It’s strange how anglers build an affinity with certain species of fish. Bass, cod, sharks, marlin, tarpon and obviously salmon all come to mind. But there’s another fish that holds anglers spell bound, a fish that pound for pound can match any for sheer power and is one of the most prized catches you can make. That fish is the halibut!
I became obsessed with halibut a few years ago when I visited the island of Loppa in the far north of Norway and caught my first. Now, when time and finances allow, I head back north of the Arctic Circle to target the ultimate flatfish.
My latest trip was to Oksfjord in the county of Finnmark and as the crow flies just a couple of hundred kilometres from the Russian border.
Tackle choice is important. Specialist anglers choose 30lb class tackle for general fishing, but for real monsters 50lb class is required. The rods favoured are the Penn Waveblaster 20/30 and the MTI 20/40, both matched to the Penn TRQ100 star drag reel loaded with 30lb Penn International Braid line and a 40lb shock leader. The 50lb class rod would always be the Penn Waveblaster 30/50 and a Penn TRQ200 reel with 50lb braid and an 80lb shock leader.
I’ve learnt that halibut tend to favour depths between 25-metres and 70-metres and like to sit just behind sloping rocks in amongst mixed clean ground. They also favour sitting on rising rock slopes. Their method of attack is to wait for prey fish to swim past them, use their shovel sized tails to rapidly power them forwards and upwards, then use their fang like teeth to impale their food with no chance of its escape.
The fishing technique is to set the boat up to drift over these slopes and rock shelves and watch the fish finder like a hawk constantly adjusting the depth of your lure to work it about 10-feet above the seabed.
Most anglers use pirks and speed jigs, and these work well, but I prefer big jigheads with soft shads on. The tail of the shad works in the water putting vibration out, plus the shad and jighead make a big silhouette target for the halibut looking upwards.
The attack is sudden, shocking, and ultimately powerful. One second the jighead is working freely by lifting the rod tip up and down just a few inches to simulate a swimming action, the next second a hammer blow hits the lure and powers the rod hard over. Halibut fight by typically taking many yards of line when they feel the hook running hard against the drag, initially downwards then across the seabed. Working the fish up through the water column they will make at least one powerful dive all the way back to the seabed, big fish can go from the surface all the way back to the bottom even in 100-metres of water. The crash dive is surprising, amazing and awesome. It’s what anglers live for!
This is why the choice of rod is so important. You need a rod blank that has a semi supple but still powerful tip section that will work with the non stretch braid to fully set the hook in to what is a very tough mouth. Then during the fight that supple tip and steadily more powerful mid section of the rod cushions the powerful dives. But when real power is required the stiff lower section and butt provide the leverage to work the fish hard to tire it.
My last trip just a few weeks ago produced two halibut for me, the best weighing 25lbs, but the weight is not really important, it’s the experience, the environment and the “never will quit” attitude of the halibut that make this fish such a special catch.