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While halibut are abundant throughout Alaska, there are several tricks that can help anglers catch more fish, and bigger halibut as well. There are plenty of tips to catch these fish, and here are a few to help you catch more whether you are fishing for them in the Pacific or the Atlantic. Use a chum bag: Most halibut in Alaska are caught at anchor. Anchoring helps anglers accomplish two things. It keeps the boat over a likely looking spot, and helps create a scent trail to attract halibut to you. Halibut use sound, sight and smell to find food, with scent being the most important sense for anglers to take advantage of. A gunny sack or grass bag will also work. Fill the chum bag with leftover bait from the previous day, as well as salmon heads and guts from the cleaning station. Fresh, bloody chum works best. While freezer-burnt bait can be effective in a chum bag, it’s best to stay away from rotten bait. Halibut are predators, not garbage fish. Scents can also be added to chum bags. Usually keep the chum bags in a bucket on the way to the fishing grounds, and marinate the bait in a mixture of Pautzke green Nectar and Liquid Krill.
Use fillets instead of steaks: Herring is one of the most popular halibut baits. Some anglers like whole herring, while others will use steaks. Last summer, fishing herring fillets side-by-side with herring steaks or chunks, I quickly discovered fillets not only get more bites, but more aggressive ones as well. A fillet releases a lot more scent into the water than whole herring, and even a steak. Use the biggest herring you can find, and use a whole fillet from one side. If you are just using herring for bait, replace the fillets every 20 minutes are so. During a bait check, just reel in one bait at a time, keeping the others in the water to maximize the scent trail. While many boaters are struggling to catch fish with herring and squid, you can nail big halibut using bellies, collars, heads and other parts of salmon thrown away by salmon anglers. Salmon has long been a go-to bait in Sitka, but some anglers in other parts of Alaska still haven’t tried it. Use a combination of salmon and herring all season for more bites, as when halibut are keying on salmon, they’ll sometimes ignore other baits.
Unless you are jigging, be patient when a halibut strikes. Let the fish eat the bait before setting the hook. Circle hooks are the way to go when halibut fishing because once a fish is hooked, you rarely lose them. Halibut are also almost always hooked in the corner of the mouth when they bait a bait with a circle hook, which makes releasing smaller fish, or even those giant breeders, easier. You’ll see the rod start dancing up and down, but don’t do anything until the tip is bent over and the fish is trying to take line. Instead of jerking, simply lift up to finish driving the hook in and keep pressure on the fish. If you jerk or lift too early, chances are the hook will be pulled right out of the fish’s mouth. Every angler has heard the advice to use sharp hook, but it’s surprising how many halibut fishermen use hooks that are pretty dull, especially if they’ve been in use for more than a couple trips. A sticky sharp hook will catch more fish than one right out of the box, especially if the fish aren’t biting aggressively. Made by Berkley, the same company that makes fishing lines and Power Bait, Gulp! is probably the most effective scent you can add to your bait for halibut. The Gulp! Cut Bait is my favorite. Gulp! creates an incredible scent trail that halibut follow right to your hook.
Halibut are big fish and love to stick on the bottom, so heavy duty fishing equipment is often required. Most halibut fisherman have a favorite of everything they use, and if you ask around or take a guide they will set you up correctly. There is nothing worse than hooking into a big fish, only to lose it because your gear is not up to the task. Halibut fishing can become very addictive, and it is no wonder so many people enjoy fishing for them. They are also considered to be one of the most delicious fish in the entire world, so you may have to try that out for yourself. Heading to the north Pacific or the north Atlantic can be more than just fun, you can try fishing for halibut and catch some crazy looking fish while you are at it.