HALIBUT (Hippoglossus Stenolepis)
Halibuts are one of the West Coast’s largest sport fish, the Pacific halibut are native to the North Pacific ranging from the northeast of the Bering sea and Alaska to Baja California. While in the North West, they range from North of Japan to Siberia. Halibuts are bottom feeders and will essentially devour anything that comes across their way, living in the depths up to 1000 meters. They are one of BC’s most valuable commercial and recreational fish with large abundances in both BC and Alaska. Until recently, halibuts were mainly fished by commercial fishermen to accommodate the world’s appetite for this massive fish. However, halibuts are no longer just a commodity for the seafood industry, they have become a highly praised sport fish. These fish have a reputation for their incredible fighting capabilities and their aggressive characteristics. This popularity draws many adventurous sport fishermen from all over the world to come to visit BC every summer in the pursuit of this fish which can grow to monstrous proportions. The Pacific halibut is considered one of the largest flatfish in the world weighing up to 500 pounds.
Pacific halibut have flat diamond shaped bodies. They swim sideways, with the upper side featuring gray to dark brown skin with scales buried into their skin, which helps them blend in with the dark ocean floors. The underbelly of the halibut is typically white. Halibuts are born swimming like salmon, after 6 months of being in the sea their body begins to transform as their eyes begin to migrate to the top side of their body and they begin to swim sideways. Females will grow faster and live longer than their male counterpart, with a record of 55 years old. Although the average life span is 25 years. Due to their aggressive nature, large mouth and enormous size, it takes specialized methods and equipment to catch these Pacific monsters.
THE BEST TIME AND PLACES TO FISH HALIBUT
Halibut can be caught throughout the year in BC, although they are not as large as their northern counterparts in the colder waters of Alaska – halibuts in BC are plentiful and can be fished in the milder climates of Canada without having to venture too far North.
A famous underwater plateau just off the coast of Vancouver Island is an area that produces a large quantity of halibuts, commonly known as the “hali highway” or La Parouse bank. There are many other excellent areas near Ucluelet and Tofino including Long Beach, Amphitrite Bank and Cape Beale. If you are planning a trip to BC to fish for halibut, it is worth taking a trip to Vancouver’s northern tip of Port Hardy. For those who are willing to venture a bit even further where bigger fish are abundant, there is no better area for fishing halibut than that of Haida Gwaii. You will find some of the largest halibuts in BC within these waterways. The best fishing can be done between the months of May to September.
Pacfic halibut season runs from spring to fall. Most adult fish tend to remain in the same areas, making only a seasonal migration from the shallower feeding grounds in the summer to deeper spawning grounds in the winter.
Halibut that travel through Haida Gwaii are migratory, with the smaller sizes showing up first followed by the larger fish in the summertime. These halibuts are generally fished in the deeper waters and you can expect to catch them throughout the day.
There are a few local terms here for the different sizes of halibut – The slang term for halibut sizes:
- Chicken – Halibut in the 10 -15 lb range
- Turkey – Halibut in the 25+ range
- Barn doors – Halibut in the 100 lb range
TIPS TO CATCH HALIBUT
Their seasonal migrations from the deep waters(500-1200ft), bring a large number of these fish into the shallows (300ft). Halibuts will prey on local fish such as sculpin, sole, herring, octopus, crabs, clams, urchins, dogfish, rockfish and squid. They will essentially devour anything that will fit in their mouths.
Halibut fishing can be a bit more challenging due to their depth and range of habitats. A good method to try, is to begin trolling deep with a large spoon or hoochie, this method allows you to target both halibut and salmon. You must navigate fishing bottom structures, and elevated sandy bottoms. Halibut fishing requires fishing the right tide, not all tides are great for certain areas. There are a few different methods for targeting halibut, depending on the tide you may drift along certain areas to achieve bites by keeping your line straight up and down and backing the boat into the tide to slow your drift. Another effective method is anchoring and using techniques such as jigging. If jigging, a jig head with a weight of 24 oz would help you get to the required depths, tipping your hook with a piece of bait for scent will drastically help improve your chance of getting a bite.
The key notes for fishing halibut is to know the bottom structure, focus on specific areas, and choosing the correct bait – These are key components to have a successful day of halibut fishing.
There are a hand full of baits that are great attractors for halibut such as: salmon bellies, salmon heads, squid, octopus, herring, and geoducks. Keep in mind that halibut find food by movement and smell sensors – so try and use fresh bait whenever possible.
Average sizes: between 10-30lbs with some going over 100lbs.
Habitat and temperature: Live in deeper waters, preferring areas with sandy or gravel bottoms.
Biology: Males sexuall mature at 8 years old, females are able to reproduce by the age of 12. They spawn during the winter in the deep waters. Females can lay between 500,000 to 4 million eggs. Eggs hatch after 12 to 20 days and the larvae will float close to shore for the next 6 months until they reach their adult form and settle on the ocean floor in the shallow waters feeding on zooplankton. Halibuts grow as old as 50 but have an average life span of about 25 years.