Hooking one of these flat-fighters can be as easy as locating a shelf or bank or as tough as looking for the proverbial pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. The most sure-fire way to score and score "butt" good is to follow the "main artery" north to British Columbia or Alaska, where the heart of halibut fishing brings anglers from around the world.

During the winter and spring months, halibut orient themselves to deep water, often exceeding 900-feet. In the summer they move from deep water along the continental shelf to shallower banks, depressions and inland waters in search of feed. You might simply have to wait for an open season or good weather along the coast to enjoy the fishery.

"If you donít have any clue where to look for halibut, look for any vertical relief," advises Bob Trumble, with the International Pacific Halibut Commission. He also advises looking for any sharp drop offs, edges, holes, gullies, pinnacles or depressions on the bottom. Bait washes behind these areas and halibut wait there for easy meals. Successful halibut hunters also agree that halibut prefer gravel, cobble, sand or mud bottoms. The back or "eyed" side of a halibut usually matches the bottom because of their camouflaging ability. This aids anglers in knowing what the bottom is like, which provides clues for technique and bait choices.

Short of knowing where to go or following the fleet to known halibut holes, the best way to find productive halibut haunts lies within the borders of detailed nautical, bathymetric and bottom contour charts. I look for any bank on the chart and concentrate on water ranging from 200 to 600-feet deep. When searching in places like the San Juan Islands, the 100 foot level or less could produce in areas where masses of candlefish spawn. Secret Harbor and the tiny cove inside Eagle Bluff are great shallow areas to try. The flats just offshore from Burrows Island also offer anglers fairly shallow angling options.

When purchasing charts, always try to get the most detailed chart available; 1: to 40,000 is most common, but charts showing more detail are preferred when available. After finding a likely spot, from a chart or boat, a Loran C. or GPS coupled with a fish finder is paramount to locating the spot or staying on it.

Bait

By far, most sport-caught halibut from Oregon to British Columbia get fooled by herring behind a mooching sinker. This fact simply illustrates how many halibut are taken "incidentally" by salmon anglers.

Trumble describes halibut as "vacuum cleaner feeders." Most agree, anything you put in front of halibut could entice a strike. But not all baits are created equal Ė some out fish others hands down. My first choice when bait fishing is a combo of herring and halibut skin {the white side}. If the herring falls off, the skin holds firm allowing halibut to eyeball more than just bare hooks. When available, I also like using a small piece of octopus, either with herring or sandwiched between my herring/skin combo. Trumble says a lot of anglers successfully use salmon gills.

In Alaska at least 95 percent of the anglers use a herring/octopus combo. A similar proportion also makes up the catch, says Alaskan Fish and Game biologist, Scott Meyer. Many other baits including; salmon heads, {where legal} Pacific cod, squid, sandlance, sablefish, turbot, crabs and clams also work well. In Washington waters, anglers may use salmon, either whole or in part. This little known fact could increase most anglerís catch by simply sweetening the hook with salmon parts. One of my favorites, is fresh guts. Believe me, when it comes to attracting halibut to your bait, the old saying, "no guts no glory" holds true.



Bait Rigs

Talk to a hundred halibut anglers and youíre likely to hear about dozens of ways to send bait to the bottom. Since most sport fishing for halibut occurs in 100 or more feet of water, you need lots of lead to keep baits near the bottom. Factor in winds and currents and the weight increases, sometimes unbearably so.

When using heavy monofillament, I like a sliding weight system that allows the fish to mouth the bait without feeling the weight. {see illustration}. This method works great, but relies on smell instead of sight.

I prefer using Berkley 20 to 30-pound Fireline because it doesnít stretch, signals all bites, and cuts through the water with its super-thin diameter which enables me to use half the weight of comparable mono line. I attach a drop sinker tied on 30-inches of 12-pound test to a heavy-duty three-way swivel. A short 16-inch piece of heavy 50-plus mono or wire leader tied to a 5/0 to 10/0 hook holds the bait away from the swivel and provides durability against sharp teeth. This setup allows the bait to dangle above the bottom which attracts halibut from a greater distance.

With either rig, the amount of weight could vary from a few ounces to two pounds Ė any more than that and youíll just tire needlessly from cranking dead weight up and down all day. Always use the least amount of weight possible to keep your bait near the bottom.

Hooks

The old style J hooks work well, but commercial style circle hooks work best. "Iíve used a lot of different hooks, circle hooks really work if you donít rush the fish," Trumble says. "Once you get a halibut on a circle hook, itís more likely youíll land them."

But you must give the fish 15 or 20 seconds to allow the fish the time to hook itself. Since the commercial fishers have gone to circle hooks, their hooking rate soared by at least 50 percent, Trumble reports. "Circle hooks are also ideal for catch and release fishing," he suggests.

Lures

In many places, especially where dog fish are present, baits are out of the question. Leadhead jigs, ranging in size from 6 to 16-ounces work best. The leadheadís design allows the angler to repeatedly "rap" the jig on the bottom, without much fear of snagging. Add a rubber worm or a large rubber scampi to increases the jigís effectiveness. Thread a piece of herring, octopus or halibut skin on the hook for smell and youívecreated one of the most effective lures available. When it comes to color, several work, but nothing beats a fluorescent red tail that imitates a crab or octopus.

Flat metal baitfish-imitating jigs like Pt.Wilson Darts, Zzingers, Spinnows, and Luhr Jensenís jumbo Crippled Herring all work well. Pipe jigs, chrome diamond jigs and almost any other jig will work Ė eventually.

Choosing Size & Color

Size depends on depth, current and wind. Try to use the lightest jig that stays close to vertical and on the bottom. This allows you to slowly and steadily yo-yo the jig up and down. An occasional pause followed by reeling twenty feet, then free-spooling to the bottom will draw strikes when nothing else will.

Color depends on the angler and fish. Choose one, fish with it and see if the fish respond. If not, change colors. My favorite tried-and-true colors are: White, glow-in-the-dark, green, and chrome. As for plastic worm and scampi colors, besides my favorite fluorescent red, white, glow-in-the-dark, oil and root beer all work well.

Rods & Reels

Use a short rod, usually six to eight-inches longer than your height. A longer rod only increases the fishís leverage which undoubtedly will gouge your mid-section unnecessarily and cause you to bend your back.

A fighting belt and lower back support belt will ensure you have a more comfortable fight. Remember, halibut fishing can be hard work, but it should never be back-breaking.

Halibut reels vary in size depending on the rod and line used. Match the reel to the rod and its line rating. The reel should handle at least 300 yards for those deep water situations and long-running fish. The rod and reel should be big enough to handle most situations, but small enough to remain comfortable in case you have to hold it all day long. I use a Shimano 200 series reel loaded with 300 yards of 20-pound Fireline. My rod of choice for an all-day affair is a Berkley 7-foot muskie rod rated for 20 to 40-pound test line. This combo allows me to tackle most fish to 150 pounds Ė anything heavier and I run for cover and the closet for my "bigger rig!"



Handling Halibut

A halibutís mass of muscle can injure or kill the unprepared. I recall a buddyís first introduction to a halibut: he dropped a 40-pounder on the deck straight from the sea without killing or subduing it first. As he bent down to try and control the angry mass, the halibutís tail slapped his chest and face until he hosted two black eyes and a cracked rib!

Subduing a halibut, safety and proper care for the dinner table go hand in hand. Do it right and youíll have top-quality fillets to eat. Do it wrong and you may need help feeding yourself!

While many halibut hunters argue the virtues of a gun when subduing halibut over 50-pounds, many others opt for a safer harpoon or flying gaff. If you choose to shoot a halibut in the head, you might destroy its cheeks, the best eating part of the beast. And donít forget, Canada frowns of the use of guns, especially pistols.

Netting halibut under 50-pounds remains a practice, but only by those whoíve never landed one before. Gaff or harpoon the little guys, youíll save yourself the cost of a net in most cases.

Trumble offers this advise, "You want to keep the halibutís head under water. As soon as you bring the head out of the water, they go crazy. I donít bring any big fish on board, until itís dead."

When harpooning a halibut, aim for a solid area, behind the head and ram all the way through with the harpoon. A line attached to a "Scottsman" buoy can be thrown overboard if necessary, just like having a trout on a bobber and worm. Wait for the fish to tire and bleed, bring it alongside the boat, hog tie it and cut the gill rakers. Bleeding the fish helps to kill the beast along with providing bloodless meat. Once the halibut is dead, put Ďem on ice if you can.

Filleting halibut yields a better product than steaking. If you plan on freezing the fillets longer than two months, leave the skin on and rinse the fish with saltwater before vacuum packing. This method ensures top-quality meat for many months.