How and where to target the world’s largest flatfish
All about boat sport for halibut.
AMONG the largest bony fish in the world, Atlantic halibut are strong swimmers and are able to migrate very long distances. In recent years the species has become an increasingly popular target for sea anglers visiting Norway.
Found in the temperate and Arctic waters of the northern Atlantic, from Labrador and Greenland to Iceland, the Barents Sea and as far south as the Bay of Biscay, it is the largest flatfish in the world, reaching lengths of up to 15ft and weights of over 700lb during a lifespan that can reach 50 years.
With the exception of the smaller Greenland version, halibut (Hippoglossus
hippoglossus) are unlikely to be mistaken for any other species.
The current British boat-caught record stands at 234lb, with a fish caught off Dunnet Head, in Scotland, in 1979, but fish almost double that size have, in recent years, been caught in Norway, along with numerous very large specimens in Iceland.
WHERE & WHEN
Today halibut are a very rare capture in the British Isles, so much so that specifically targeting them is all but impossible.
A hugely popular species with many, if not most, of the large number of boat anglers who travel each year to fish in Norway and Iceland, halibut can be found at depths ranging from 20 metres or less down to several hundreds of metres.
Typically, they are found over generally flat and seemingly featureless ground, and especially sandbanks. They certainly favour areas subjected to a strong flow of tide, with narrow gaps between islands, creating a fast current often being especially productive.
There are halibut inshore throughout the year in both Norway and Iceland, but during the colder winter months they are usually found in very deep water, where the temperature is more stable. During summer and early autumn, the fish often migrate into surprisingly shallow water.
Obviously, when looking to catch a fish that is commonly caught from 20-80lb and with a less than slim likelihood of hooking specimens weighing hundreds of pounds, you need very strong and reliable tackle.
A 30/50lb-class outfit featuring a goodquality reel with a reliable clutch is essential. The reel should be fully loaded with around 80lb braid, ideally terminating in a 20ft
shockleader of high quality 150-200lb mono. Halibut are very strong fish and, once hooked, will make numerous long and powerful runs, so you need to ensure your knots are strong enough to survive a sustained fight.
When bait fishing for halibut, a simple running leger rig is ideal. Many anglers use circle hooks, which are perfect for presenting sizeable deadbaits; it is illegal to use livebaits in Norway. The most efficient way to attach the bait to the hook is to bridle rig it.
Your rig should incorporate a 6-8ft hooklength cut from at least 200ft monofilament because halibut have sharp teeth that will eventually cut through thinner line.
Obviously, all links and swivels used within the rig should be of the highest quality.
Many halibut are caught on lures, specifically large, weighted shads, and even float-fishing. My long-time favourite is the Storm Giant Jigging Shad, but these are increasingly difficult to obtain.
Thankfully, suitable shads are available from several other manufacturers, but it is absolutely essential they are rigged on seriously strong hooks.
As mentioned, livebait is strictly prohibited in Norway, but dead or cut bait works very well. Pretty much any deadbait will catch halibut, but coalfish, which are widely available in both Norway and Iceland, are my first choice. A fish about 12 inches long makes an ideal bait. Mackerel, if obtainable, are another great bait.
The general method used when seeking halibut is to fish on the drift. Drifting ensures your bait or lure covers more ground, which is effective when trying to locate isolated pockets of fish over large expanses of open ground. Unlike almost all other species of flatfish, halibut, an active predator, are found throughout the entire water column right up to the surface, even in surprisingly deep water.
While mostly I would suggest slowly working your bait or lure throughout the area closest to the bottom, you should be prepared to expect a strike at any time.
I have caught more than one halibut when retrieving baits and lures at the end of a drift.
From my experience, when a halibut wants to eat, it eats. Bites generally consist of a solid thump on the rod tip as the fish inhales the bait. If you are using natural bait, be sure to give the fish a few seconds to fully eat the bait before attempting to set the hook, especially if using circle hooks.
With lures, reel the line tight, then lift the rod firmly to set the hook, and hold on tight! ■
Very large specimens can be caught in Norway and Iceland
Halibut are usually found in very deep water
Float tactics produced this huge halibut