*Sharper Hooks*
*Tighter Lines*
Pacific Halibut




Information & facts

Pacific Halibut

Pacific Halibut

Latin Name
Hippoglossus stenolepis

Group Name


Pacific halibut are native to the north Pacific, occurring in the northeast from the Bering Sea and Alaska to Baja California. In the northwest, they range from Siberia to the northern coast of Japan. They live on the ocean bottom at depths of up to 1000 metres. Younger fish live near the shore while adults live farther out. They are a valuable commercial catch and most abundant off the coasts of Alaska and British Columbia.

Species Description

HalibutPacific halibut have a flat, diamond-shaped body, slightly more elongated than their relatives, with a lateral line that becomes curved near their pectoral fin. They have a large mouth with pointed teeth and a square tail. On their eyed side, their body usually assumes the colour of the ocean bottom, ranging from grey to brown to almost black, often mottled with a lighter colour. Their underside is much paler, a white or off-white shade. Pacific halibut are the largest flatfish in the world, reaching a length of 2.7 metres and a weight of 300 kilograms. Females grow faster and live longer than males - the oldest recorded female was 42 years old with the oldest male at 27 years old.
The large size and weight of halibut makes them a desired trophy fish for many anglers. Due to their size, temperament, and propensity for bottom-dwelling, halibut fishing requires some particular tactics and equipment. Fear not, however; even if you are new to fishing, you can quickly develop the skills needed to snag a prize halibut. The Pacific Halibut is one of the most popular species for both recreational and commercial fishermen.

How to fish for Halibut

halibutUnderstanding techniques specific to Halibut is crucial for ensuring you maximize your catch. Despite their plentiful numbers, simply rigging some bait and throwing it in the water is not enough. Below are a few techniques veteran Halibut anglers have used to locate, hook and land Halibut.

In shallower waters close to the coast, Halibut will use sight and sound to find their food. In deeper water though, smell is the primary way. Creating a strong scent trail either through live bait or artificial scents (…or a combination of the two) is key to attracting Halibut to your bait.
catching halibutSince creating a scent trail is so important for attracting Halibut, anchoring and staying in one spot is a must. Many novice Halibut anglers go wrong on this very important step. Attracting Halibut with the scent of your bait and “chum” takes a little time, so be patient and allow the process to work. One way many charters and veteran anglers create a strong scent trail is to throw a bag full of old salmon heads, guts and leftover bait overboard (a.k.a. chum) and let it soak in the water around the boat. For your rig, circle hooks sized 16/0 to 22/0 are considered to be the best since they generally hook in the corner of the fish’s mouth. Many Halibut anglers in BC will also include a skirting that fish will be drawn to even if the bait has come off the hook. Your hook should be tied to a 150 to 200 pound test leader and connected with a minimum of 100 pound test line. There are several types of live baits used for Halibut fishing, including whole salmon heads. When selecting bait, remember bigger bait equals bigger fish.

Besides letting line out slowly, you will want to reel your bait up slightly if it hits the bottom of the ocean floor. If you leave your bait on the bottom, crabs and other sea creatures on the floor will eat it.

fishing for halibutIt’s likely you’ll be waiting for a bit, so put your rod in a holder and sit back. Every once in a while, you should move your bait up and down a little to create more scent. And to maintain this scent, you should replace your bait every 45 mins to 1 hour.
While you’re bait is deployed, keep your line tight so you can feel any bites. If a Halibut bites your rig though, it will feel more like a snag rather than a ferocious bite. If you’ve placed your rod in a holder, you will start noticing a twitch. Do NOT jump up and jerk the rod to set the hook. As the fish swallows your bait, increasing tension on the drag will help set your hook. Once your pole is pretty bent, only then do you start pulling the Halibut to the surface.
Unlike other fish in the ocean, you simply pull Halibut to the surface instead of fighting and wearing them down. Heavier Halibut are known as “barn doors,” and it’s easy to understand why if you ever snag one and try pulling it to the surface. The Halibut’s flat body and large size make dragging them to the surface quite the workout.
One other big mistake that’s pretty common is the sharpness of your hooks. If they’re dull, the hook will not be able to penetrate the Halibut’s tough mouth. Using sharp hooks or taking a file to your existing ones will help ensure you can set the hook and pull the fish to the surface.

Halibut Fishing Tips & Tactics

  • Fishing Rod, Reel & Line
  • Use a sturdy 6 - 7 foot fishing pole with a double action reel with a minimum 800' of 60-70 pound braided-nylon line. The newer braided dacron line is perfect - strong as steel but with much less drag. One of the halibut fishing tips I got early on is that a sturgeon rod is fine but is light tipped, which will wear you out on a long day of fishing.
  • J-Hooks or Circle Hooks?
  • This is your choice, depending on how you like to fish. I prefer to let the Halibut eat the bait so a rounded hook is perfect for me. Use a J-hook if you intend to 'set' the hook by yanking up on the rod before reeling it in.
  • Bait
  • The best bait is fresh herring, salmon bellies, or geoduck clams. It's best to use fresh herring as it is tougher which will stay on the hook better & longer. Another of my halibut fishing tips is that if you must use frozen herring, soak it in a salt-water brine overnight to help stiffen it up. Halibut smell their food so use fresh or freshly frozen over freezer burnt, brown bait - give 'em
    the fresh good stuff!
  • Lures
  • There are literally thousand options to choose from. Octopus-resembling rubber lures seem to dominate the market, as do the Dart, Zzinger and Stinger and hoochie skirts. There does not seem to be any rhyme or reason to what will work (or what color!) so change it up and if something is working, stick with it! Always attach some sort of bait or use a liquid bait scent to smear over the lures - remember, halibut smell their food!
  • To Jig or not to jig
  • It's up to you! It's truly a preference thing - do you wish to be more 'active' while you're fishing? Then do it! I like to do both - let my circle hook work it's magic for a while and when I get bored with that - switch it up!
  • Halibut holes
  • Ahhhh...everyone is always looking for the perfect halibut hole! So where are they? Surprisingly, it can be anywhere from 50-700ft! The top halibut fishing tips are that the best spots tend to be on the edges of underwater plateaus or along breaklines where the slope to the bottom forms an edge where halibut can attack their meal. What does that mean to you? Pour over the marine charts in your area. Look for those plateaus and then when you're out in the boat, watch your depth sounder. Find the plateau, then find the edge of the plateau where it drops off suddenly. Yep, that's what you're looking for! When you find it, mark it in your GPS for next time! (Oh, another halibut fishing tips - halibut like a gravel shell bottom, not mud - so if you drop your bait, 'feel' the bottom - a gravel bottom is better!)
  • Bringing the halibut to the surface
  • Reel the halibut in steadily. There is no need to 'pump' the line - winding down and pulling up and then winding super fast over and over again. Keep constant pressure on the line. When the halibut is near the surface, keep it there while you or your buddies get the gaff ready. When the halibut gets to the surface it often will flip over and over and can work the hook right out while you're trying to get the gaff ready.
  • Gaff or Harpoon?
  • My preference is a hook-type gaff for halibut under 50lbs and a harpoon for the big guys. Many halibut are lost by hurrying up the gaffing and this experience only comes with practice.
  • Halibut Season & Limits
  • More halibut fishing tips....The halibut season is February 1 – December 31st and the limit is 1 Halibut per day (for non-residents), with a limit to 45" (approx 40 lbs) or a monster halibut over 68" (160 Pounds). Residents are rewarded with 2 per day, no size limit. Always check the current regulations for updates!

More Resources on Halibut Fishing

I hope that the information provided on this page makes you a better Halibut angler. In case you’d still like to continue your research into halibut fishing I put together the below list of resources. They should be sufficient for expanding your knowledge base.