Alaska halibut fishing is one of the premier saltwater angling opportunities in the Great Land. Pacific halibut are the largest of all the flatfish species and can grow to outrageously large proportions. An average halibut is about 25 pounds, but fish over 100 pounds are fairly common. Each halibut yields four white-meat, delicious fillets. Most anglers also harvest the two cheeks, one from each side of the fish.
Halibut are apex predators and feed on salmon, herring, needlefish, octopus, squid, cod, crabs, greenling and just about anything they can fit in their mouths. They sometimes get mislabeled as lazy bottomfish looking for something dead to eat and that is simply not true. Halibut are opportunistic and won’t pass up an easy meal, but since not too many of those exist, they must ambush prey in order to survive.
Halibut find prey by sight, smell, and sound. When Alaska halibut fishing, the two most effective ways to target them are by jigging lures or by fishing with bait, or both. For either technique, you can choose to drift to cover more water, or to fish from anchor and bring the halibut to you. When fishing from anchor, a common technique is to have some anglers fish bait just off the bottom, while others pound the bottom with jigs. This combination produces sight, smell and sound attractors which bring in halibut. Oftentimes, anglers seek to get in position and anchored a few hours before the tide change. This allows them to begin to send scent out to draw in halibut. When the tide changes, scent is dispersed in the opposite direction, bringing fish from other areas to your baits.
Rods for Alaska halibut fishing are typically 5- to 6½ feet in length, with a heavy rating and able to handle several pounds of lead and bait. Reels need to be able to hold at least 300 yards of 80-pound-test braid, with a capable drag to slow down rampaging triple-digit flatfish. For leaders, some anglers use commercial-style gangion line rated in the 100- to 200-pound-test class. Others prefer materials like fluorocarbon or nylon monofilament in a similar sizes.
Hook style and size are a personal preference, but in general, bigger baits should be fished with bigger hooks. Many anglers choose to use circle hooks when fishing bait, as this style of hook typically results in a solid hook up and few lost fish. The key to using this style hook is to wait until the rod bends before doing anything. Once it does, a few turns of the reel handle are usually all that’s needed to set the hook. When Alaska halibut fishing with circle hooks, resist the temptation to jerk to set the hook when the fish is biting, as this hook style can’t be set like a typical J-hook.
Jig fishing is a very productive way to catch halibut. Jig style is a personal preference with imitative metal jigs that represent baitfish, and lead-head jigs with curly-tail grubs being two of the most popular styles. These lures are fished with J-hooks or offset Siwash-style hooks, so when a halibut bites, set the hook! Adding scent like Pro-Cure Butt Juice Super Gel to the jig and tipping the hook with a chunk of bait can sometimes help ignite the bite.
When Alaska halibut fishing, look for spots that have a soft bottom as halibut often like to lay in the mud looking to ambush prey. Their brown, mottled skin on the topside blends superbly with the bottom. Halibut will also relate to structure, holding on the slopes of humps waiting for baitfish, crabs, or whatever to head their way.
One of the benefits of Alaska halibut fishing with Fish Baranof is that you can keep two halibut of any size. When fishing on a charter boat, anglers are required to keep fish in a reverse slot limit. In 2021, when you DIY halibut fish, you can keep two halibut per angler, per day, of any size. Learn more about the regulations.