shallow coastal waters before they hatch. These waters offer protection and better nutrition for the juveniles to grow to maturity.
Juvenile halibut 1-3 years old feed on small crustaceans, plankton and other small organisms. The adult halibut will feed on nearly anything is can fit in its mouth, octopus, crabs, clams, salmon, cod, pollock, flounder, sculpins, lamprey, herring, and other halibut. Needless to say Pacific halibut are the very top of the marine food chain. Predators include killer whales, salmon sharks, sea lions, otters, and of course humans.
Size and Age
The world record pacific halibut caught on line and reel has a lot of discussion around it.
Halibut are the largest “flatfish” within the flounder family. The males typically won’t grow to be over 100 pounds whereas the females can live longer and grow to 600 pounds or more! This is why some fisheries have restrictions on the size and length of halibut retention. It is important to allow the large “spawner” females to be released back to the depths in order to benefit the future of the fishery. Typically the smaller fish from 20-60 pounds will be the best eating anyways. Halibut have a bone in the ear that can be cut open and you can count the rings to determine the number of years old it is much like the rings of a tree. Halibut are thought to live as old as 50 years.
To count, it must be brought aboard your vessel alive and not be shot and gaffed in the water to pull it aboard. It is much safer to bring an enormous halibut aboard after it has expired. Currently the record is 459 pounds from Alaska but many bigger fish have been “caught” that didn’t qualify for the hook and line record. In addition many halibut are released each year that would contend with that record. Just last season our outfitter in British Columbia released a fish that measured 7’6”!
Where can you find Pacific Halibut?
Halibut have a very large range from the northern waters of Alaska’s Bering Sea all the way down the coast to California. Typically the better fishing for halibut is farther north from the coastal waters of British Columbia up to Alaska. The populations and size of Pacific halibut in US waters from the coast of Washington to California are fairly low and although you can fish them here certain rules and regulations have been put in place to protect the fishery. The Pacific halibut is much larger than its cousin, the California halibut.
Halibut are found and fished in waters from 50-500 feet and typically live in areas of mud, sand, or gravel bottoms. Mature halibut migrate seasonally into different depths of water. Some have been tagged for research and tracked up to 2,000 miles up and down the Alaskan, British Columbia, and Washington Coast!
Fishing tackle and how to fish for halibut.
Most fishing for halibut will be with a circle hook and bait or a large jig tipped with bait. The circle hook allows the fish to be hooked in the corner of the mouth and not fully swallow the hook, which allows a better survival rate for released halibut. Halibut are professional feeders and will eat anything that looks and smells like food. Common baits are herring, salmon chunks such as tail and head, and octopus. You will commonly fish heavy weights to get your bait quickly to the bottom and either jig it or let it sit. Often times your guide will chum the water with a chum bag dropped to the bottom. It won’t take more than 30 minutes for the scent to work its way through the water column and bring in fish that are near. You will be ready with your rod and when the first fish hits it’s usually on for the rest of the boat. Halibut often come and go in schools.
Alaska Ocean Fishing Gear List
Suggested Gear List for Halibut, Salmon, Lingcod and Rockfish in Alaska.
Be sure to talk to your guide about any specific gear that you should bring, but this list should cover you.
- Passport (if needed), and copy of Passport
- Airline tickets, Credit cards, Wallet, Cash, Cell Phone/Charger
- Ball-point pen and Sharpie
- Reading material
- Travel Insurance Documentation
- Travel toothbrush, toothpaste
- Bar of soap in a zip lock bag, shampoo
- Travel Kleenex tissues, packet of wet wipes
- Shaving and grooming articles
- Eye drops. Contact lens wearers should bring extra glasses (in case of irritation)
- 3M Nexcare waterproof bandages
- Moleskin with travel scissors (essential)
- Neosporin ointment
- Anti-diarrhea medicine (e.g. Imodium AD)
- Tylenol or Advil and throat lozenges
- Motion sickness pills
- Antacid (e.g. Pepto-Bismol tablets)
- Gold Bond medicated powder
- Sunscreen, at least 30 SPF, (bring extra)
- After-sun aloe-vera lotion
- Packets to mix with bottled water (e.g. Mio, Crystal Light)
- Insect repellent spray, Benadryl 2% cream (bugs are seldom a problem)
- Prescription medicine (2 week – ample supply)
- (Bring any medication that you’re already taking and any that you think you might need on the trip.)
- For Airport Security, carry copies of the Doctor Rx or the actual Prescription bottles.
- Polarized sunglasses, (at least 2)
- Optical cloth cleaner or solution
- Small flashlight or headlamp with extra batteries
- Travel alarm clock
- Extra luggage ID tags
- Gallon zip-lock bags for waterproofing and ice
- Small roll of Gorilla tape and zap a gap
- Ear Plugs
- Personal clothes for climate, long underwear / wool or polar fleece socks / dinner clothes (casual nice)
- Warm sweater or Hooded coat for under rain gear.
- Layers of clothing for fishing. Including windbreaker.
- Hiking shoes + second pair of shoes.
- Sandals and shoes to wear around the lodge.
- Lip balm
- Bug spray for mosquitoes and some no-seeums
General Fishing Gear
- Hook file
- Fishing pliers and/or hemostats
- Line clippers, pocket knife
- Small boat towel, sunglass wipe-cleaners
- Small first aid kit
- Waterproof bag for camera equipment etc.
- Panatone marking pens: orange, pink, yellow
When to fish for halibut
The best time for halibut is the summer seasons from Mid May to Mid September, as the halibut tend to migrate back into shallower waters at this time. The best month in my opinion is June or July, many big fish have made their way into the shallower waters. In addition to halibut the other bottom fishing is good at this time as well as King Salmon. The months of August and September can also be great fishing and you will have the opportunity to combo your halibut trips with Silver Salmon!
Edible meat yield per fish
So just how much halibut meat can you harvest off of one fish? Each fish will vary slightly in yield but you can expect 50% of the fish weight to be filleted for your enjoyment. Also a delicacy is the halibut cheeks; don’t forget to have your guide cut out the cheeks of the bigger halibut, as this is the best handful of delicious flaky meat you will ever taste!
A halibut fishing trip is a fun experience and great opportunity to pair filling the freezer with a fun and exciting fishing vacation. Many halibut trips are quite economical when you look at the pounds of fresh fish you are bringing home. If you were to buy fresh Alaskan halibut at the market it sells anywhere from 20-28 dollars per pound. Just one three day fishing trip can have you and your family and friends enjoying fresh halibut all winter long!