Juneau Halibut at the DockMost people are familiar with Pacific halibut (Hippoglossus stenolepis) as quality table fare and a regular feature at the fish market. The massive flatfish have been used for subsistence and personal use by household in the Northwest United States and Alaska since the beginning of people’s memory. Halibut support a major commercial fishery in the United States and Canada, and are extremely popular with the sport charter fishing industry. The International Pacific Halibut Commission (IPHC) is responsible for management of halibut stocks in Canada and the US. Each country regulates the harvest and allocation of halibut to the various user groups.

Life History – Pacific halibut are found along the West Coast from Santa Barbara in Central California to Point Hope and Nome, Alaska. The flatfish often migrate great distances of up to 4,000 kilometer (2,500 miles) between their winter spawning and summer feeds grounds. Halibut are bottom dwellers, with most fish caught between 27 to 274 meters (90 and 900 feet) of water depth. Halibut have been caught at depths of 1,097 meters (3,600 feet). Halibut mature sexually at seven to twelve years with females taking later to mature. Female halibut will produce two to three millions eggs that take two weeks to hatch. These free floating larvae drift for about six months before they start looking like a halibut. The world record for a sport caught halibut is 208 kilograms (459 pounds) taken near Dutch Harbor, Alaska. The largest commercially caught halibut was estimated to weigh 227 kilograms (500 pounds) and was taken in the Bering Sea. A halibut weighing more than 45 kilograms (100 pounds) is most certainly female.

Fishing Gear – Commercial fishers use anchored groundlines with baited hooks spread at regular intervals. The preferred sport fishing gear package uses a 168 centimeter (5.5 foot) fast taper rod equipped with metallic oxide guides, a level wind reel suitable for saltwater use with a 3:1 gear ratio, 36 kilogram (80 pound) Spectra fishing line, a minimum 100 kilogram (220 pound) braided nylon leader, quality swivels, a heavy weight sinker, and a #18/0 circle hook. Many halibut fishermen use a spreader as part of their terminal tackle. Halibut are taken with both artificial lures and baits like herring, octopus or salmon.

Fishing Tips – Many people choice a commercial charter fishing operation to arrange a fishing trip for halibut. Most communities have a chamber of commerce or visitor’s bureau that can provide leads to a good operator. Fishermen with their own boats catch many more halibut. Here are a few halibut fishing tips:

  • Purchase the best quality fishing gear and take good care of it
  • Keep your bait on the bottom and avoid times of high tidal movement
  • Give the fish time to take the bait. Don’t be too quick with setting the hook
  • Treat large halibut with respect. Improperly handled fish can cause injury

Care of Caught Halibut – Ask any local, freshly caught halibut is the best tasting halibut. Fresh frozen halibut that are well handled can be a close second. Handling tips include:

  • Bleed the fish immediately and stow aboard with their dark side down
  • Cool the fish quickly while still on the boat
  • Use a sharp knife and a large cutting board to fillet the fish
  • Make sure fillets free of blood or bruised spots and thoroughly rinsed with fresh water
  • Take care to exclude all contact with the air
  • Wrap fillets in plastic wrap and aluminum foil before placing them in a freezer bag. Many households use a vacuum packer
  • Fillets should be initially frozen at -28° C (-20° F) and stored at -23° C (-10° F)

Well handled halibut can be frozen and remain in good condition for six months.

Copyright – 2013 by Alan Sorum.

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