The Pacific Halibut are the largest sports fish in Alaska. They can get as large as eight feet in length and weighing over 500 pounds. Halibut that are over 100 pounds are called barn doors, while halibut that are less than 100 pounds are called chickens. It is an amazing adventure to even catch a chicken, but imagine the thrill of trying to land a 500 pound halibut. To put it in perspective, the record for the Alaska King salmon is 126 pounds and a Halibut "chicken" is nearly that and still growing.
Every summer, and into fall, sports fishermen from around the world head to Alaska to try and pull in a barn door. The thrill of landing a large halibut is amazing but, overall, halibut are excellent fish to eat and even the chickens offer a premium of filets that you will not likely catch with other sports fish.
So get ready to dig in, and hold on, because halibut fishing is pure adrenaline.
Where to find Pacific Halibut
During the spawning season, the larger halibut are most plentiful along the South Central and South Eastern areas of Alaska. The relatively short coastal shelf in that region makes it fairly easy for the fish to find mates and to spawn. The long continental shelf on the northwest side of the panhandle is an excellent area to find both chicken and barn door sized halibut.
Halibut are laterally compressed flat fish, and they prefer the flat bottom coastal areas where they can make the most use of their flat bodies. So, the fisheries along the Bristol Bay area make excellent halibut fishing grounds, although you can technically find halibut almost everywhere along the shores of Alaska. Specific hot spots would include the waters around Kodiak Island and all along the Aleutian chain.
Basically, you are looking for shallow water along the continental shelf. Halibut prefer water that is anywhere from 20 feet deep to over 1000 feet deep. They have a really small range of preferred water temperature and, as such, use the ocean depth to maintain the best temperature for their health and growth.
What Do Pacific Halibut Eat
The Pacific Halibut are predator fish and they eat pretty much whatever they can catch. Their preferential foods are herring, smelt, and other small schooling fish. Their coloration allows them to blend into the ocean floor where they wait for prey. They will eat squid, crabs, rockfish, and octopus if they can catch them.
Fishing for Halibut is almost always an adventure best suited for a charter fishing trip. Your guide will have their techniques for halibut fishing and should know what works in those waters, so lean on their experience. Approaches to bait when halibut fishing can vary but a lot of fishermen will point you towards herring. Variations of how to use herring will be debated - some will argue that filets of herring are better than herring steaks or even chunks of herring - when in doubt...try all of them.
While herring are one of the Pacific Halibut's favorite foods it is not, as noted above, the only food they will eat. If you listen quietly along the docks, you will find that the secret to fishing for halibut is not herring, but the discarded remains of salmon. That's right; the heads, guts, and whatever else fishermen throw out make some of the best halibut bait around.
Fishing for Barn Doors and Chickens
Herring and smelt are small silver fish that swim in schools. Halibut use their eyes, nose and even the vibrations in the water to hunt for food. Flashers, bright spoons, lures and bait are four ways to attract halibut. Using a bait, or even chum is one method of fishing that works well too. The captain will likely find a good spot and then drop anchor. Using chum helps bring in the halibut from the nearby water. This is an excellent technique when using bait. If you are trolling, then break out the flashers and hold in tight. Half of the battle with halibut is surviving the 300 pound strike.
Considerations for Halibut Fishing in Alaska
Most visitors use a charter service or a guide. Depending on which part of Alaska you are going to be fishing and what time of year are you are coming will make a big difference in the type of charter you choose. Give some consideration to the methods of fishing that are discussed within the article and then use that information as you choose your charter of guide. If you are staying at one of the lodges that also offers guide fishing be sure to ask which methods of halibut fishing they prefer.
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