Happy Halibut Hunting:
column reviewed basic halibut-catchingtechnique: heavy gear, patience and care at the boat once the behemoth hasbeen subdued. This month we begin a round-up of coastal hotspots and gearfor specific locales.
Interest in halibut fishing on the
has risen in the past few years. This is because there aremore halibut than there used to be, a result of sport and commercial closuresin some areas. Lowered pressure has allowed halibut stocks to fatten up,rebuild and regain former territories. Highly mobile yet highly territorial,the monsters of the deep return again and again to the same few feet ofwatery real estate. Accordingly, spirit one halibut from the depths andanother will soon move in. Given the offshore nature of the fishery, fixthe ledges and rockpiles 200 - 300 feet down where the fatties lie witha GPS - a good investment for the avid angler.
Although halibut frequent British Columbia waters twelve months of theyear, even in the swirling snows of winter, the traditional fishery occursin late March to May. During this period, the feeder
population dwindles and many anglers turn to halibut off southern
Fishing concentrates in many flattish areas from Sidney to Sooke, a shortboat jaunt from the capital city of
.The 100 - 150' sandy trough between James Island and Vancouver Island yieldsfor the Sidney fisher, as does the 75 - 100' Flats off Trial Island forthe Oak Bay fisher. A due-east dead-slow troll across the 60 - 75' benchon the south side of Great Chain Island with anchovy brings in halibut thathave moved from deeper waters to rest in the calmer herring-loaded shallows.
Further out in Juan de Fuca Strait, Constance Bank, an area famed forits fast tides and rough bottom, proves a consistent halibut spot. Thisbank rises from 400' depths to 100' some 6 miles offshore. Due to its morechallenging location and fishery closure in the winter months (from October31 to February 27), the Bank often has more halibut and chinook salmon tooffer than surrounding waters. Equidistant between the Bank and Race Rocks,ten miles to the west, a new summer fishery on an as yet named 300' deepflat has produced halibut to 160 lbs. Race Rocks itself is an excellentbut rocky-ledged fishing ground in the Sooke area. Ten miles further west,lie the Sooke Bluffs. Halibut take a trolled anchovy over the apron of 40- 80' muddy bottom.
Regardless of area, hooked halibut move like freight trains and the choiceof fishing line becomes critical. Backing line should be 60 - 70 lb test.The newer, braided-dacron lines - strong as steel but far less drag - gainin popularity. Don't exceed 70 pounds or a snagged line simply will notcome off the bottom. Wrap snagged line around a fish bonker or boat cleatand pull until the fouling breaks. Never wrap line around your arm; fishershave been known to be pulled into the frigid waters. If the "snag"proves to be a halibut, the unfortunate result is a drowned fisher.
At the business end of a halibut rig, use a spreader bar which mountsa cutplug herring or a medium to large herring off its upper bar, and a1 - 2 pound lead ball off the bottom. Remember to utilize leader of lessthan main line test. Bait leader is surprisingly short: one to three feetof 30 lb test. Use the same pound test to the lead ball. The reason forthe lighter leader is that halibut take off along the bottom, ripping offweights; the lighter leader prevents losing the whole shooting match asthe halibut cruises off hardly aware it's been hooked.
In south Island waters, most halibut fishers use bait; however, the lead-weightedLucky Jig type squid lures have their advantages: they are simple to rigand to fish. Use 60 - 70 lb backing line and a 6' 30 lb test leader. Fishthese lures with the same up and down motion employed with other jigginglures. Artificial lures have another advantage: dogfish with their hypersensitivenasal capabilities seldom bite non-baited lures. This becomes a seriousconsideration when lures are 300' from the boat and rerigging soaks up valuablefishing time.
Drop the gear to the bottom and quickly reel 5 turns. Ratfish and otherugly critters will not rise even that short distance. Reestablish contactwith the bottom every few minutes. Check bait at least once every half hour.Reel in slowly; halibut will lift 30' off the bottom to take a herring.Then they motor straight down. To clear a sounded fish, clip a dodger onthe line and let it work down to flash in front of the halibut. Alternativley,give the line a few good twangs; the vibration will normally get a halibutmoving.
Check tide guides before setting out. Halibut fishing should only beattempted in slow water. Speeds over 2 knots spell death to the fishery.In the Race Rocks area, fish the east side of the Race at the 18 fathomline, and, on a slow ebb tide, move to the west side of the Race, fishingthe 20 - 30 fathom line. In either case let the tide carry the boat intodeeper water to avoid gear hangups. As your gear bumps down the variousledges, play out line to maintain contact with the bottom.
Anchor only if an experienced boater, using an anchor, line and float.Attach the boat to the float with a line. The drag of fast moving waterexerts tremendous strain. Bait can spiral out of control. Smaller boatscan be in real peril if a wave hits when the bow is already pulled low bythe anchor. In addition, retrieving an anchor can be next to impossiblein fast moving water. When this must be attempted, motor into the curent,loosen the line and, once past the point of moorage, give a good sharp tug.This turns the anchor over on its end, freeing it from grasping terra firma.Or at least that's how simple it sounds in a fishing column.
Next month, we move out into the open Pacific to tackle the tackle bustersin pristine wilderness.