Between that and weather days, we simply haven’t put any effort into halibut.
But recently we found ourselves on the water with time to kill and no immediate king salmon prospects. It was too nice a day to go home, but we had a couple of hours to kill before the tide change and time to return to our king hunt.
I made a blind stab at a halibut spot and dropped the anchor while my wife broke out our lunch. Watching a halibut rod would certainly be a good way to enjoy a break from engine noise.
I’ll fill in the gaps in a moment, but suffice to say that we scored two nice chickens between sandwiches, and that night we ate fresh halibut for the first time in about eight months.
Halibut is certainly worthy on the table after months in the freezer, but that’s nothing compared to fresh.
We’re suddenly intent on finding more, as we meanwhile limit the hours we’re willing to endure slow king fishing.
Putting the first fresh halibut on your table often takes more effort than we invested.
First you have to find them, then you have to sort through a lot of cod, pollock and sculpin before you can gaff the main attraction of a halibut dinner.
Those are two apparently separate factors, but in fact they’re related.
Halibut and the other species are hunting for food.
And where you find the others, you’re likely to find halibut too.
The trick is connecting with the halibut while limiting the hookups with other hungry mouths. You need to find something the halibut want to eat, but the others mostly leave alone.
Our lunchtime adventure is the perfect example.
We started out using the herring we’d been using for kings.
It sure seemed like there were lots more cod around than those visible on our fish finder! Even when we managed to get the herring past the cod hovering a little higher and onto the bottom, we immediately hooked up with sculpin.
It would have been easy to convince ourselves there wasn’t a halibut within miles.
But I wasn’t so anxious to find halibut that I was willing to hand-pull 200 feet of anchor line. No way, no how!
Instead I started messing around with alternatives to the herring.
Dart jigs still caught the occasional cod, with the number exploding the moment I added a little herring. But any halibut on hand simply weren’t interested.
Changing jig styles didn’t make the least bit of difference.
Being lazy at heart and wanting another sandwich, I tried another tack.
I filleted one of the cod we had kept and impaled a goodly chunk on a circle hooks. Good old “soak and wait” halibut fishing with a bait that hopefully the cod would ignore.
I got through half my sandwich before the rod started to dance, and managed to finish the sandwich after landing the 20-pounder and before my wife’s rod danced as well.
With two fresh halibut in the hold and the lunch consumed, we opted to go back for king salmon. The lure of kings was just too strong, even as I’m sure we could have finished our limits in short order.
Subsequently friends have reported good halibut results, but at depths a lot shallower than we plied. But there’s a theme to all our results.
Whichever species is also on hand and being a nuisance- cod, Pollack or sculpin — is the key to catching halibut at the moment.
The other species are on hand for whatever reason, but the halibut are there to eat them. I’ve heard accounts of good catches using cod, Pollack and sculpin chunks resting on bottom.
Are you ready for the rest of our story? There’s a lesson there, too.
My wife and I really liked the mix of hitting the prime tide for kings, then taking a break for halibut during the slow period.
The very next day we returned to exactly the same spot on exactly the same tide.
And we never got so much as a bump!
The cod were on hand, but the halibut were MIA.
Halibut are very mobile, and it was clear they had simply moved on to another feeding spot. But with 200 feet of anchor line draped between us and the bottom, we weren’t the least bit inclined to go hunting for them when king salmon beckoned.
After another fine meal of fresh halibut, I’ve been thinking.
I don’t have much faith in drifting with chunk bait on the bottom. We simply hang up too often even as the fishing is never so productive for us compared to anchoring.
But drifting with jigs is another matter altogether. If we can just get around the pollock, cod and sculpin.
A new strategy has been born, one which I’m anxious to try.
We’re still going to avoid using herring for the time being other than to catch whichever of the other species is on hand.
But rather than using it as chunk bait, I’ll cut the fillets into strips.
Those will be added to lead head jigs or fished “mooching” style just off bottom as we drift. We can make the strips “swim” like live fish as it passes right past the noses of hungry halibut.
I have nothing to confirm it beyond 40 years of experience on Kodiak waters, but I’m convinced we’ve found the alternative to anchoring for halibut while avoiding the other species.
The most appealing feature is the same as we enjoy later in the season when searching for halibut. It’s quick and easy to send gear to the bottom for halibut, just as it’s quick and easy to change locations.
That will fit nicely with our planned regimen of focusing on kings when the tides are prime, but taking breaks for halibut during the slower periods.
We have separate rods for king fishing and halibut fishing, so it will be easy as pie to have the halibut rods rigged and ready for quick changes between fishing styles.
King fishing (or should I call it “king hunting”?) is the highlight of our boating year.
But along with everyone else on Kodiak, we’ve learned that there are better and worse times to be fishing for kings.
Mixing in an hour or two of halibut fishing is a great way to break the monotony of slow periods, even as we put sweet flakey halibut on our table.
Who can argue with a day like that!