Alaska Halibut Fact Sheet

Lodge guest Russ Andrus lands this beauty while Alaska halibut fishing

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.

Size:
1-8ft long and 5-500lbs.
Alaska’s Record sport-caught halibut was 459lbs.

Distinguishing Features:
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 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, halibut are large enough for other 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 guide might have a great offshore hole to fish, you don’t necessarily have to go 20 miles off shore to catch big fish.

Halibut Distribution

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

Fishermen land 6 Alaska halibut

Halibut Fishing

Best Fishing Dates:
Halibut fishing is historically open from February to December annually.

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

Halibut Fishing Techniques

When to go:
Plan to be on the water 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.

Fishing with Bait:
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.

Fishing with a Jig:
When fishing with a jig, let out enough line to find the ocean floor and then begin jigging. In contrast to jigging the circle hook and bait, this action should be bigger and sharper. Use one or two swift jerks to come up 2-3 feet before letting the jig settle back down to the bottom.

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 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.
  • Halibut tagged in the Bering Sea have been caught as far away as the coast of Oregon – a range of 2,000 miles!
  • When fishing with a 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 and thus do not vary throughout the state.

NOTE: Halibut fishing trips at Alaska’s Boardwalk Lodge are all-inclusive. We provide all the necessary gear, tackle, bait, licenses, stamps and tags required for your fully-guided sport-fishing adventure with us. Additionally, we stay up-to-date on all fishing regulations for our area including any daily emergency orders that may affect your 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.