Halibut Fishing Methods, Baits and Tackle: Hippoglossus hippoglossus
The halibut (Hippoglossus hippoglossus) is the largest of the world’s flatfish; fish up to 2.25 m (7-1/2 ft) in length and weighing 147 kg (320 lb) have been recorded. It is smooth-skinned, dark olive in colour, and lightly marbled. The lateral line is curved over the pectoral fin and the eyes are on the right side of the head.
The halibut is generally associated with Icelandic waters and other very cold seas, and big specimens are rarely taken in British waters. In California, however, great numbers are caught close inshore, especially in the Malibu Beach area, where they are fished for from a drifting boat, in twelve to fifteen fathoms, using live sardines as bait.
Halibut spawn in the early summer (May to July) and are to be found at all times in deep water.
Whole live-baits — young whiting, codling, wrasse, or pollack – are the best. If dead-bait is used it is important to present it to the fish in as lifelike a manner as possible. Thread the trace through the fish from vent to mouth, binding the fish; to the line by means of a light piece of line passed through the head and tied on to the main line. In this way the bait will move through the water like a swimming fish. With live-bait it is advisable to use two hooks, one of them through the body beneath the dorsal fin, and the other through the lip.
You need the heaviest boat rod short of big-game gear, for, like the skate, the halibut has to be pumped to the surface by brute force. The rod should have a tip ring fitted with a revolving steel-roller. Use a big sea multiplier reel loaded with 37 kg (80 lb) terylene.
Normally the halibut prefers a moving bait. In Iceland in particular a large, heavily weighted lure is used with great success by the professional fishermen. This is worked in much the same way as a jigger, a chromiumed weight incorporating hooks, which is lowered to the bottom and snatched up and down. The glistening of the spiralling lure attracts the fish, which grabs at what it thinks is moving prey.
Drift fishing for halibut is done by much the same methods as are used by the shark boats out of Looe, only instead of having the bait near the surface it is fished near the bottom. In drifting for halibut, a very useful method is to tie a very large silver spoon to a trace of 1.8-2.4 m (6-8 ft) and attach to it a 9/0 or 10/0 hook. The trace is made fast to the line by means of a 6/0with a running boom above it. Naturally a very heavy weight will be required, depending on the speed of drift, for the bait must at all times, be moving along just clear of the bottom. The bait must be a newly-caught whitefish.
Halibut fishing is hard work, for with a drifting boat it is necessary to let out line all the time, but at the same time it is imperative to maintain contact with the weight so that, in the event of its hitting against rocks, enough line can be retrieved to raise it clear before dropping it once more to the bottom behind the obstruction.
In drift fishing, the fish will be found in the sandy or muddy ground among the rocks and stones, and will only go for the bait as it passes overhead or alongside. The bait is taken from below. The usual indication of a bite is when you lose the feel of your weight as the fish swims upwards. Immediately following this the halibut dives straight for the bottom once more, where it sinks into the mud or sand and requires considerable purchase to move again if it is a large specimen.