The largest member of the Flatfish family, Pacific Halibut are native to the ocean waters off of Alaska’s coast, and are far more than just a commercially-targeted species. Halibut are actually born with eyes on both sides of their heads and swim like salmon or trout for the first 6 months of their lives, at which time, one of their eyes migrates to the other side of their head and they begin to swim sideways. Pacific Halibut usually spawn in the winter, between the months of December and February, and will hold right off of continental shelves during this time, usually residing in water between 600 and 1500 feet of depth. By adulthood, Pacific Halibut can grow up to 8 feet long and can weigh 500 pounds, although this is rare. Regardless, they are a large and strong species that generally lives between 20 and 1000 feet of water, meaning that a long and strenuous fight can be expected when hooking into a halibut. Because of their large size and delectable meat, halibut are commonly targeted by commercial fisherman. In fact, in 2021, over 25 million pounds of halibut were harvested, with 95% of fish being caught in Alaskan waters. Halibut can rarely be targeted with a fly rod due to the depth in which they live, but they can be caught on regular tackle.
Despite their funky appearance, halibut are actually ferocious predators, commonly feeding on cod, salmon, herring and other smaller fish species. They usually feed towards the bottom of the water they inhabit, so anglers need to drop their tackle down to the ocean’s floor to elicit a strike. Halibut are a highly migratory species, and can travel thousands of nautical miles per year; thus, they can be found all the way from the Bering Sea down to the Pacific Coast of the Continental United States. Additionally, halibut can live longer than 50 years! Anglers usually target Halibut by drift-fishing organic bait near the bottom of the ocean floor, usually in mid-depth water. A boat is usually needed to target this species, although in certain times of the year they can be caught from a pier or from the shore.
Drift fishing is not the only way to target Pacific Halibut; due to their predatory nature, lures resembling baitfish can also be very effective. While the most effective method of fishing a lure will usually be near the bottom of the ocean, Halibut are known to rise from the depths to feed on salmon and other species that hold off the ocean floor, so your lure does not have to be on the bottom to get a strike. When you hook into a halibut, be prepared for a long and strenuous fight, as these fish will not come easy to the boat or shore. Regardless of whether you plan to eat your catch or not, one thing is for sure: the Pacific Halibut will take you for a fight that you will long remember! Good luck!