Top Halibut Fishing Tips

Tips to make your Ketchikan Alaska halibut fishing trip more successful!

I have assembled the Top Halibut Fishing Tips which come from my experiences fishing with several charter boat captains over the years - just for you! I still remember the
first time I went Halibut Fishing in Ketchikan. I was invited to go by a couple co-workers - two boat captains – and a fishing charter boat captain friend of theirs.

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They told me to meet them at 7am at the boat, which was located at the Narrows Inn Marina now the Rodeway Inn Edgewater, and they would show me the ‘ropes’ of Halibut fishing in Ketchikan.

The first thing we did was eat breakfast. Haha!! Yep, it’s an important step in preparing to go Halibut fishing, apparently! More halibut fishing tips - eat breakfast!!! Developing the plan of the day, discussing places to try, & discussing the gear each person came with – all while savoring a fantastic breakfast of pancakes & eggs at the Narrows Inn Restaurant Rodeway Inn Edgewater Restaurant– is an important part of the planning process!

Once we were on the boat and heading out of the marina, Captain Don looked over all of the gear and began assembling the halibut hooks. Who knew there was such a science to the way the hook was assembled?! The round-shaped halibut hook, the favorite of many Halibut fishermen, is tied to the bottom of the line with a one to three foot bait leader leading to the lead ball weight (1-2lb). Be sure to read the Halibut Fishing Tips below for more information on halibut hooks.

Halibut Hooks discussed in Halibut Fishing TipsHalibut Hook & leader getting ready to be assembled

The fishing rod we used was a sturdy, 6-7ft halibut rod, American style, one designed for Halibut Fishing – balanced, powerful, & lightweight. A sturgeon rod can work but will be a little light in the tip which can really tire you out after a full day of Halibut fishing. We also used 60lb braided Dacron test line. Strong as steel but lightweight!

We headed out toward Guard Island and when the guys decided we were in a good spot, we dropped our lines. Halibut fishing is pretty different than the fishing I have done in the past.

Guard Island in Ketchikan Alaska on halibut fishing tipsGuard Island in Ketchikan Alaska - gorgeous, huh?!

The bait is placed on the hook, usually herring, salmon heads and guts, octopus, cod and crab though be sure to check out my halibut fishing tips for the best bait! Then you simply toss the line over the side of the boat and open up the bail on the fishing reel to let the weight fall down to the ocean floor. Once the weight hits bottom, you close the bail, and...wait! Every little while (30 seconds or so) you pull on the weight and let it fall back down on the floor. Halibut are attracted by scent and bouncing the bait will send the scent and vibrations out in all directions indicating there is food nearby.

Halibut are bottom feeders so you must drop the hook to the ocean floor. They prefer deep waters, 200 - 300 feet deep, with piles of rocks and ledges to live on. If you study your marine charts & use a GPS, you will have no trouble locating ‘perfect’ halibut holes. Luckily for me, I was with professional charter boat captains with their GPS’ loaded with their favorite halibut holes!

Halibut Fishing Tips are easy enough a kid can do it!So easy a kid can do it!

As I waited and bobbed my weight on the ocean floor, I was also watching the tip of the fishing rod which is usually steadily bouncing up and down with the rise & fall of the ocean, watching for the unmistakable tip dance that indicates the halibut has taken the bait.

After a few drops of the weight the tip of my fishing rod started bouncing like crazy and Captain Don yelled out FISH ON!!! Woohoo!!! Let the fun begin! Now Captain Don started yelling out instructions...More halibut fishing tips...“Wait….let him swallow the bait…now set the hook!”...“Keep the tip up”...”Reel quickly & steadily”

I let Captain Don set the hook that first time and get it started then I became the ‘Auto Reeler’ (my nickname still to this day!) There is also an art to setting the hook because if you jerk up on the line before the fish has eaten the bait, you simply pull the bait - and the hook - right out of their mouths! Here's more halibut fishing tips - don't do that!  You wait a few seconds, let them eat the bait, reel in a couple winds, then JERK up on the rod to set the hook into the hard mouth of the halibut.

Halibut fishing tips Halibut Fishing in Ketchikan AlaskaHey, that's me! Halibut Fishing in Ketchikan Alaska

I reeled as fast as I could – wow, 300 feet is a long way! – finally spotting a fish coming up to the surface! Once at the surface, Captain Don & the others gaffed the fish and brought it onboard. They bonked it on its head (a quick, solid hit behind the eyes), cut just inside the gill coverings which started the bleeding out process, and placed it in the fish locker (another ‘guy-only’ job!)

Rene Halibut Fishing TipsWoohoo! Halibut for dinner tonight!

Top Halibut Fishing Tips & Techniques!

  • Fishing Rod, Reel & Line
    Use a sturdy 6 - 7 foot American-style 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.

  • Herring is an excellent bait choice for halibut fishing

  • 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 break lines 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). As of 2018 the regulations were that the halibut must be less than or equal to 38 inches (approx 19 lbs) or monster halibuts greater than or equal to 80 inches in length (approx 208 lbs). Always check the current regulations for updates!

    p.s. - I'm sure you can see what my favorite shopping site is! That is because for us living in Alaska, free shipping is unheard of! And through Amazon Prime, they offer free shipping! If you're in the lower 48, most of the time they guarantee 3 day shipping! It's a super deal for me and although I don't receive the product within the 3 days, who cares as long as the shipping is free!!! I hear from folks in the lower 48 and they say they can even get same-day shipping. Wow! Personally, I LOVE Amazon Prime! If you're not a member, they have a "try it free" deal that I recommend!

    Check out this great video showing a Halibut Hole up in Deep Creek, AK!

    Halibut fishing Alaska Ketchikan halibut fishing tipsA monster halibut!

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