Alaska Halibut Fact Sheet - Alaska's Boardwalk Lodge

Alaska Halibut Fact Sheet

Halibut Names

Common Name: Halibut
Scientific Name: Hippoglossus stenolepis
Other Names: Butts, Chickens (little ones), Turkeys (bigger than little ones), Barn doors (big ones)

Halibut Description

Color & Markings

Their upper side ranges in color from mottled blue-gray to olive green-brown depending on the color of the ocean floor where they live.

The bottom side of the fish is white.

Halibut Size

Halibut are typically 1-8ft long and 5-500lbs.
Alaska’s Record sport-caught halibut was 459lbs—now that’s a big halibut!

In Alaska, big halibut weighing over 100 pounds are not uncommon, and anglers can often catch fish weighing over 200 pounds. These fish can put up a formidable fight, requiring strength and skill to reel in. Anglers often measure their success by the size of the halibut they catch, with larger fish being prized for their impressive size and the challenge they present.

How do Alaskan Halibut compare to other fish?

In general, a halibut can grow much larger than an Alaskan king salmon. As mentioned, a fully grown halibut can weigh over 500 pounds, while an Alaskan king salmon typically weighs between 20 and 50 pounds.

On the other hand, silver salmon (also known as coho salmon) typically weigh between 8 and 12 pounds, with larger specimens weighing up to 20 pounds. Sockeye salmon (also known as red salmon) are generally smaller, with an average weight of 6 pounds and larger specimens weighing up to 15 pounds.

Halibut Distinguishing Features

Pacific halibut are “flat fish.” This means that they are flatten laterally, and swim sideways.

Their dorsal fin extends from just behind the eyes to the base of the tail. On the ventral side, their anal fin extends from just behind the anus to the base of the tail.

The bottom (white) side of the fish can be called the blind side as both eyes of the adult fish are found on the darker upper side of the fish.

Most Pacific halibut are right-eyed. That is, when you lay them down dark side up, the head is pointing to the right. There are a few left-eyed fish. If you catch one of these, be sure to get a great picture with it!

Inexperienced halibut anglers may find it easy to confuse smaller halibut with Arrowtooth Flounder. The quickest, easiest way to ensure that you’re keeping a halibut, is to look at the mouth. On Halibut, the mouth extends just to the back of the lower eye. On Arrowtooth, it extends well beyond the back of the eye. Arrowtooth also have large, prominent scales. The Alaska Department of Fish and Game (ADFG) has a picture, showing the difference between Arrowtooth and Halibut.

Halibut Life Cycle

Male halibut reach sexual maturity around 8 years of age, while females don’t reach sexual maturity until about 12 years of age. In the fall, mature fish move deeper off-shore to spawn.

Depending on how large she is, a female halibut will release thousands to millions of eggs which are then fertilized by males.

The eggs hatch about 2 weeks later. As the larval fish grow, they move up the water column where surface currents take them shallower and nearer to shore.

Upon hatching, halibut larvae start out as upright swimmers like other fish. They have an eye on both sides of their head. As they grow, and reach the 1 inch mark their left eye (usually) migrates to their right-side and the pigment on the left side of their body starts to fade.

By the time they are 6 months old, halibut have generally settled on their sides, in shallow areas near the shoreline.

Halibut Habitat

Halibut are usually found near the ocean floor in a variety of bottom types.

Despite being bottom dwellers, halibut will move up the water column to feed and will sometimes strike on relatively shallow trolling gear.

Halibut Diet

Larval halibut feed on plankton through their first year. As they grow larger, they begin feeding on small shrimp-like crustaceans and small fish. By three, north Pacific halibut are large enough for other Alaska fish to make up the majority of their diet.

Halibut also feed on octopus, crabs and clams.

After moving to deep water in the fall to spawn, mature fish return to shallower water in the summer to feed. This means that, while your fishing charter guide might have a great offshore hole to fish, you don’t necessarily have to go 20 miles off shore to catch big halibiut.

Halibut Distribution

On or near the continental shelf around the rim of the North Pacific Ocean.

Fishermen land 6 Alaska halibut

Halibut Fishing

Book your Alaska Halibut Fishing Trip now!

When does halibut fishing season start in Alaska? 

Halibut fishing is historically open from February to December annually.

What is the Best Month for Halibut Fishing in Alaska?

The best month for halibut fishing in Alaska can vary depending on the specific location and conditions, but generally, the peak season for halibut fishing in Alaska is from mid-May to mid-September. During this time, the Alaska waters are warmer, and the halibut are more active, making them easier to catch.

Where is the best halibut fishing in Alaska?

Prince of Wales Island in Southeast Alaska is an excellent destination for halibut fishing. The island is the third-largest in the United States and is home to a diverse range of wildlife and natural beauty. The waters around Prince of Wales Island are teeming with halibut, and the fishing is consistently good throughout the summer months.

Is it Easy to Catch Halibut in Alaska?

Catching halibut in Alaska can be challenging, but with the right equipment, technique, and guidance, it’s definitely possible for anglers of all levels. Halibut are bottom-dwelling fish that can weigh up to several hundred pounds, so it takes a certain level of skill, strength, and patience to catch them.

What is the Best Bait to Catch Halibut?

Jigs, Circle hooks and Hoochies with bait (usually herring), lead weights 1-5lbs.

Halibut Fishing Techniques

When is the Best Time to go Halibut Fishing in Alaska?

Plan to be on the Alaska waters before the change of the tide. You want to get bait in the water while it’s still moving and spreading the scent and drawing the fish to you.

Bait and Circle Hooks

Bait and circle hooks are often used when Alaska halibut fishing (See Figure 1). A weight is tied on above the baited hook and the weight is gently bounced along the bottom of the ocean with the bait trailing behind it.

Illustration of Alaska Halibut fishing rig with circle hook tackle
Figure 1

When you feel the tug of the fish, you gently lift and reel using a steady pressure. This turns and sets the hook in the fish’s mouth. Fishing with a circle hook is very effective when the bite is on, but when fishing is slow, baited circle hooks can be BORING. This is especially true on a cloudy, rainy day where the best and only view just might be the back of your buddy’s raincoat.

When fishing with bait and a circle hook, the amount of weight you use, will be determined by the water depth and the current. You need enough weight to keep the bait on the bottom of the ocean and not walking hundreds of yards down current as you jig the bait up and down. Jig about 1 ft up off the ocean floor and then let it sink until you feel the weight hit the bottom, then repeat. Keep the bait moving.

When you feel resistance, reel-up slowly, do not jerk to set the hook. The circle hook will turn and set in the halibut’s mouth on its own.

What is Jigging for Halibut?

When the bite is slow, jigging for halibut can increase the action by 3x or more. Sometimes just one person jigging on the boat is enough to get the fish stirred up and create a bite for all.

A jig is a hook that is front-weighted so that it’s shank runs perpendicular to the leader line. “Jigging” is the action you use to attract the fish. Halibut jigs are large, lead-headed bullet jigs. They are usually dressed with a rubber grub that has a long wiggly tail (See Figure 2), but skirts that look like squid may also be used.

Illustration of lead-headed Halibut jig with rubber grub
Figure 2

Depending on the depth you’re fishing and the water current, the jig weight will range between 12 and 20 ounces. Bait or scent oils are often used to increase interest in the jig.For convenience, jigs are usually fished on the same short, heavy, halibut rods used when fishing with circle hooks and bait, but the fishing action is very different. Instead of lowering down and gently tapping the bottom with the weight (as when fishing with a circle hook), jigging is a series of short, sharp movements designed to attract attention.

Release line until you find the bottom, and close the bail. Then, in one or two, sharp, jerky, motions, bring your rod up 2-3 feet from horizontal. Let the jig sink back down until you feel the weight tap the bottom, repeat these short, jerky upward movements. You can add a little jerk up, as it sinks back down to keep the grub tail dancing in the water. Keep the jig moving. Don’t let it rest on the bottom otherwise you’re likely to get snagged, especially if you’re drifting.

Best Saltwater Fishing

King SalmonJune-July
Silver Salmonlate July-Sept
Pink Salmonlate July-Aug
Chum SalmonAug-mid Sept
Table indicates typical seasonal runs

The action of jigging creates visual stimulation that can trigger the strike instinct in the halibut, even when they’re more or less off the bite. Think about your children, maybe they want your attention, but they’re playing more or less peacefully and you’re half asleep on the couch. When they start flashing the lights on and off and waving streamers in your face, you’re going to wake up and respond. This is essentially what jigging does with halibut. Keep that rubber grub tail dancing and flashing to draw as much attention as possible.

When Alaskan halibut strike a jig, it’s a sharper tug than when they pick up the bait on the circle hook. When you feel the fish strike, give a quick, sharp jerk to set the hook, and then, as with any good fight, keep the pressure on. Slack in the line is not your friend. If you reel slowly and consistently, the fish will generally behave better, and you’ll have a much more enjoyable, less exhausting day.

Pro tipPRO TIP: Halibut will often strike as the jig is sinking back down, so don’t let your guard down with the rod tip.

If you’re in the mood to spice things up a bit, try Alaska halibut fishing on a lighter weight jigging rod with a flexible tip.  There’s more physical movement (especially nice on a cold day), generally more biting action, and the fight is longer and more fun.

When you feel a fish bite, use a short quick jerk to set the hook.

Once you have a fish on, It’s imperative to keep the line tight. Use your arms, or even take a step-backward, to gain on the fish, but reel-in as you lower the rod or step forward, never allowing the line to go slack.

You will feel the halibut tugging on the line with short, rapid tugs. If he isn’t hooked, drop your bait right back down. It’s likely still intact. If you don’t get another bite right away, have your guide check to see if you still have bait; they’ll be able to tell if your bait is gone by feeling for the resistance.

How long to fish:
Fish through the slack tide and until the current is too strong to keep your bait down with a reasonable amount of weight. If your halibut fishing charter guide tells you to put on anything bigger than a 5lb weight and keep fishing, tell him to jump in a lake! It’s definitely time to call it and go in or fish for something else.

Other Halibut Facts

  • Male halibut are much smaller than female halibut. They generally top out at under 3ft in length.
  • Pacific halibut tagged in the Bering Sea have been caught as far away as the coast of Oregon – a range of 2,000 miles!
  • When going with a halibut fishing charter, you are currently limited to 2 fish per day and 4 fish per annum. Size restrictions on daily bag limits also apply.
  • Halibut regulations are set federally by the International Pacific Halibut Commission and thus do not vary throughout the state.

Book Your All Inclusive Alaska Fishing Charter Today!

Halibut fishing trips at Alaska’s Boardwalk Lodge are all-inclusive. We provide fishing charters and all the necessary gear, tackle, bait, fishing license, stamps and tags required for your fully-guided halibut fishing trip. Additionally, we stay up-to-date on all fishing regulations for our area, including any daily emergency orders that may affect your Alaska fishing trip, so you don’t have to.

WARNING: In terms of regulations, Alaska is one of the most confusing places to fish. Bag limits, fishing techniques, and even bait/tackle regulations, for any given fish species (except halibut) can vary from location to location. Depending on the body of water, and what species you are fishing, regulations can even change from day to day.

Always be sure to check the regulations for every day and every area you fish. You, the angler, are responsible for knowing and following all fishing regulations including any daily changes released as emergency orders. You can find the emergency orders for Prince of Wales Island here. And for the rest of Alaska, you can select your region on this map.