Sport fishing for halibut in Alaska is a very popular activity; it is a strong fighter and one of the world’s largest bony fish with an impressive yield of lean and firm white flesh. Over 65% of the effort and harvest occurs in Cook Inlet, southeast Alaska, the Kodiak area, and near the mouth of Deep Creek in the Lower Cook Inlet.
Halibut taken by sport anglers are generally 15 to 20 lb (6.8 to 9.1 kg) in weight; but fish over 150 lb (68 kg) are often caught. The current Alaska state record for a sport-caught halibut is 459 lb (208 kg), and a fish must weigh at least 250 lb (113 kg) to qualify for the state’s trophy fish program.
Anglers generally use stout saltwater gear to catch halibut. Most anglers prefer to fish with bait, especially herring, but also squid, octopus, cod pieces, or other small bottom fish. To get the bait down to the halibut, it is usually fished on a wire spreader or a sliding-sinker rig with sinker size 4 oz (113 g) to 4 lb (1.81 kg), depending on such factors as depth and current.
Pacific halibut have diamond-shaped bodies. They are more elongated than most flatfishes, the width being about one-third of the length. Halibut have both eyes on their dark or upper sides. The color on the dark side varies, but tends to assume the coloration of the ocean bottom. The underside is lighter, appearing more like the sky from below. This color adaptation allows halibut to avoid detection by both prey and predator. They are one of the largest flatfish (only surpassed by the closely related Atlantic halibut), and can weigh up to 500 lb (230 kg) and grow to over 8 ft (2.4 m) long.
Pacific halibut (Hippoglossus stenolepis) is one of the largest species of fish in the world, with many individuals growing to over eight feet in length and over 500 lb. The range of Pacific halibut that the International Pacific Halibut Commission manages covers the continental shelf from northern California to the Aleutian Islands (AI) and throughout the Bering Sea (BS). Pacific halibut are also found along the western north Pacific continental shelf of Russia, Japan, and Korea.
The depth range for halibut is up to 250 fathoms (460 m) for most of the year and up to 500 fathoms (920 m) during the winter spawning months. During the winter, the eggs are released, move up in the water column, and are caught by ocean currents. Prevailing currents carry the eggs north and west. The young fish settle to the bottom in bays and inlets. Research has shown that the halibut then begin what can be called a journey back. This movement runs counter to the currents that carried them away from the spawning grounds and has been documented at over 1,000 miles for some fish. Pacific halibut are generally pre-teens (8 to 12 years old) when they are large enough to meet the minimum size limit for the commercial fishery of 32 inches.
Halibut larvae start life in an upright position like other fish, with an eye on each side of the head. The left eye moves to the right side of the head when the larvae are about one inch long. At the same time, the coloration on the left side of the body fades. The fish end up with both eyes on the pigmented (olive to dark brown), or right, or upper side of the body, while their underside is white. By the age of 6 months, young halibut settle to the bottom in shallow nearshore areas.
Pacific halibut feed on plankton during their first year of life. Young halibut (1 to 3 years old) feed on euphausiids (small shrimp-like crustaceans) and small fish. As halibut grow, fish make up a larger part of their diet. Larger halibut eat other fish, such as herring, sand lance, capelin, smelt, pollock, sablefish, cod, and rockfish. They also consume octopus, crabs, and clams.
Sport fishing only accounts for approximately 12% of the halibut caught in Alaskan waters.