I have fished for halibut in Juneau Alaska and Sitka Alaska. Halibut are the prized fish of the North Pacific Ocean. Halibut get huge, fight hard, and are great eating fish! Fishing for halibut can be difficult or easy depending on location, time of year, and currents. What makes fishing for halibut difficult is that they are usually very deep and like to bite in strong currents. This means that a lot of weight is needed.
Halibut are typically caught by anchoring the boat and using lots of bait to act as chum to attract the fish. A good scent trail can bring halibut to the boat from miles away. The longer you wait the more likely halibut are to come and the fish tend to get larger as time passes on the same spot. About three hours is typically spent on a halibut fishing spot. Drift fishing is not typically as effective but does work to catch halibut.
Halibut are typically found on gravel flats, sand flats, or located near what people in Alaska call rock piles but what I would typically refer to as a hump or underground mountain.
When drifting heavy jigs or mooching rigs with herring can be used to fish near the bottom. When anchoring it is good to keep lots of scented baits down to leave a scent trail. Baits can include herring, pollock, salmon bellies, salmon guts, pink salmon, squid, and octopus. If only one or two poles are used a chum bag on the bottom is a good idea to keep a scent trail going. Having someone jigging also helps keep some action in the water which also helps attract fish.
Mooching while anchored is a good idea as you can catch salmon on the way down and halibut once the rig is near the bottom. Listed below are the top lures and baits for halibut. Large non-pelagic rockfish and lingcod are often found in the same area as halibut and these baits also work well to catch them.
In the video above I show how to make the best halibut fishing rig. Below I provide details of where you can buy each item needed to make the halibut rigs.
Here Are the Best Halibut Lures, Baits, and Rigs
1. Circle Hook with Halibut Bait
A circle hook is a great way to catch halibut because the fish bite slowly and it can be hard to get a good hookset with a j-hook. I typically use a 16/0 hook because it can hold a lot of scented bait that acts like chum. Although a 16/0 is large it can still catch small 20-inch halibut. If you are targeting small halibut a size 14/0 circle hook is probably best.
The circle hook is just part of the rig. A lead weight and swivels are also needed. The rig is made with a 100-pound plus monofilament line and a 150-pound gangen line. This is a great rig to catch both halibut and lingcod.
Lead Weight (16-36 oz)
A 16-ounce lead weight is good for shallow low current halibut fishing. A 32-ounce ball is what I typically use when halibut fishing in 200-400 feet of water. If the current is really strong I will switch to a 48-pound lead ball which is 3 pounds. This 3-pound weight makes it difficult to reel in even without a big halibut on the line. Fishing for halibut is done using conventional fishing reels. The rod and reel are placed in a secure rod holder while reeling. When fishing really deep some angels even use electric fishing reels.
The lead ball can be attached to the swivel on a custom halibut rig. The weight can also be attached to the bottom of a spreader bar if that is being used.
Braided Nylon Twine (#36 size)
This is a green ganyen line that is perfect for making halibut leaders. Size 36 is a good size for halibut leaders. It does not say the exact strength but should be over a 100-pound test.
This twine is very similar to what I was using in the video above. This line is more flexible which is nice but you might need to melt the ends of the line to prevent line fray.
The exact line I was using was Ashaway tuna leader, green, which is a solid braided nylon cord with a line strength of 150 pounds. This comes in 1-pound spools for around $50.
Barrel Swivel (Size 2/0)
These barrel swivels work great for the custom halibut rig. One swivel attaches the gangen to the mainline. The other barrel swivel attaches the mono leader to the snap swivel. Size 6/0 is a large swivel which is nice for a halibut rig. Halibut are not leader-shy so large terminal tackle can be used.
Another barrel swivel option would be a Rosco Nickle barrel swivel in the 6/0 size. These are commonly used in commercial fishing.
Snap Swivel (6/0)
Two snap swivels are used for each custom halibut rig. The first swivel attaches the large lead weight. The snap swivel makes it so the lead weight can be easily taken off between trips. A round one-pound or two-pound weight is typically used.
The second snap swivels allow the leader with the hook and barrel swivel to be taken on and off the rig. This is nice because the rig can be baited quickly and sent back down. It is important to always have bait on the bottom to keep the scent trail going which brings the halibut toward the baits.
Monofiliment Line (100 pound)
A leader line with a 100-pound test is what I use when halibut fishing. I tie a perfection loop on one end to attach the circle hook and tie the other end to a barrel swivel.
This line is a good value. There is no need to use a fluorocarbon leader because halibut are not leader shy. Jinkai Premium monofilament leader can also be used as a quality low-cost leader line for halibut bottom rigs.
In the picture is a large halibut caught in Sitka Alaska using pink salmon, squid, and herring for bait.
2. Mooching Rig for Halibut
A mooching rig on the bottom is probably the best halibut rig out there to catch halibut that are under 38 inches in length. A hoochie can be added to the fishing rig or it can be fished with only a herring. If the current is very strong like it is in Juneau Alaska you will need to add more than the typical 6-ounce weight of a mooching rig.
Mooching Herring Leader (Double Hooks)
This is the basic mooching leader used with dead herring to catch salmon and halibut. This is a 40-pound leader with a 4/0 and a 5/0 hook. There are three mooching leaders per back.
The rig has two hooks that are tied together with snell knots. I also use these leaders to troll with herring on downriggers. On a good day of fishing, I will use 10-20 leaders that get damaged by fish teeth.
Mooching Slider (1 1/2 inch)
This slider for the sinker is perfect for mooching or getting bait to the bottom for halibut fishing.
A gum pucky can be placed in front of the slider if inexperienced anglers will be using the rod and might reel the slider into the tip of the fishing pole.
Six Bead Chain Swivel
This is the best swivel to use with a mooching rig. The six-bead version is what I use when salmon and halibut fishing. One end goes on the line of the fishing pole the other end goes to the leader line. The mooching slider is placed above the swivel.
Round Ball Sinker Weight
This is the weight used to get the herring to the bottom. When mooching for salmon a 6-ounce weight is typically used. For halibut, I like to use the 8-ounce weight to help it stay near the bottom when there is strong current.
In the picture is a halibut that I caught in Sitka Alaska. The halibut is about 35 inches long and 20 pounds. It was caught on a salmon mooching rig in about 200 feet of water.
3. Mega Bite Swim Tail Jigs (14 Ounce)
The Mega Bite swim tail jig is made by Lighthouse Lures which is a big name in halibut lures. These jigs come in many great colors and come with two extra swim tails. The extra bodies come in handy because halibut love to chew on things.
Glow hurricane, purple crush, and white Russian are great color options. I would also recommend adding some bait to the hook for scent purposes. A piece of the salmon stomach, squid, or octopus would be perfect.
In the picture is a nice halibut my dad caught while fishing in Sitka Alaska.
4. Mega Bite Max Halibut Swim Jig
Lighthouse Lures Mega Bite Max Shad Swim jigs weigh 6 ounces and are 8 inches long. These jigs are scented but additional pro-cure scent gel can be applied to the outside.
Color options are purple morris glow, perch ultraviolet, Georgia brown ultraviolet, and derby winner glow. Having two hooks within the jig is great for halibut as they can have a slow bite and be difficult to hook. Being a 6-ounce swim jig the effective fishing depth is up to around 150 feet depending on the current. This size jig also works to catch salmon, lingcod, and rockfish.
5. Big Eye Glow Halibut Jig
This is a great all-around 16-ounce jig. It has a glow head and the body flutters great in the current. Bouncing a jig of the bottom can attract halibuts and help put them in feeding mode. This style jig also comes in a 24-ounce version.
Again add a scented bait to the tip of this just such as herring, a piece of salmon, or squid.
6. Mojo Ball Halibut Jig
The Mojo ball jigs are commonly used to catch striped bass. This is also a great jig to catch halibut. Color options are white, chartreuse, and green mackerel. These come in sizes of 2-ounce, 4-ounce, 8-ounce, 16-ounce, and 24-ounce.
It has a hair skirt, a large swim body, and a 10/0 Mustad hook. The 16-ounce jig can fish at depths over 250 feet deep in most currents.
7. Spro Bucktail Halibut Jig
Spro Bucktail Jigs are used to catch many types of fish like striped bass, rockfish, lingcod, cobia, fluke, and halibut. These jigs come in weight from 1/2 ounce to 5.5 ounces and work well fishing in up to 150 feet of water. The hook should have fresh bait or a gulp curly tail for added scent. These can be fished with salmon mooching reels or conventional reels.
Color options include sand eel green, blue shad, bunker, chartreuse, magic bus, red-white, and spearing blue. Bass Pro Shops has intent bucktail jigs which are similar to Spro bucktail jigs.
8. Gulp Grub Curly Tail Halibut Bait
Gulp Grub is a scented bait that is commonly added to bucktail jigs and jig heads. It can also be placed to hook above a heavy jig to make a second teaser bait. The curly tail comes in 5-inch and 6-inch sizes. Good color options for halibut include white, white glow, camo, salmon red, and mackerel.
The advantage to these over standard large curly tail baits is the strong scent. The Gulp tail should be placed on the jig just before it goes in the water. This means the bait should be replaced after about 4 hours of fishing. The 6-inch size is good for jigs between 4 ounces and 12 ounces.
9. Tsunami Swim Halibut Jig
Tsunami Swim Jigs can catch halibut, lingcod, and rockfish. These jigs come in many sizes including 3-inch 3/8 ounce, 4-inch 1 once, 5-inch 1-3/8 ounce, 6-inch 2-3/8 ounce, 6-1/2 inch 4-1/4 ounce, 7-inch 3 ounces, and 9-inch 6-1/4 ounce. The 6-1/4 ounce jig is good for halibut fishing in up to 150 feet of water depth.
Good color options for halibut include pearl spot, opaque white, black back, and purple haze clear. Squid, hearing, or a chunk of pink salmon can be placed on the jig to add scent.
Pro-cure herring scent gel can also be applied to the outside of the swim jig. Good scent options are herring, octopus, and halibut juice.
10. Tsunami Holographic Halibut Jig
The Tsunami holographic sand eel jigs look similar to a sand lance which is a favorite food of salmon, halibut, and rockfish. These jigs sizes are 6-inch 3/4 ounce, 7-inch 1 ounce, 8-inch 1-1/5 ounce, and 9-inch 2-1/2 ounce.
Color options are olive-back and black-back with a translucent shiny appearance. These jigs can catch suspended rockfish and salmon during the drop and halibut when working them close to the bottom where sand lances are commonly found.
11. Halibut Ball Jig With a Hoochie
Fluke ball jigs have round chrome heads, two large eyes, a hoochie skirt, and double hooks. Fishing with hoochies is a common method for halibut fishing. These fluke ball jigs are fished in the same style as swim jigs and bait can be added to both hooks. There are also good jigs for rockfish.
The jigs come in weights of 1-ounce, 2-ounce, 3-ounce, 4-ounce, 5-ounce, and 6-ounce. Six jigs come per pack in colors of orange-gold, root beer, black-purple, gold, and pink. A teaser with Gulp or bait can be added above the jigs as well.
12. Halibut Jig Point Wilson Dart
Point Wilson Dart candlefish jig is most commonly used for salmon but also works for rockfish and halibut. The dart jig comes in weights from 2-1/4 ounces to 6 ounces. Good color options for halibut are blue pearl, glow, green nickel, and green-yellow.
Sand lance also called sand eels or needlefish often live on the same sand and gravel flats as halibut. This makes a long slender jig a good lure. When jigging for halibut bring the jig up about 10 feet and let it flutter back to the ground. A single treble hook on the jig works decently for hooking halibut. The 6-ounce jig size can work in up to 200 feet of water.
13. Mega Bite Halibut Deep Drop Jigs
The Jonson Lure Mega Bite is a deep drop jig. It comes in heavy sizes of 14-ounce and 20-ounce. Color options include white savage, red herring, orange tiger, green tiger, green herring, and blue herring. Bass Pros Shops has a similar 14-ounce halibut deep drop jig.
These jigs work to catch large rockfish, lingcod, and halibut. The jig looks like a herring which is a favorite food for all large predator fish in the north pacific ocean. Both jig sizes should be able to reach bottom depths of 300 plus feet. Jigging is best done with large saltwater spinning reels or topless conventional fishing reels.
14. Mudraker Halibut Jigs
Mudraker jigs come in weights of 1-pound and 1.5 pounds. Color options of the skirts are pink-white, blue-white, green-chartreuse, and red-black glow. All of the jigs have a chrome coated weight. The weight has a built-in scent chamber for gel scents.
Halibut pipe jigs are similar to Mudraker jigs. Lead-filled copper pipes with hooks that come out of various pouts are used t make halibut pipe jigs.
15. Octopus Halibut Bait
Octopus is known to be one of halibut’s favorite food. The East Rain Artificial Octopus Swimbait comes in weights of .81 ounces, 6.35 ounces, and 9.88 ounces. Color options are white, yellow, purple, orange, brown, and black.
Octopus is not an easy fresh bait to get for fishing. Sometimes when cleaning a fish octopus can be found in the stomach and used for bait. A good way to add scent to this bait is with pro-cure octopus gel.
This is a giant pacific octopus tentacle that got spit up by a lingcod that we caught. We used the octopus for bait and caught a huge halibut with it. Octopus is one of the best baits for halibut.
16. Glow Squid Halibut Bait
Glow-in-the-dark squid baits are commonly used when halibut fishing. The total lure weight is 2-1/2 ounces so it needs to be sent down with extra weight. Adding pieces of actual fresh squid to the hook is a good idea. Bass Pro Shops sells an 8-ounce, 12-ounce, and 16-ounce weighted squid rig in a large variety of colors. There is a scent ball that allows the scent to be added which is important when halibut fishing.
The Dr fish lure version has a glow-in-the-dark body material and a built-in water-activated LED that flashes. Good color options for halibut are white and green. It also comes in red and blue. This lure can be used during the day or at night.
17. Spreader Bar Halibut Rig
Halibut Spreader Bar
The spreader bar is used to hold the weight and have a short strong leader attached. This rig makes it less likely to tangle when fishing near the bottom. The weight connect to the bottom swivel and a short leader with a circle hook connects to the top swivel.
A circle hook works well for hooking halibut and keeping them hooked. Size 10/0 is good for small halibut and size 16/0 is good for big halibut. The large hooks are good for holding lots of scented baits.
Lead Weight (16-36 oz)
One or two-pound cannonball sinkers can be used for the halibut spreader bar rig weight.
500 Pound Clear Leader Line
This 500-pound monofilament leader line is good for keeping halibut on the line. Sometimes the 100-pound line will break when pulling on big halibut at the surface. If you know you are trying to catch big halibut then this heaver leader material is a good idea. A heavy line like this needs to be crimped not tied with a knot.
How to Catch Halibut
The best fishing spot will depend on the halibut fishing location. At different times of the year halibut can be at various depths from 20 feet to water to 600 plus feet of water. Late spring and early summer good halibut fishing can be found in 100-250 feet of water depth. As summer move on halibut tend to move deeper but this really depends on where you are fishing.
In some locations fishing humps, rock piles, and mounds can be effective. Personally, I like to try and find sand flats or gravel flats. The large flats are marked on charts but don’t be afraid to looks for your own good spots. Anchor the boat up current of the flat so scented bait will bring any halibut sitting on the flat to the baits. Try and avoid rocky areas as their will likely be too many rockfish stealing the baits.
Keep at least one good scented bait down at all times such as herring, squid, pollock, salmon guts, or chunks of pink salmon. Each angler can only use one rod so it is nice having four angler fishing to add lots of scent. In less than 200 feet of water, halibut can also be caught with herring on mooching rigs.
Artificial lures such as heavy-jigs, swim jigs, Mudraker jigs, deep drop jigs, and pipe jigs can all be effective. It is very important to have some scent on the bottom at all times though. Bouncing lures of the bottom can send out vibrations that also attract halibut which frequently lay on the bottom.
In the picture above are four halibut and two king salmon that were caught in Sitka Alaska.
Frequently Asked Questions
How do anglers pick a good halibut fishing spot?
Gravel flats are often marked on charts. The other way to find them is to use the depth finder while slowly motoring around to find an area that is flat compared to the surrounding area. If it is rocky there will not be as many halibut and you will probably catch many rockfish which will decrease the amount of scent on the bottom.
The current around rock piles can cause eddies that trap bait. On rock piles, the halibut stay near the bottom where it begins to get flat and try to ambush prey. Halibut tend to sit on one side of the rock pile, typically the up current side of a rock pile. If you find a good spot where halibut are biting on a hump it will probably only be good in that specific spot when the tide is flowing in the same direction.
How do you mooch for halibut?
Mooching for a halibut is done with a salmon mooching rig with a herring. The rig is dropped until it hits the bottom and is then brought up a few feet. In heavy currents, the rig will have to be continuously dropped back to the bottom. This works best once the large scented baits have brought halibut near the boat. Sometimes the smaller active bait gets halibut that are not biting to bite.
Are halibut good eating fish?
Yes, halibut is a very good eating fish and typically costs between $20-30 per pound at the store. It is a tender white flaking meat that does not taste fishy. Halibut have a good fillet weight to total weight retention of around 40 percent of the round weight of the total fish. Larger fish do have higher weight retention. Smaller halibut under about 50 inches are the best eating halibut. The meat gets a bit tough and rubbery with a very large halibut.
Depending on the fishing location or halibut zone will determine the number of fish and size of fish that can be kept by commercial vessels, sportfishing boats, and recreational boats. In Sitka, Alaska the size limit for sportfishing vessels was 1 fish per angler and it had to be under 38-inches or over 80 inches. However, we did not catch a fish over 80 inches all season and would have let it go even if we did. Only a certain number of boats have sportfishing halibut permits so it can be difficult and expensive for a charter operation to get one. Recreational fishermen with their own boat just need a standard Alaska fishing license.
What is the best time of year to catch halibut?
The best time of year to fish for halibut is in the summer when halibut are in under 600 feet of water. If you are in a location with a good halibut fishery like Stika Alaska, Homer Alaska, or Seward Alaska halibut can be consistently caught from May through September.
What depth should you fish for halibut?
In the summertime, halibut can be caught from 20 feet of water to 600 feet of water. When fishing off the pacific coast halibut fishing can be better at certain depths from month to month. Sometimes angels have to adjust their strategy if halibut fishing is slow. Typically though once the fish are found they can be consistently caught.
What is the best bait for halibut fishing?
The best bait for halibut is salmon guts and octopus. Since octopus is a hard bait to get salmon guts are my preferred halibut bait. Typically I will try and catch salmon in the morning and keep the guts in a 5-gallon bucket to use for halibut fishing. Other good baits include squid, pollock, herring, sole, flounder, and pink salmon. A scented gel can be applied to the outside of jigs.
Halibut fishing is similar to shark fishing with chum. The fish have a good sense of smell and can follow a scent trail from a very far distance away. Sometimes halibut bite right away and sometimes it takes up to an hour for them to start biting. The longer amount of time spent on a spot the better the chances of catching bigger halibut.
What is the best tide for halibut fishing?
Halibut bite best with a changing tide where the current is not to fast or to slow. Generally, around 45 minutes after a tide change all the way to 45 minutes before the tide change the halibut bite will be good. In most cases, anglers just do not want to fish the slack tide. However, in inlet areas like Juneau Alaska where the tides can be very strong fishing closer to a tide change can actually be best.
The most important thing regardless of whether it is an incoming tide or outgoing tide is to properly position the boat based on the tide direction to be on the fishing spot. If the anchor drags the bottom or the boat is positioned wrong it can make for slow fishing. The best way to determine the direction of the tide is to power off the boat and wait a minute or two to see which direction that boat drifts. This method works well as long as the tide direction is not about to change.
What pound line is best for halibut fishing?
The best line for halibut is a braided line over 80 pounds. Halibut are not leader shy and many people even use a think rope as leader material. It is common to catch smaller halibut under 38 inches or 25 pounds on a fishing line that has a 30-pound test. However, if a big halibut bites the gear will likely not be able to catch the fish. Most halibut reels are 30-50 class conventional fishing reels such as the Shimano Tyrnos. These are spooled with an 80-pound to 100-pound braided line and then a 100-pound plus ganyen or monofilament leader is used to attach the hook.
How big do halibut get?
The IGFA world record halibut was 459 pounds and was caught out of Dutch Harbor, Alaska in 1996. Halibut over 275 pounds are considered barn doors or monster halibut. There was a 515-pound halibut caught in Norway in 2017 that was 102 inches in length.
Halibut can live up to 55 years. Females halibut get much larger than male halibut. Once a male halibut reaches about 45 inches in can switch from a male halibut to a female halibut. Almost all halibut over 45 inches are female.
A 38-inch halibut is about 25 pounds, a 50-inch halibut is about 60 pounds, a 60-inch halibut is about 110 pounds, a 70-inch halibut is about 180 pounds, and an 80-inch halibut is about 275 pounds.
Should anglers keep a large halibut?
Anglers should try and not keep halibut over 50 inches in length. This will help keep the breeding female halibut around and allow for high numbers of halibut to be caught in future years. All halibut over 50 inches in length are females and are at least 8 years old and could be over 20 years old.
Female halibut do not reproduce until they are 12 years old. All halibut over 70 inches are big breeding halibut that import to keep halibut stocks in high numbers. Also, large halibut over 50 inches in length do not taste as good as smaller halibut.
Captain Cody has worked on charter fishing boats in the Florida Keys, Virgin Islands, and Alaska. Growing up in Pennsylvania Cody has also done extensive freshwater fishing including bass fishing tournaments. Cody strives to provide detailed information about the best fishing gear and tactics to help both novice and experienced anglers have a more productive and enjoyable time on the water. Cody also has a background in aerospace engineering and neuroscience but really only takes pride in being good at one thing and that is fishing!