Spring Halibut Fishing Techniques
By Paul Smith
Early spring is the time of the herring spawn on the
west coast of Vancouver Island, and all the predator species move
in to feast. The salmon, rockfish and halibut will move in shore to
gorge themselves on the abundance of bait fish that are present. The
killer whales, seals and sharks will also move in to take advantage
of the large numbers of salmon, rockfish and halibut that are milling
around the spawn. Such is the cycle of Mother Nature's food chain
where everything depends on something else for survival.
It is this time that most anglers in the know will dust off their
boats and check their gear to ensure that everything is in working
order. Providing Mother Nature allows them, they will then head
out to try their luck at filling the fish wells.
The weather can dictate whether you will reach your favourite spot
or have to fish inside for feeder springs (Chinook salmon). Wind
is the big factor that affects your fishing adventure and sometimes
can reach up to 30-60 miles an hour, creating swells that tower
above your boat. If the weather is cooperative, you will undoubtedly
have the time of your life.
Once you have determined that the weather won't affect your fishing
opportunity, you will head out to your favourite reef or contour
line. The tide will also decide where you will fish. It is best
to fish for halibut on the ebb tide usually half an hour before
and after the slack. There are certain tides that will allow you
more time to fish either side of the slack. These are usually very
short running tides of 6.5 ft. at low to 8.5 ft. at high. This allows
you to place your gear on the bottom while maintaining a perpendicular
line. Your gear will consist of jigs and or spreader bars with bait
on fairly stiff rods.
Jigs come in various shapes and sizes. The 8-12 ounce size remains
the most popular, with smaller versions being used in the shallower
waters. A lot of locals will create their own jigs out of copper
pipe and fill them with lead. Usually the hook is situated on top
of the jig to avoid catching on the bottom. There are many different
types of jigs on the market that work well for halibut. My favorites
are the "Lucky Jig" and "Gibbs Jigs". Lucky
Jigs are pipe jigs with the hook and a coloured skirt at the top.
The Gibbs are shaped like a herring and when a whole herring or
part there of is applied to the hook your odds of catching a halibut
increase tenfold. Halibut are attracted to the scent and the thumping
sound your jig makes when lifting (jigging) it up off of the bottom.
Try and stay in the 80-180 foot range when fishing for halibut and
only moving off to the 200-300 foot range later in the season as
the halibut move back out to deeper water. Fishing in 200-300 feet
of water can wear out your arms very quickly especially when you
hook into a "barn door" (100+ lber).
By far my most favourite technique for halibut fishing is using
a spreader bar with a whole herring or cut plug herring on a couple
of treble hooks with a 10 inch leader of 40-80 lb test. For those
of you not familiar with a spreader bar, they look like a coat hanger
cut in the shape of the letter L with the weight being put on the
short end and the leader on the long end. Don't use a coat hanger
however as the strength just doesn't compare to the stainless steel
used by the company that manufactures them. Once again I will use
8-12 oz weights to keep my gear on bottom and get it there fast.
Depending on the tide movement you should always find bottom again
as you have a tendency to drift into deeper water. Remember you
always want to be on bottom or within 5 feet of it.
Once you find the bottom you will want to jig or lift your rod up
and let it down slowly making sure you can feel it touch bottom. Fishing
for halibut is usually done on a gravel/sandy bottom so rarely do
you loose your gear. If you are hitting a solid bottom then all you
will catch is rockfish, which isn't necessarily a bad thing. With
a spreader bar you can place it in the rod holder and let the swell
action do the work for you or you can just leave it on bottom. Action
attracts fish though so a jigging motion will produce better results.
Once you feel the tell tale sign of a halibut biting,
you should set the hook by lifting up on your rod and keeping your
rod tip up while reeling. When you know the halibut is hooked you
can pump the rod if you wish as long as on the down stroke you keep
your line tight. I see too many fish lost because of slack line.
When the halibut gets close to the boat
be prepared for a strong dive towards the bottom as they suddenly
get a burst of energy when they see the huge shadow (boat) on the
surface of the water that they are heading to. Always make sure your
drag is set appropriately for a strong run. Sometimes anglers loosen
off their drag to aid in reeling in the halibut and forget to set
it once it gets close to the boat. Once again I've seen too many fish
lost when they loose control over the reel because of a birds nest
or tangled line. Never gaff a halibut over 50 lbs as you will be in
for a rude awakening when it decides to flop around in your boat or
on the end of the gaff hook. I always have a gaff and harpoon handy
in case of the big one. My harpoon will be attached to about 10-15
feet of line, which is attached to a large Scotty or plastic float
of some kind. This way a large halibut will only be able to tow around
the float for so long before it surfaces, which is your cue to start
reeling towards the boat again. I've even had situations where the
harpoon has been set and the hooks popped out of the halibut and twenty
minutes later the float surfaced and we motored over and retrieved
a nice 150 lb halibut that was too tired to put up much of a fuss.
I usually like to cut the gills and let them bleed before I bring
them on board. This accomplishes two things: 1. It helps to kill them
and 2. It makes the meat taste a lot better. For those of you fortunate
ones who are legally allowed to pack a gun on board your vessel this
is the sure way to make sure the halibut is dead before attempting
to bring it on board.
Hopefully, this will give you some energy
to dust off your boat and take advantage of the good spring fishing
for halibut, which I'm sure have the same habitats up and down the
Pacific coastline. As for the east coast that's another story. One
I'm not yet familiar with!
PS: I apologise for my Canadian english
but what can I say eh.
Paul- Contact me with your questions or comments at