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How to catch Halibut:
Halibut fishing in Washington & Canada

Precautions:

The main thing here is to evaluate your boat, your fuel capacity, your marine electronics, your boating experience & your own ability before you haphazardly set out to fish these waters.  A storm can come up rapidly after you are out on the water & you need to have the ability to evaluate the sea conditions & react accordingly.  This can be disastrous if you make a wrong decision 15 to 35 miles offshore.

NEVER go without a auxiliary motor of some kind.  Even a 5hp will keep you off the rocks, &  is one heck of a lot better than paddles.

NEVER go out without a VHF radio.  Channel 16 is the main Coast Guard communication channel.  Channel 68 seems to be the main "chatter" channel.

NEVER go outside without a partner boat.  It is also best to run in pairs at least.

 

Know the tide & wind conditions before you leave.  Carry a tool box & spare parts for your boat & motor.  A extra fuel / water filter is on the recommended list among the other normal things.

Also, let it be known that if you are having mechanical problems & have your head in the bilge, smelling bilge water & fuel fumes, with the boat bobbing around, even the hardiest have been known to get seasick.

Rod & Reels:

Most any semi-large reel that has the capability of holding 300-500 yards of line will work.  The Penn Senator 113  seems to be about right while the 114 will do, although it is somewhat larger.  Lately the Penn 330 or 340's have proven their worth.  However the 330's gears & drag may a little on the light side. One thing that may help on about any reel, is to change the crank handle & add a longer “power handle”. This will give you more cranking advantage. 

Since the advent of the spectra type lines, most halibut fishermen use this in about 80 to 100# range.  The Power Pro seems to be a good choice, but Fireline is also used.

Rods used are usually a 5'6" to 7’ roller tip boat rod, or what are sometimes called stand-up Tuna rods.  The shorter the rod the less strain on you fighting & cranking in a heavy fish. When you buy one of these, check to see the clearance of the roller to the tip sides.  The older rods were a sloppy fit here, as the older line was heavier, now with the new smaller diameter spectra lines, the line can jump off the roller & get wedged in cutting the line. Some of the newer roller guides have a "Vee" wheel with a narrow groove in the center, this tends to keep the line centered.  These rods are made by most rod manufacturers, & the economy Ocean City or Shakespeare seem to work quite well.   There is really no need to go out & buy expensive gear for the few trips the average fisherman makes for halibut each year.  You can even find good used rods & reels.  If after you have tried this fishery a while, then you may decide to upgrade, even to electric reels.

Terminal Gear:

Number one, keep the hooks sharp.       Canada has a 35 oz. sinker max.

There are a couple schools of thought here.  One is the old standby, the halibut spreader bar is used quite often.  This is a 1/8" stainless steel wire that is bent in and ell shape.  The larger ones are 20" long on one side & 8" on the other. At the corner of the ell, is a loop that is attached to the mainline.  A 2# cannonball is attached on the short arm, & it is best with a short length of 30# mono as a breakaway if it gets hung up. 120 # mono or a wire leader about 18” to the end the long arm.  A large bait hook of about 7/0 - 9/0 is then attached to this leader.  If you plan on using circle hooks, then you need to wait until the fish takes the bait & starts running with it.  He needs to swallow the bait & be GOING AWAY when you set this hook.

The spreader bar is used to keep the bait from tangling with the sinker when it is lowered to the bottom.  And the halibut do not seem to shy away because of the spreader bar.  There is also the theory that if you bounce the bar & sinker on the bottom it attracts the halibut.  This has been called ringing the dinner bell.  If you have a 4’- 6'  swell, then just allow the swell to bounce the bar on the bottom.

The bait when used on the spreader can be about anything.  Use what is available, if no fresh bait, then buy black label “horse herring”.  The thought that, big bait - big fish, & this seems to tend to be true many times here.  Along with this you can add a plastic worm to make a larger attraction.  Bait can also be salmon gills, belly meat with fins, or ling cod skin, macherel, fillet of true cod, squid & octopus.  Some halibut fishermen raid the gut bin on the docks the night before they head out. You can also inject herring oil to the bait.  This is fine unless you get into a bunch of dog-fish sharks.

The one thing that you probably should consider is that if you are using bait, let them take it before you set the hook.  Don't set the hook on the first bite as with fishing this deep you want the fish to take the bait good, & not pull it out of his  mouth.

The jigs can be many different types, from the old homemade type pipe jigs, to the lead-head jigs in sizes up to 32oz.  The lead-head will need a  plastic swim-tail added.  These swim-tails can be about any color, but glo in the dark or white or  seem the best.

When fishing jigs, the best out there are Younquist Jigs, these are made in Paulsbo WA, by an ex-commercial halibut jig fisherman.  And are available thru a few stores  who specialize in halibut tackle around the Puget sound area.  Put a 24oz led-head on the bottom, up about 24” tie a dropper & add a swim-tail & hook, (no lead).  What this does is makes the lead jig the weight & the upper hook will probably catch the fish as it is more visible, since the lead jig is on the bottom.  The lead jig is what attracted the fish with the bouncing the bottom, but the upper one was what the fish saw & took.

The combo of these may be best, as if you are fishing only bait, & get a bite, you do not know if the bait was stripped off or not.  Do not be afraid to add bait to the jig to add to the size of the lure.  You then wait a while to see if the bite returns, if it does not then a decision has to be made, do I pull this heavy gear up 250' to 500' just to see, or do I wait a while longer?  No matter what your decision, if you pull it the bait will still be there, & if you did not, then it is probably gone. However if you fish a combo, you still have the upper jig/swim-tail working.

Another method of getting & or keeping your gear down
If the tide & or wind makes it hard to keep your gear down at a decent angle, put your motor in reverse & back into the wind.  A problem here is sometimes it gets difficult to keep the boat backing straight.  Also be sure you keep the lines out of the prop.

Some anglers will use a downrigger to get the bait down in the deeper depths.  This can be used in conjunction with anchoring, trolling or back-trolling.  I would only consider this in an area that was relatively level & a gravel bottom, as hang-ups in rocky locations are not easy to deal with.  

In Canada this also will get around the 35oz max weight limit.

Fighting Belt & Harnesses

When fighting larger fish you will need a fighting belt, which has a socket in front that the rod butt fits into.  This saves many bruises on the body.  Also there is a separate shoulder harness you can get that just snaps around you & has straps that snap into the rings of the reel. With this harness the strain of holding the rod is transferred to the shoulders.

The key to fighting large fish, is to slightly squat, & reel down, when you straighten up lean back slightly.  This simple movement takes some strain off your upper body, & greatly aids in cranking the large fish in from deep water.

Landing the Fish

With fish under 25# you can net or gaff them & hit them over the head MANY times with a fish bonker.  Above that weight, and at least in the 40# & up size, you should consider a harpoon.  If you are inexperienced in harpooning, it may be best for you to practice on the 25-30# fish.  The practice here may well be worth the effort when you happen to catch the big one.  

These harpoons have a 4-6' handle with a 3/8" straight shaft extending out about 12", a detachable head, of a couple different head designs, that simply slides onto this shaft, with a wire cable of a couple of feet to an eye.  Into the eye is snapped a 1/4" nylon rope about 25’ long.  This rope end can then be attached to a 15”+ round anchor/mooring float. The harpoon head is attached to the line & the float is attached to the other end of the line.

In use, the harpoon head is held onto the shaft with a couple of rubber bands, (these break away when the fish is hit).  Before you hit the fish, throw the float over the side close to the boat & out of the way of the fish, be sure there are no tangled feet & that the line can be quickly thrown over if the fish is large & you can not hold her.  Have someone hang onto the rope until you see what happens after you have harpooned the fish.  You may be able to handle it with this line.

To use the harpoon, fight the fish with the rod, & when it is subdued, bring the fish up, but be careful not to bring it’s head out of the water, as this seems to excite them into going back to the bottom.   You need to give the harpooner  a good chance to place the harpoon in the proper spot.  Have the harpoon over the fish 6”-12” and aim for just  behind the gill cover & the below backbone.  Some prefer above the backbone, but if you hit it here, be prepared for more resistance.  You however do not want to hit her lower in the main belly area as the harpoon may pull out.  Thrust the harpoon quickly & expend lots of energy as the harpoon head has to go ALL THE WAY THROUGH the fish the FIRST TIME.  Then the toggle type will turn sideways below the fish, & will not come out.  If the fish is large & you can not hold it by the harpoon line after the harpooning, then throw the line over the side,  let the fish & attached float go.  The fisherman should be prepared to loosen his drag at the instant the harpoon hits, as if the fish runs, it may break the line at a knot. It makes sense to still have the fish attached to the fish line even though it may be harpooned.

There are a couple of other devices that will help landing her.  One is the Flying Gaff, which is a shark hook of about a 19/0 that is attached to 10-15' of 3/8" nylon rope.  Depending on how deep you boat is, you may be able to reach the halibut without a handle on the hook.  In use, this shark hook's rope is wound onto one end a 4' wooden handle, with the rope wound around over the hook & lower handle so that it can quickly be disconnected..  This gives you the advantage of a handle to use to place the hook in the fish & then when you pull the handle & or the rope, the rope will unwrap & you then have just the rope with the hook sunk into the fish.  You want to place the hook in the fish's mouth with the point coming out between it's eyes.   Another thing that can be worthwhile is a farmers hay hook, (the Dee handle type).  This can be used as a gaff, & it has more of a gripping area than an ordinary gaff.

This Flying Gaff can also be attached to a separate float & used by itself instead of a harpoon.

In Washington waters a firearm can be used to dispatch halibut, some use a 38 Special pistol, while others swear by a 410 shotgun.  The "Snake Charmer" is a nice little shotgun for this.   Do not try to take a gun into Canada.

If it is a large fish, while still in the water, you can then cut the gills to bleed it out, run a rope thru the gills & out the mouth, without getting your hand in the mouth.  Tie the fish off beside the boat until it is bled out.  However be watchful for blue sharks, as you may have to bring the fish aboard sooner than anticipated.  If you have to bring it in the boat & there is a chance it still has some life, you can tie a rope from the gills back to the tail & pull the fish’s tail up into a bow, & tie it off.  This method will keep the fish from flopping on the deck.  A large mad fish can raise havoc on the deck of any boat.

Where to Fish:

There seems to be more than one of schools of thoughts here.

The best seems to be locate a somewhat flat gravel bottom, in a reasonable water depth, usually around 300’, while some may be 600'.  Most of the nautical charts show the structure of the bottom.  This method also will tend to have less hang ups.

The other thought is to find a pinnacle, or high flat & fish that.  The problem I have seen here is that these tend to be more rocky & more hang ups & loosing gear.  You will more likely catch Lings, & Yelloweye in locations like this.

According to Al Seda at Big Salmon Fishing Resort in Neah Bay, the best for inside halibut of the year is if you can get a tide with low run off  in May, is to fish the "Garbage dump".  This location is in the straits, between Wadda Island & Tatoosh. Island.  This area has traditionally had nice halibut in the 150# range pulled from it this time of the year & can be fished with with smaller boats with less fuel capacity that required if you plan on hitting some of the "outside" spots.  He says that after this time, then the large fish seem to move out.

The best for a newby, is to get known GPS locations from other fishermen.  A few for Washington waters are,

Garbage Dump "A"          
Garbage Dump "B"          
Garbage Dump "C"          
Hali Heaven 1 48-22-00 124-55-50 360' gravel 14 miles W Tatoosh, big flat area
Hali Heaven 2 48-24-65 124-59-99 320' gravel 14 miles W Tatoosh, big flat area
NW Tattoosh Island 48-23-196 124-44-533

Washington regulations (these rules are dated material and likely have changed a great deal by the time you are reading this. This material is posted for general info only  ...PLEASE check with the official law enforcement agency before fishing):

The yearly halibut season with quotas for each marine area established by the Pacific halibut Commission.  The opener date may vary from area to area, but it generally starts about May 1.  These seasons will run until the quota is reached in poundage for that particular area.  The daily limit in Washington waters is only 1 halibut.

Each marine area in Washington State may well have different regulations, as to season opener dates, closed days of the week, size limit, etc.  Therefore look at the regulations carefully.  Area  #1 & #2 are open 7 days a week, while  #3 & #4 are closed  Sunday & Monday, area #5 & #6  are closed Friday & Saturday.  Area #1 has a minimum size limit, while the others do not.

There is one confusing item under (1999 Species Rules)  this says "halibut may not be landed in a port closed to halibut fishing".  It took 2 e-mails to WDFW enforcement before I got a specific YES back that we can legally catch Canadian halibut with a Canadian license in Canadian waters & return to Neah Bay on Sunday, (area #4, which is closed Sun. & Mon.).  This language is confusing & needs to be changed.  Under this same heading it also states "Only one line with up to two hooks may be used.  It also states, halibut may be shot while landing with a gaff or dip net."

There are some halibut sanctuary closure areas off the coast, (both Canadian & US) so it may be beneficial to use your GPS & chart plotter to locate the corners of these closures.

Also for the year 2001 WDFW has imposed a limit of 1 or 2 (depending on how you read it) yelloweye, (commonly called red snapper),  in your bag limit.  This can pose a problem as these fish can be located in the same general deep water area as halibut.  When you bring one of these up from this deep water, it's air bladder will generally turn inside out & pop out the fish's mouth.  The word is that if you throw them back, in time, the air bladder will return into the fish.  However during this time the yelloweye will have it's movement impaired & can become prey for seagulls.  The first thing seagulls will do is to pick the fish's eyes out.  

Some sports fishermen have recommended that you can puncture this air bladder with a sharp hypodermic type needle.  This will allow it to deflate & the fish can swim off within a few minutes.  This hole seems to be small enough that it does not do any lasting damage & the hole will heal.

Canadian regulations (these rules are dated material and likely have changed a great deal by the time you are reading this. This material is posted for general info only  ...PLEASE check with the official law enforcement agency before fishing):

Number one, do not have a firearm on your boat if you intend to go to Canada.  As you can not shoot halibut in Canada, much less have a unregistered firearm in your possession.
 

The above information was used with the permission LeeRoy Wisner of  www.pugetsoundanglers.org
LeeRoy Wisner had posted several EXTREMELY informative articles on the Puget Sound Anglers website and we strongly recommend visiting that website or
click here to email him directly. As an editor's note I must say that in my lifetime of searching every available resource I have never come across so many helpful and informative articles as those written by LeeRoy Wisner. Thanks again and hats to LeeRoy for giving us permission to post these articles so that you can learn more about fishing and hopefully you catch more fish!