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Halibut

PERSONAL BEST!!!!  105 pounds.  Kodiak, AK Aug 2014




Hippoglossus stenolepis, the Pacific Halibut.  For the average angler on the West Coast, it is THE largest fish that we can catch from a kayak and retain on a regular basis.  For a fish that averages 10 to 30 pounds BUT with the possibility of hooking a fish over 400 pounds, the halibut presents a serious challenge for kayak anglers.


One of the finest eating fish in the ocean, retailing for well over $20 per pound (fillets), the greatest challenge is perhaps safely dispatching the halibut from a small kayak.  Along side the kayak is not only the moment where most fish are lost but it is also the most dangerous time. 

 My then 10 year old son with a 65 pound halibut he caught in 2015


Where
All the saltwater locations have halibut.  I think for the most consistent action, Deep Creek or Whiskey Gulch are the best options.  Hmmm...having said that, I guess they don't call Homer the "Halibut Capitol of the World" for nothing either.  

I have caught nice halibut out of Seward.  The only problem with Seward is that I seem to catch a dozen cod for every halibut I manage.

When

Halibut can pretty much be caught all year during open season which in southcentral Alaska is February 1 to December 31 in Homer.  I would bet its true for the other locations though it is typical thought that the larger fish move to deeper water in late fall through early spring (I think maybe October to April).  I'd consider anytime from May to August to be prime time in most waters.

How

When specifically targeting halibut, go big!!  Halibut are not line shy.  100 lbs mono is minimum.  We like 200 to 300 pound test.  We also use #72 gagnon line that is rated for 600lbs.  The problem here is when you snag the bottom, it is nearly impossible to break free.  Keep that in mind.  I have had to do it but I never feel good about leaving 100 ft of line in the water.  

I HATE circle hooks.  My theory is kayaks do not present enough resistance consistently to set the circle hooks effectively.  I have had some luck with them but I will only use them when I know I am sitting on a lot of halibut and need to release them.  My go to hook as of right now is 12/0 Gamakatsu Big River hooks.  I like placing a large white hoochie over the hook for more attraction and to present at least some type of bait 

Trolling versus drifting vs Anchoring

My method of choice is slow trolling off a kayak.  I do NOT think it is the most effective method, but I do believe it is the safest method.  There is a reason virtually every halibut charter in the area anchors. I just don't think it is very safe from a kayak and trolling is just as effective.  Some experienced kayakers do anchor and they are very successful.  I just don't think its worth the effort and the space the gear takes up and once again, I just don't feel safe doing it.  

So I prefer trolling over drifting. There are two major reasons.  One is that you can emulating anchoring by simply trying to hold your position against the current.  And as I have said, I do believe anchoring is the most effective method.  Even if you can't hold the same position, I believe it distributes the scent field to a much greater area than simply drifting.  second, I gut hook a lot of fish when I am drifting because of the fact I don't like circle hooks for the reason I mention above.

So trolling technique...  

Obviously it is MUCH easier to do from a pedal kayak like the Hobies than a paddle kayak.  I begin by slowly moving forward and then letting out line.  I typically use 12 to 16 oz sinkers with a spreader bar.  

I find the bottom a few times while holding the rod.  Once I am comfortable that the bait is within 5 or 10 feet of the bottom, I simply place the rod into the rod holder.  While trolling, slow down every now an then and watch for the rod tip to bounce as it contacts the bottom.  Speed up again to lift the bait off the bottom. Don't worry that the bait is not on the bottom.  A feeding halibut will come up 10 feet or even more to strike the bait.  They aren't stuck to the bottom like many folks believe.   

the critical point while trolling is that the the bites can be very subtle.  In fact the larger the fish, the more subtle the bite tends to be.  Unlike a salmon who will strike your bait and then immediately turn away, a halibut will strike the bait, hold on to it, and just swim along with it for a long time.    A smaller fish will shake its head up and down trying to rip the bait in half.  A larger fish will simply grab the bait and swim along with it.  

So one you detect a slight bump, the key is to stop and take some pressure off the line.  For me its typically just stopping, taking the rod out of the rod holder, and simply dropping my rod tip backwards.  If you strike immediately, you will about 50% of the time, come back with a half sheared herring.  It is only when the forward pressure is relieved that the halibut will reposition the bait and try and swallow it.

A few seconds is sufficient.  Then slowly reel up the slack line and if you feel weight, set the hook.  

Small halibut striking trolled bait:




Landing a halibut

For halibut under 30 pounds, I rely on my boca grips,  NEVER use the wrist strap when securing ANY halibut from a kayak.  


For the hardcore group of anglers pursuing the halibut, they seem evenly split between a harpoon and a flying gaff for securing a large halibut.  While the flying gaff has its merits, my personal preference is the harpoon.   


The harpoon system I use is a commercial pole with a stainless steel harpoon tip attached to a foot long steel cable. Cable is connected to a rope and then to an A0 or A1 (14.5”) sized buoy.  


Advantages of the harpoon system include:

  1. The force that can be applied at the point is greater than with a flying gaff.

  2. Strike radius is much greater than with a gaff.

  3. I have only lost one halibut from a harpoon. That was stupidity on my part. I’ve seen halibut come off of flying gaffs and of course come “unhooked” off of normal hooks.



As the fish approaches the kayak, keep the head below the surface and most halibut will stay calm. The aiming point is an area behind the head and to one side of the spine. The belly side has held on all my fish though it seems like it could rip through. The buoy must be in the water and all lines free of any body part or equipment. If you have a pedal kayak, pedaling forwards will flatten the fish out to give the best angle possible to strike the fish.


My 105 pound halibut kept my A1 buoy submerged over 30 seconds.  Eventually, it did lift the halibut to the surface.  Larger buoys take up too much space and also cause greater pressure on a diving fish that could result in the point tearing out or gear failure at one of the connections.  


Once the fish can be controlled by the harpoon rope, the fish is brought along side of the kayak and gills cut with a knife.  Bleeding the fish while on the buoy insures high meat quality as well as avoiding the fish thrashing once brought on board.


One word of caution if deciding to stow a large halibut in a kayak with holes for the rudder lines like my Hobie.  While my Outback was able to carry my 105 halibut strapped to the back for over 2 miles, the halibut submerged my rudder lines and I found several gallons of water in the hull after landing!



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The proper way to hold a harpoon to minimze tangling.

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A compilation of videos showing the harpoon shot:

YouTube Video



A forty pound halibut fits nicely in the back of an outback

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Click on any of the pictures to go to the associated blog entry for more video, pictures, and narrative.

My then ten year old son's 60 pound halibut:



April 2016



Family Kayak outing with my kids June 2016



Personal Best 57 pounder from a kayak!  

57 Pound Halibut from a Kayak



Other links (click on pics) 

http://guidesak.blogspot.com/2014/09/kodiak-trip-sept-24-30.html
























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