Fluorocarbon for Halibut
Alaska is a state with natural beauty that attracts many visitors every year. It's known as "The Last Frontier" and offers excellent opportunities for getting outside and experiencing the untouched wilderness. Many make the trek to go fishing and while the salmon species get the bulk of the attention, the tasty halibut is another popular target.
These large flatfish can be targeted in many ways and anglers pull them from the depths with either cut bait or artificial lures, according to Captain Scott Edgar of Reel Alaska Fishing Charters and Miles "Sonar" Burghoff, a professional bass angler who has spent many summers guiding for them.
Captain Scott Edgar (L) of Reel Alaska Fishing Charters with happy guest holding a nice Alaskan Halibut.
Edgar’s cut bait for halibut
Reel Alaska Fishing Charters takes clients fishing for various fish species when they arrive in Ketchikan, Alaska's southernmost city. Plenty of options exist, from salmon species to halibut, rockfish, or lingcod. Many look for a day of halibut fishing as their table fair is second to none.
One tried-and-true way to get on halibut is with a double hook rig and piece of frozen herring, squid, or Edgar's favorite, the belly of a pink or chum salmon. He ties them with 12/O circle hooks, lead in the middle, and 12 to 14-inch leaders of 200-pound Seaguar Fluoro Premier running from a swivel to an 80-pound braided line. Below the swivel is a dropper followed by another 20 to 24 inches of fluorocarbon to the hooks.
"We work with a local fish processor to get the salmon after they've been trimmed and they get bit much faster," said the guide who is on the clock to get bit with many clients only available for a few hours after their Alaskan cruise comes to the harbor.
"We tie up the rigs with 1 to 2 ½-pound lead weights to get down in the current, with depths typically averaging around 150 feet deep," said Edgar. "We're typically fishing shelves next to deep drops, looking for gravel, sand, and softer bottom. The halibut slot limits change yearly, so we adjust the depths based on the size of the fish we target. Most often, we are fishing the shelves with upwelling currents around 150 feet deep but will go as deep as around 320 feet deep."
Edgar outfits his clients with short, 5 ½-foot rods rated for 100 to 200 pounds and 700 class reels and spools them with an 80-pound braided line and a 200-pound Seaguar Fluoro Premier leader.
While one of the most significant benefits of a fluorocarbon line is that it's nearly invisible, halibut are not line shy, especially in the darkness over 100 feet deep. Still, there are other reasons why he chooses Fluoro Premier.
"In the old days, they used rope and still caught them," he said. "We use fluorocarbon because it gives you more shock absorption, especially when you are 300 feet away from the fish and using a braid with no stretch. Fluoro Premier is also a great choice because it doesn't get torn up as easily as monofilament; it's very abrasion resistant. We use the same rigs and gear for halibut as we do for lingcod and they tend to be a little more line shy."
Seaguar Pro Staffer and professional Bass Angler Miles “Sonar” Burghoff with a Halibut caught on soft plastic.
Sonar's soft plastics for halibut
As an aspiring professional bass angler while in college, Miles Burghoff spent his summers in Alaska, guiding to save up money to compete in bass tournaments when he returned. Now gearing up to make his 18th trip to Baranof Island in Sitka, it's become an annual tradition and part of who he is.
"It's 18 years and counting and what started as a summer job has become part of my life," he said. "Early on, I'd come back with a chunk of change, allowing me to enter tournaments for the next several months. We’d guide for salmon and do quite a bit of halibut fishing in the deep channels around the island chains."
Burghoff has done the cut bait method for years, but the bass angler in him had him experimenting with soft plastics in recent years. It's worked out great and has given him a very productive way to catch halibut.
"We've done the traditional method with squid and salmon heads, but the last couple of years have been great with a big grub on a 3-ounce Z-Man HeadlockZ HD jighead," he said. "The 6-inch DoormatadorZ in pearl, pink glow, or bright colors like nuked chicken glow are best. We will fish as deep as 150 feet, which is our maximum for artificials because the current is strong but will go much shallower. Halibut will be all through the water column and we catch them between 35 and 70 feet deep with the grubs, banging the bottom to cause a commotion and then lifting your rod and letting it fall again."
Typically using stout salmon rods and round baitcast reels, Burghoff and crew will use a 50 to 60-pound braided line with a short leader of Seaguar Blue Label® in the same pound test.
"The clarity down that deep isn't that great, but using fluorocarbon still doesn't hurt," he said. "The bigger benefit of using a short leader is the abrasion resistance and to keep your line from tangling. It's also beneficial the same way it is for using braided line for topwater when bass fishing, the limp line will wrap around your hooks. It's the same when working the grubs; you don't get fouled up as often with a stiffer fluorocarbon."
He sees other similarities to bass fishing in where the halibut congregate. "We are looking for ridges with a lot of current and a shallow shelf in the current," he said. "It's the same thing with bass fishing in the current and you are looking for where the current condenses the water column and gathers predator fish looking for food."
Halibut are known for their unique looks, massive size, and great-tasting filets. That's part of the draw for fishing for them and targeting them in Alaska's natural beauty and cold water makes it even more of a "bucket list" fish for many anglers. There are several ways to catch them; no matter how you do it, the reward is well worth it.
Seaguar Fluoro Premier fluorocarbon leader is available in 25 and 50-yard spools in 12, 15, 20, 25, 30, 40, 50, 60 and 80 lb. test. Seaguar Big Game Fluoro Premier is available in 25, 50 and 110-yard coils.
Seaguar Blue Label® fluorocarbon leader is available in 25, 50, and 100-yard spools in 2, 4, 6, 8, 10, 12, 15, 20, 25, 30, 40, 50, 60, and 80 lb. test. Seaguar Big Game Blue Label is available in 30-meter and 110-yard coils in 90, 100, 130, 150, 180, 200, 220, 300 and 400 lb. test.
Seaguar Threadlock® braid is available in white and blue. It comes in 600 and 2500-yard spools from 50 to 200 lb. test.
Seaguar Smackdown braid is available in high visibility Flash Green and low visibility Stealth Gray. It is available in 150 and 300-yard spools in sizes ranging from 10 to 65 lb. test.