How to Land a Halibut

Each guest at Doc Warner’s is allowed to keep two halibut per day and no size restrictions. With so many halibut being caught, let’s run through the process of landing a halibut.

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The Process

  1. Get the shark hook ready and get secure it on a cleat on the side of the boat.
  2. Also, make sure your bat is close by.
  3. Keep the nose just below the surface. As the halibut approaches the surface of the water, it will plateau. The fish will open its mouth to try and expel the bait.
  4. When the mouth opens, take the shark hook and run it down and out through the lower jaw. Do not touch the lips of the halibut. If you do, the mouth will clamp shut and will not open for quite some time. I tell people it’s like playing Operation, just don’t touch the sides. Once you are ready, use one quick motion in the mouth and out the lower jaw. The halibut will not like the new piercing from the shark hook on its lower jaw and will probably thrash around.
  5. As it starts to thrash, keep some tension on the rope. You may get a little wet. Let the halibut slowly go down into the water, but always keep some tension on the rope. After 30-45 seconds it will typically calm down from exhaustion. Beware of the weight as it may swing about while the fish is thrashing.
  6. Calmly pull on the rope, pulling on the shark hook as well, up onto the side of the boat.
  7. Grab your bat or “fish persuader” and aim for directly between the eyes. If you hit anywhere else, you are just meat tenderizing. Smack it as hard as you can. The brain itself is enclosed in a cartilage ball that is fairly tough. So when you smack it, you really want to hit it as hard and listen for that “homerun ping”.
  8. Carefully remove your fishing tackle from the halibut’s mouth.
  9. Pull the halibut into your boat and into the fish well.
  10. Slit the gills and bleed it out (2 of the gill rakers). It is very important to bleed out all of your fish.
  11. Put your line back in the water to catch your next halibut and repeat the process.

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What if I’m struggling to pull the halibut in the boat?

At Doc Warner’s we have seen a number of techniques for pulling a halibut into the boat.

Usually, the rope on the shark hook is strong enough and with a couple people pulling on it you should be able to pull the fish into the boat. The fish is slimy enough that it will slide right up and over the side of the boat. I’ve seen smaller individuals pull in a 180-pound halibut using only the shark hook.

If you are having trouble, we suggest shoving an oar handle down the mouth of the halibut and out through the gill plate and then lifting the fish out of the water with the oar.

Stuck Halibut Hook

We use a Norwegian circle hook to catch our halibut. They tend to get stuck sometimes in the lower jaw. To get a stuck hook out, put the eye (or back) of the hook in the palm of your hand and push down and away. It will make a popping sound as it releases.

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What if I catch a halibut that I don’t want to keep?

Do not shark hook it!

Do not hit it with the bat!

Grab the leader line with your hand so the weight doesn’t come around and smack you. With the other hand, reach around to the tail of the fish and grab the “wrist” or peduncle of the tail, which is the thinnest part. Squeeze as tight as you can. This will put pressure on the backbone and cause the halibut to arch its back and go rigid. You can then pull the fish up on the side of the boat, unhook the fish, and turn it loose.

Use the comments to let us know if there is anything we missed. Feel free to share your own techniques for landing a halibut.

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Mark Warner
Mark H. Warner was raised in Juneau and he has been fishing the waters of Alaska for more than 30 years. He grew up working with his father developing Doc Warner’s from its earliest days. After getting his Ph.D. in Mechanical engineering, he went to work in the industry where he later completed an Executive MBA. Then in 2010, his father, Doc, offered Mark and his wife, Kristina, the opportunity to move back to Alaska and operate the lodge full-time. Today, Mark has over 25 years of experience with Doc Warner’s. His knowledge and experience teaching people about self-guided fishing in Alaska are now used to create lasting memories for Doc Warner’s guests.
Posted in Fishing Tips, Self-Guided Fishing

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