How and where to tar­get the world’s largest flat­fish

Sea Angler (UK) - - SEA ANGLER | CONTENTS -

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.


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

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