Overview

Pacific Halibut - Hippoglossus stenolepis

Also known as: Alabato, Northern Halibut, Right Halibut

The Pacific halibut occurs in cold waters of the North Pacific from the Bering Sea south to about Santa Rosa Island, California, on the American side and to northern Japan (including the Okhotsk Sea) on the Asian side. The Pacific halibut is highly migratory. Tagging operations have shown that some adult specimens travel 2,000 miles or more, though others appear to remain near the spawning grounds. In northern areas large halibut can be found in relatively shallow waters, but in the warmer southern portions of their range they may go as deep as 600 fathoms or more.

This is the largest Pacific flatfish and very much resembles the Atlantic halibut, Hippoglossus hippoglossus. The teeth are strong and equally well developed on both sides of the jaws. Coloration is uniformly dark brown or gray on the top side (often will small, lighter spots), and white and relatively featureless on the blind side.

Females grow to weights of over 470 lb. (213 kg), live to a maximum age of 35-45 years and may attain a length of 9 ft. (3 m). By comparison, males probably do not exceed 40 lb. (18 kg) or 55 in. (140 cm), and their maximum life expectancy appears to be about 25 years. The females are more numerous than the males and grow faster, except during the early stages of development.

The young feed primarily on crustaceans. Adults are piscivorous but will consume large crustaceans, squid, and other mollusks. Stomach contents indicate that large halibut feed in midwater as well as near the bottom. They can be caught while drift fishing on the bottom with heavy tackle, using baits like cod, herring, squid, mackerel or smaller flatfishes.

Habitats

The Open Ocean

Fishing in the open ocean is an endeavor that only confident and experienced anglers should attempt. To successfully and safely target pelagic fish species that live in the open ocean, specialized tackle and boats are typically required. The easiest way to experience offshore angling for those anglers who don’t have larger boats is to book a fishing charter.

When researching charter boats that you’re thinking of hiring, be sure to ask plenty of questions before booking your trip. Ask about the length of the trip, what species you’ll be targeting, how may people can the boat hold, will the trip be private or open to other customers and anything else you may think of. If you would like to keep any of your catch for dinner, be sure to clarify what the boat’s policy is on fish that are caught. Depending on where you’re booking a charter, some charter crews have a policy of taking fish to local auctions to sell fish that the anglers catch. Always remember that you don’t ever have to keep a fish in order to get it mounted. Exact replicas of fish can be made with only a few pictures.

Open ocean fishing takes place all over the country but certain regions require a farther boat ride offshore in order to find good fishing grounds. Eastern states typically require a longer trip out to the fishing grounds (with the exception of Southern Florida) whereas states along the Pacific Ocean have steeper dropoffs and require a much shorter ride to find deeper waters.

Open ocean pelagic species of fish include tunas, billfish, dolphin, wahoo and some shark species.

Rocky Sea Floor

Out in the open ocean, there is very little structure. Consequently, many game fish congregate around underwater areas of relief or areas that provide shelter. While not as dense and diverse as a reef's ecosystem, the rocky bottom still provides protection for many species of baitfish and plankton. They also allow for places for predators to ambush prey. All of these factors make rocky areas a great place to fish. The best methods for fishing these areas include deep dropping and jigging.

Fishing Methods

Bottom Bouncing

Bottom bouncing is done from a drifting or trolling boat, and it’s a great way to attract or locate fish during most seasons and times of day. Use a buck tail jig or natural bait and drag it along the bottom. The dragging motion causes the lure to bounce along stirring up small clouds of sand or mud. After a few strikes with bottom bouncing, you can drop anchor and apply other methods to hook the particular kind of species you’ve attracted.

Drift Fishing

Drift fishing allows you to fish over a variety of habitats as your boat drifts with the currents or wind movement. You can drift fish on the bottom or change the depth with a bobber or float. Natural baits work very well but jigs, lures and scented artificial baits will produce good results, too. When drift fishing with multiple baits and rods, it is always a good idea to set out each bait at a different depth. This allows the angler to cover more of the water column.

Saltwater Jigging

Jigging lures, or “jigs”, are some of the most versatile lures in that can be used in just about any place you find fish. Jigs comes in all shapes, colors, styles and weights and can be fished in a variety of different manners so that they mimic baitfish. The two most common jigs are probably the bucktail jig and the vertical jig.

A bucktail jig will typically consist of a lead head, that can be a variety of different shapes and sizes, which is molded onto a hook and has hair-like material tied to the bottom of the jig head. This hair-like material is where the name “bucktail” comes from because many bucktail jigs are made using hair from a deer. The bucktail hair and jighead come in a variety of different colors. These bucktail jigs can be fished by themselves or they can be rigged with a rubber worm, live shrimp or other natural baits like strips of fish.

A vertical jig, or speed jig, is made of a long and slender piece of lead or metal that cuts through the water mimicking an injured baitfish. Vertical jigs will have one or more dangling hooks attached to a split ring which can be attached to the top or the bottom of the jig. Vertical jigs range anywhere from 1/8oz up to 14oz and are also referred to as “butterfly jigs.”

When fishing with jigs, it is important that the angler constantly jig the lure up and down by constantly lifting the rod tip up and down. A good method for jigging is to drop the jig all the way down to the bottom and with a very rapid retrieval, twitch the rod tip erratically until the jig comes to the surface and repeat. No matter which type of jig you are using, it is important to match the weight of each jig to the depth at which you are fishing. Deeper water will require heavier jigs to reach the bottom. It is also important to take the tides and current into consideration when choosing your jig weight.

Still Fishing

Still fishing is a versatile way to go. You can do it from a pier, a bridge, an anchored boat or from shore. And you can still fish during most seasons and during any part of the day. Your equipment and the size of the hooks and bait you use depend on what kind of fish you’re after. Your best equipment for still fishing is patience. You have to wait for the fish to bite. A great method for still fishing is to use one rod with natural bait that will soak or sit on the bottom as well as a casting rod with an artificial bait or lure. While you’re letting your natural bait soak, you can keep occupied and cover more ground while taking casts with a lure.

Bait & Lures

Crabs

Hard-shell, soft-shell and peeler crabs are all good bait for saltwater fish. You can pull them apart or use them whole. To hook a whole crab, bore the hook through the shell like a drill. Work the hook through the pointed part of the shell on either side of the body. Hooked this way, the crab will live pretty well and provide some action to attract fish.

Cut Bait

Using fish cut into pieces attracts fish in a different way than whole, live bait or lures. Fish that are attracted to scent are more likely to hit on cut bait. You can use just about any baitfish to make cut bait as well as other fish species. Before using any fish as cut bait, always make sure the fish you plan on using is a legal species and meets the minimum size requirement, if there is a size limit on that species. All size and species regulations can be obtained at tackle shops or your state’s fishing law enforcement website.

Saltwater Live Bait

Using live bait such as shrimp or various baitfish is a very effective method to use while targeting pelagic species of predatory fish. “Baitfish” is a term that refers to any saltwater schooling fish that serve as a food source to other larger fish. Species used are typically those that are common and breed rapidly, making them easy to catch and in regular supply. Good examples of marine bait fish are anchovies, ballyhoo (sometimes referred to as halfbeaks), herring, menhaden and scad.