Halibut Fishing – Tips to Find and Catch Halibut

Halibut Fishing – Tips to Find and Catch Halibut

Jul 01, 2013
Ryan Dodds

Halibut fishing is something that people around the world love to do. There is no better eating fish than halibut. People travel from far and wide for their halibut fishing opportunities. This article outlines all of the tips that you need in order to catch halibut. There are hundreds of resources and suggestions on how to catch halibut however alot of the stuff people talk about is ideas and concepts that are not the primary mainstream techniques. Reading about too many methods and anglers become confused. This article I focus specifically on the best method for catching halibut, the circle hook, and I explain how to make it, how to bait it, and how to fish it to ensure that you will be successful on your halibut fishing trip. The article is long but I recommend you follow through all the information it will ensure you have success on your next halibut fishing trip.

Halibut Fishing Gear

There is a lot of halibut fishing gear out on the market and some of it is good while other stuff is just stuff that looks cool and maybe could work but you don’t really need. The following sections I will break down exactly what I use to catch halibut effectively.

Circle Hooks for Halibut Fishing

In 2012 and 2013 the BC fishing regulations have changed requiring all large halibut to be released. We tuned our halibut fishing gear to ensure that we can easily release large halibut. The best way to do this is to cut the hook free. It can be very difficult to extract a hook from the mouth of a halibut so for this reason we recommend cutting the line free. A circle hook when rigged as will be described in this article is relatively cheap and so is a good choice for tackle that will potentially be cut free. Circle hooks are also excellent choices for halibut fishing because they allow for a passive approach and they work very effectively when fished with the correct technique. Circle hook technique is discussed later in this article.

We recommend circle hooks with approximately a 1.5″ gap for halibut fishing.

Skirts, Hoochies, and Beads

Skirts, hoochies, and beads are little extras that we use to dress up our halibut circle hooks. The skirts are important because if a halibut bites and steals the bait but does not get hooked, then the a plain circle hook is not very enticing, while if it has a skirt at least it has a chance of catching another fish. Skirts that glow are ideal for halibut. Reds, and whites are good colors. I also use large beads on the line as a spacer between the circle hook and the skirt. Red or glow beads are good.

Crimping Tools

A crimping tool is one of the best things you can buy for halibut fishing. I got my crimping gear from Tackledirect.com. Get some 200lb leader, a crimper, and crimps for 200lb leader. With this you can assemble some profesional halibut rigs. I also used mine to replace some worn out lines on my downrigger clips.

Bait Scent Canisters – Not so Good

There are some bait scent canisters that thread onto the leaders that are available in tackle stores. I mension them here to warn you that I do not recommend these at all. It is true that they do a good job of releaseing a nice scent trail but the big problem I have with them is storage. After fishing you have to put it away somewhere and the residual scents and oils makes a big mess. For this reason I say avoid these bait scent canisters and instead use the Bait Injector system.

Bait Injectors! – The Secret Halibut Weapon!

Bait injectors are the perfect secret weapon for halibut fishing. I looked in alot of tackle shops and I was unable to find a good one anywhere. I was looking specifically for the Procure Magnum Injector. It is a large squeeze bottle with a surgical needle on the top. You can pour in whatever brand of scent you like and then inject it into your bait. This works perfectly for salmon heads, herring, etc. For herring inject into the body cavity. Salmon heads, inject into the meat and the cheeks and anywhere else.

J-Hooks for Halibut Fishing – Not so Good

J-hook rigs are available on the market but I do not recommend them for halibut fishing now that the regulations have changed. You will find that you have to release alot of halibut and J-hooks do not facilitate easy release. You will be cutting off alot of rigs or causing excessive harm to the fish. Your best bet is to go with the circle hook rigs and the techniques I will discuss later in this article, and you will be successful.

I will reccommend one exception where it is OK to use J-hooks, that is if you have little experience with halibut or you are spending lots of time putting out scent and not getting much for bites, then when a fish bites you might be extremely disappointed if the circle hook does not generate a solid hookset. In this case, while you are learning and prospecting for good halibut spots, go ahead and use J-hook rigs with herring teaser head setups that are injected with scent. This rigup will allow you to effectively prospect for halibut spots. Once you find some good spots you will want to take waypoints and then focus on these areas time and time again. Once you have a good spot that is when you want to switch exclusively to the circle hooks because you know halibut are there.

Treble Hooks for Halibut Fishing – Avoid

Treble hooks are also available but as with J-hooks these are not ideal for halibut with the new regulations. Treble hooks are hard to get out of a fish. Also, treble hooks require a big tackle box to store whereas circle hooks lie flat and take up minimal space. I recommend you avoid large treble hooks and go with the circle hooks for halibut fishing.

Assembling Halibut Rigs

Crimping the Halibut Rig

To make the perfect halibut fishing rig you need about 3′ of 200lb leader, a circle hook, 2 crimps, a bead, and a skirt. First take the leader and thread on the crimp. Then thread on the hook. Loop the line back to the crimp and tighten it down to secure the hook. Now thread on a bead. The bead will prevent the skirt from breaking if it is pulled down onto the hook. After the bead thread the skirt. Consider threading it upside down, when it is in the water the current will cause it to flow back on itself this will make a nice big presentation and the circle hook and bait will be exposed for the fish to get a good bite. With the skirt in place all you need to do now is add another crimp at the end of the leader to form the loop that will be connected to the spreader bar.

Circle Hook Sharpening ?

Check the sharpness of your circle hook. Circle hooks are notoriously hard to sharpen because of the angles, but if you can touch up the edge then you will increase your chances of the hook edges cutting through the tough mouth and cartilige of the halibut and giving you the perfect hookset you want. If you do not sharpen the hook because it is difficult, it will still work, but if you find you are getting bites but no hookups or losing fish as you bring them to the boat then you may want to look at further sharpening of the hook.

Spreader Bar Rigs

Once you’ve got your circle hook rig you can clip it onto the spreader bar. Connect it to the long end of the spreader bar. Spreader bars come in 2 sizes, short (approx 10 inches) and long (approx 18 inches). The longer ones take up more space but also have a greater resistance to snarls when lowering. There are some techniques to lowering I will discuss later so you can go ahead with whatever size spreader bar you prefer. I do not get alot of snarls at all but if you do, then you can try a longer spreader bar it might help.

Weight Selection

You want to have a good selection of 1 pound and 2 pound round weights for halibut fishing. Clip the weight onto the short end of the spreader bar. If you are fishing four rods then ideally you will use a slightly lesser weight on the 2 back rods and put them in the back rodholders, and a heavier weight on the front rods. The back 2 will drift a bit further behind the boat and this allows you to cover more area and resist tangles. You will also find that the 2 back rods will likely catch more of the halibut because halibut travel up the scent trail and take the first thing they see. If you have guests on your boat that are overdue for a good fish then give them the back rodholders for their gear.

Baits for Halibut Fishing

Halibut are not picky eaters they will eat almost anything they can find. The key to bait selection is less matching the hatch and more about finding something that will stay on your hook.

Salmon Bellies

Salmon bellies are the ideal bait for halibut fishing. The meat of the salmon belly is high in fats and for humans this area gives the fishy taste that some people find undesirable. Trimming the salmon belly and the pelvic fin off both sides of the salmon (cut approx 1 inch wide strip off) will make for a deadly bait and you will happily exchange a 40lb halibut for a bit of fatty tasting salmon belly.

Salmon skin is incredibly tough stuff. It will never come off your hook. This is what makes it such an ideal halibut fishing bait. Starting on the skin side, punture your circle hook through the skin. Then, puncture it back through the skin again so you have a double-punctured belly strip. This should never ever come off you will need a knife to remove it.

The final advantage of the salmon belly for halibut fishing is that it is very flexible chunk of flesh. The way a circle hook works, the fish swallows it deep, then swims away, and the line causes the hook to be slowly dragged out of the fish’s belly, and then the geometry of the circle hook wedges in the exact corner of the fishes mouth every single time. A soft and pliable bait like salmon belly facilitates the perfect circle hookset.

Salmon Heads

Salmon heads, especially small ones from small coho, chinook, or pinks, are great baits for halibut fishing. They are very tough. Place the circle hook through the snout and go through the upper and lower lip so the mouth is closed. This will never come off. There is one drawback to a salmon head, as explained in the salmon belly writeup, while salmon belly is soft, salmon head is hard and it can have some negative effects on the hookset. Salmon heads have successfully caught many many halibut so do not abandon it all-together but if you find you are getting good hits where the fish peels out a bunch of line, but then spits the hook, it could two things, either the bites are from fish too small to get the whole head in their mouth, or, that the hookset is having issues. Before throwing out the salmon head I’d recommend try and sharpen your hooks.


Octopus is a great bait for halibut fishing. Octopus is ideal becuase it is a tough and rubbery texture that will not come off the hook. If you can get octopus then do a double penetration with the hook as described for the salmon belly and you will be good to go. You should restrict your bait size to about 8-10 inches if it is really long then you might get nibbles but not hookups.


Herring is a bit of a catch 22 for me. Without a doubt it is a dynamite bait that halibut love to eat. The only downside to herring is that they are generally soft and so they are prone to being stolen by sneaky halibut.

What you need to do is brine your halibut bait herring with the pure salt brine method on this website, for a few days, so that they become extremely hardened up. This will help keep them on the hooks. If you are going to use herring with circle hooks you may want to experiment with adding a herring trolling teaser head rig to your leader this will allow you to pin the head to the leader and get a spin frrom the currents, similar to trolling. Herring are also effectively fished with J-hook rigs.

Herring is a great bait to use right off the bat for halibut fishing, to start getting a good bait scent trail in the water and start attracting halibut to your spot. Use the bait injector and fill the body cavity with scent. If you have successfully used herring to attract alot of halibut to your spot, and now you are trying to be selective and catch the fish in the right size class, what you should do is change your hooks to a slightly larger circle hook this will tend to preclude undersize fish and will also facilitate easy release of fish that are too big or too small.

Halibut Fishing Techniques

Anchoring while Halibut Fishing

Anchoring is one of the fundamentals of halibut fishing. You need a good anchor setup to stick to the bottom with a heavy boat, be sure to ask your marine shop for recommendations. Once you’ve anchored you gain benefits of not drifting, reducing the chances of snagging the bottom, and you also get the benefit of creating a large scent slick from your baits that will draw in halibut from a wide area. If you are anchoring near a pinnacle or drop-off, anchor just on the shallow side of the drop-off so that the current or wind and waves will cause your scent trail to drift from shallow to deeper waters.

Circle Hook Halibut Fishing Technique

Circle hook halibut fishing is an art, once you figure it out properly you will find it very enjoyable. Likely because it is easy and allows you to catch a break and catch up on a bit of rest. Take your halibut rod in hand and lower the spreader bar rig into the water slowly. Now you want to disengage the free-spool function on the reel, but, do not let it go down full speed in a race to beat your partner to the bottom, this is how you get a snarled leader. Instead you want to slowly go down 50 feet, then pause briefly. The current will cause your leader to drift and trail out behind, thus avoiding wrapping around the mainline. Repeat this process with occasional brief pauses until you reach the bottom. Before you get your rig into the water you can also swing and lob it a short distance behind the boat, this will get it further behind the boat and on its descent, the weight will migrate towards directly underneath you, thus causing the leader trail out extended and away from the mainline, avoiding snarls as well. Once on the bottom, reel in slightly so that your weight and leader is just above the bottom. You actually do not want excessive pounding of the bottom you want to be just above it. If your gear is touching the bottom then crabs will start eating your bait and not halibut.

Once at the perfect depth you can set your rod in the rod holder. Turn on the reel clicker function and set your drag almost as loose as it will go. Now its time to sit back and wait for the halibut. While you are waiting, focus on sharpening up some of the other circle hooks in your tackle box.

As you start getting nibbles resist the temptation to grab the rod and do a monster hookset. Just let the halibut chew on it, even feed out a bit of line. You will hear your reel start to give out line clicks and your buddies will think you are nuts for not setting the hook. After the fish has had a chance to swallow your bait then you want to slowly increase tension on the drag. The fish will be swimming away unsuspecting until the increasing tension on the line causes the bait to drag out of their stomach. Eventually it will lodge perfectly in the corner of the halibut mouth and voila you are onto your target fish! After you have hooked some fish with this method you will really start to enjoy it. A solid hookup with a circle hook spreader bar rig will never come free. If you find that infact you are losing some fish then try sharpening the hook and also check if you are using too large salmon heads you might want to switch to belly strips or a more flexible bait.

Landing Halibut

Halibut is a powerful fish so you need to be careful. If you are going to release a large fish then you can bring it alongside, take some pictures, and then cut the hook free. If you have a skirt on there then try and drag the skirt up the leader before you cut the line this way you can save the skirt. If you cut off a circle hook that is in the corner of the halibut’s mouth this will have little impact on the fish, it is similar to an earring or other piercing.

If your halibut is small enough then you can easily grab the spreader bar and the 200lb leader and lift the fish into the boat. Be careful not to wrap the line around your hands though. Depending on your regulations if you can keep larger fish then you should also invest in a halibut spear. Spear the fish and allow it to remain outside the boat for a while.

Cut the gills on your halibut and this will quickly bleed the fish and ensure the highest quality meat.

Weighing Halibut

For the method on how to weigh a halibut from a length table, refer to:

  • FishinBC.COM article: Halibut Weight Length Table – International Pacific Halibut Commission

Filleting Halibut

For the method on how to fillet a halibut, refer to:

  •  FishinBC.COM article: How to Fillet your Salmon or Halibut with Less Waste

Halibut Fishing Videos

Here are some very cool halibut fishing videos from Youtube that I think you will enjoy.

To purchase Procure Bait Injector check their website:
•Link: Bait Injector

Your Turn !

Now that you’ve read the whole article, and watched the videos, give me a shoutout – write in the comment box and let me know what you like about halibut fishing and what you’d like to know about halibut fishing. And if you enjoyed this article, be sure to tweet, like, and G+1 this page so other anglers can find it too, and join the official Fishin BC facebook page to stay in touch with our latest news. Tight lines…FishinBC.COM.

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