Simple Halibut Fishing Rig
Halibut Rig When Anchored
When fishing for halibut in Alaska there are many techniques and presentations that work. I used a simple halibut fishing rig when I lived in Alaska. I used a straight line rig for halibut when I anchored. I’ll go over a couple more rigs for other techniques later. This halibut fishing rig is a proven setup that is simple and easy to prepare. It also allows you to quickly change the sinker size. This is important when fishing an area with a lot of current. Some places in Alaska where halibut to like set up to ambush food flowing by, is areas with a lot of current. Halibut are ambushers as well as scavengers. They look for breaks in topography or a piece of cover, like a boulder. Halibut will use this cover to ambush their prey. As they are forced through the cover by the current. Alive or dead.
To tie this halibut rig start by first sliding a sinker slide onto the mainline followed by a bead. Tie an inline swivel to the line then a leader to the other end creating a swivel between the hook and the sinker. The sinker slider makes it easy and quick to change the size of the sinker you use. The sinker slider has a clasp that you open to add a second weight or a larger weight to your halibut rig. This is vital when moving around and throughout the day. Some places have more current than others and the tides create different amounts of current as well. I always liked to use the lightest weight I could get away with.
The leader that you use can be the same pound test monofilament as the mainline. However, a heavier pound test leader is advisable. The heavier monofilament held up better against the abrasive mouth of a big Alaska halibut. Make sure you change the leader after a big halibut has been caught so that it doesn’t break on the next big halibut. The only time It’s OK not to change the leader is if the halibut didn’t swallow the bait. When a halibut swallows the hook it leaves the leader to work violently against the halibut’s mouth. When the circle hook works the way it is supposed to the hook shank takes the brunt of abrasion. This leaves the leader in good condition.
NOTE: Be sure to check your halibut fishing rig leader every time you reel up. There are some sharp edges in the ocean that can nick your leader and cause it to break when you least want it to.
I always used a circle hook when fishing anchored for Alaska halibut. When anchored for halibut the rod and the movement of the boat will apply the gradual pressure needed to sink a circle hook point home on a halibut. Circle hooks also reduce the chance of the halibut swallowing the hook. If you are a jigger. A Jigger is what I call someone that jigs their halibut rig up and down to entice a halibut into striking and some would argue to find the bait. If you are a halibut jigger then a regular “J” hook will work better. The reason is that when jigging your halibut rig, a very effective technique, by the way, you will automatically set the hook when you feel the bite and with a circle hook you will miss the halibut if you jerk on your halibut rig.
Because you’re jigging the rig the halibut doesn’t have time to swallow the bait. The “J” hook will catch the mouth in this situation. Use a halibut fishing rig that hooks the halibut in the mouth when possible. Some charter captains and halibut anglers want the giant halibut to swallow the hook because their mouth is so tough to get a large hook through and oftentimes will come unhooked. These anglers have a system figured out so that the larger halibut will take drag. With this technique, you set the drag so that the smaller halibut aren’t able to take the line out. The halibut angler can then go ahead and catch the smaller halibut in the mouth for safe release. The hook will be swallowed by the larger halibut. It doesn’t matter because they’re going to harvest the fish anyway.
Halibut Drift Rig
Drifting is a great way to fish for halibut. It allows you to cover a lot of water. A great rig for drifting for halibut is the dropper loop rig. This drift rig is simple yet effective for drifting for halibut. It keeps the bait and the hook off of the bottom. This helps to not hang up on seaweed and other bottom crud that can cover your bait. Hence reducing the chance for the halibut to locate it and eat it.
The dropper loop rig is a simple halibut rig that can be tied using a loop knot or a 3-way swivel. I always preferred the 3-way swivel because it keeps your line from twisting in the current. The swivel can get trash on it and foul its function but at least you have a better chance of keeping your halibut rig from tangling. The dropper loop is quick and easy and does work in a pinch.
To rig the dropper loop for drift fishing for halibut, start with the mainline and tie it to one leg of the 3-way swivel. Some 3-way swivels have two legs that line up straighter than the other leg. If your 3-way swivel is like this then tie your leader to the odd leg. As noted in the image for the drop loop halibut rig this allows the leader to drift up from the bottom creating a streamlined rig. This elevation keeps the bait off of the bottom and is vital when drifting for halibut. At the end of the leader attach your halibut hook. We will go into the hooks later in the article.
The drop leader is attached to the third leg on the 3-way swivel. Some 3-way swivels used for the halibut fishing rig have two legs that line up and a third that don’t. It depends on the swivel you have. It’s best to tie your drop leader to the leg that is the most in line with the mainline. This gives you the third leg of the swivel that drifts cleanly behind staying clear of the mainline and drop leader.
The length of the drop leader will determine how far off the bottom your bait will ride. A good length for your drop leader is 2 to 3 feet on semi-hard to hard bottom. A longer leader when fishing muddy bottoms. The extra length will help keep your bait out of the cloud made by your sinker. This cloud is made by the sinker dragging the bottom with an occasional bounce, creating noise, attracting big halibuts to your drop loop rig, and helping you catch more halibut.
Trolling Rig for Halibut
When you think about halibut fishing trolling rarely comes up. However, rest assured there are those that utilize the halibut trolling set up to catch some barn door Alaskan halibut. I know that trolling for halibut isn’t discussed that often, but it is happening. Especially by serious halibut anglers. I would venture to guess that there have been more than one charter captain asking their clients to keep the trolling technique on the down-low. At least while they are still in Alaska.
Trolling for halibut, like drifting, covers a lot of water. It can help you cover at least twice as much water as drifting for halibut and bait movement seems to attract some very large halibut. So many people think that because the halibut is flat and a bottom dweller that it just lays on the bottom and gobbles up whatever floats by. This is not the case at all. It has been found that halibut are aggressive feeders. They will chase live fish down for dinner. Just ask those that troll for salmon and many will have stories of giant halibut they caught trolling for salmon and probably even more about the giants that got away.
Oftentimes, these halibut have come 100 feet up from the bottom to eat the herring or hoochie they were using for bait. I have heard more than one story about people catching their personal best halibut while trolling for salmon. Maybe this is where they get the idea to try it. I know it’s how I came to troll for halibut before I ever knew it was “a thing”.
The trolling rig for halibut is pretty much the same as the dropper loop rig for halibut. The difference is when trolling for halibut most anglers attach a dodger with a hoochie slid down over the hook. The movement when trolling lends itself to a lot of vibration and action. Trolling, even at super slow speeds, will let the dodger function as it’s designed. The legs of the hoochie impart more action with this movement that can trigger violent halibut strikes.
Trolling involves good boat control. Dealing with the currents in Alaska can be tricky. Knowing the tides and the area you are fishing will help you keep the bait moving at a good speed to cover tons of water. This lets you locate halibut you would not otherwise have found. One thing about the trolling setup for halibut is that you should always use a swivel anywhere there is a line connection. Most dodgers come with a swivel on either end. The movement of the trolling rig for halibut will cause massive tangles if not careful so good quality swivels are a must.
A dodger or flasher is normally used when trolling for salmon but they will also work great at attracting halibut. The flash given off and vibration in the water can call halibut from some distance. This will increase your chances of catching a giant Alaska halibut by extending the coverage of water when using the trolling halibut rig.
While most opt for herring or salmon chunks for their halibut bait there is one halibut rig that works great and you can leave the bait at home. This is the hair jig for halibut fishing. Hair has long been an excellent material for making jigs of all sorts from tiny flies for trout to crappie and bass jigs all the way up to giant hair jigs for saltwater stripers and bottom feeders like the halibut.
Bucktail hair is a great choice to tie hair jigs for halibut but there are other options. Artificial hair works too. Craft fur, synthetic fur, and others. For the jigs, I like to fish for crappie and bluegill I prefer natural hair. I believe, learned from my fly fishing days, that natural hair gets more bites. This can be argued, but I never did. I was told and I have read that natural hair gets more bites, so I went with it. Another excellent hair to use for halibut jigs is black bear hair or foxtail hair. These offer color variation without dying and are readily available in Alaska.
Now having said that I never used hair jigs for halibut when I lived in Alaska I always went the bait route. However, I do know anglers that take jigging for halibut very seriously and believe that jigging catches bigger halibut and a lot of them use hair jigs to catch big halibut. I am not sure if they believe the natural hair thing or not or if it is just something that those overthinking fly fishers came up within their dark fly tying room sipping a Jack and coke.
Best Rig For Halibut
So, what is the best rig for halibut? This question would overwhelmingly be answered with this. A halibut circle hook, a herring or salmon chunk, and a sinker or ball weight. However, I can assure you that there are a few other halibut fishing rigs that anglers would answer with if they told the truth. You see halibut fishing is no different than other types of fishing. You have those that just like to do it the easy way and go with the old standby halibut fishing rig, and that works for sure. Then there are those that think outside the box. They have found halibut rigs and fishing techniques that have landed giant halibut on a regular basis. These halibut rigs and techniques might be kept on the down-low.
I will add that my favorite and therefore the best halibut rig for me in Alaska was 100-pound Tuf-Line Dacron, a 100-pound test monofilament leader with a big circle hook, big sinker, and a dog salmon head. I attach the 100-pound mono leader with a swivel to the Tuf-Line. The leader helps with abrasion on rocks and other things on the bottom as well as the halibut’s mouth.
Squid Rig For Big Halibut
Squid is a favorite food source for halibut. It goes without saying that a halibut rig that resembles a squid should hook a few halibut. There are many different types of squid rigs for halibut but my favorite is the giant body with a hollow cavity. The squid baits are made of tough plastic but is soft like a real squid. The large body gets big halibut’s attention and the hollow body allows for scent and baits to be inserted for extra incentive.
When rigging a big squid bait for halibut I like to stuff the hollow body with a sponge soaked in herring scent or your favorite halibut-catching scent. There are many of those on the market today. If you prefer natural bait then a slice of herring or real squid can be inserted into the squid body. This will create a great halibut rig with both visual actions as well as scent. To lure the halibut in.
A great way to get the sponge or bait into the squid is to tie a hook up the line from the main hook. Tie it in about the length of the squid bait itself. Then you can hook the sponge or bait and pull it up into the squid body. Use a small enough hook to keep it from penetrating the side of your bait and cover the hook point with bait or sponge. The main hook at the end of your halibut squid rig can be a single or tandem. Hook more bait to the main hook and you’re in business. With the scent inside the squid, you can use a smaller bait on the main hook keeping the rig more streamlined. This can help keep your arm from tiring after a couple of hours of jigging with your squid because of less drag on smaller baits.
How I Got The Great Halibut Spot In The Salty Dawg
Here is the story about the halibut spot that paid off big for the two days we had the boat rented. The day before we had the boat my wife Tammy and I went into the famous Salty Dawg Saloon to experience the pub and to down a couple of cold beers. There were two guys at the bar and I struck up a conversation with the one closest to me. He happened to be a herring broker and was on the phone trying to find buyers for a load of herring. I asked him where was a good spot to catch halibut in the Ketchimak Bay area.
The man was nice and started giving me several possible spots to try. I made a mental note of the elaborate instructions and thought that I could get close in the morning. Then the other guy spoke up at the end of the bar. He asked how big our boat was. I told him it was a 26 foot Raider. He said OK I’ll tell you a spot. Keep in mind before telling me where to go this man bought everyone in the bar, maybe 6 people, a drink. He was obviously intoxicated but very clear on his directions that included a triangulation with Seldovia, Homer Spit, and a mile marker as well as a depth to watch for.
When we left the Salty Dawg I asked my wife which spot I should check. The directions were far enough apart from the two guys that there would only be time to check one of the spots in a day. She said I guess the first guy and I asked why and she said because he’s sober and laughed. I said I am going with the drunk guy’s spot not because he bought me a beer but because a drunk man was more apt to tell the truth without even knowing it. We caught our limit in 45 minutes. This was good because it was so rough we got out of there as soon as we got those 4 halibut. We would have had our limit sooner had I used J Hook Rigs instead of circle hooks. Here is what I learned in that rough water.
J Hook Or Circle Hook For Halibut
It wasn’t long after moving to Alaska that I learned about circle hooks for halibut fishing rigs. The circle hook was just what everyone used and I don’t think I even considered a J Hook for my halibut rig. That is until I was fishing in Cook Inlet out of Homer Alaska. I rented a boat out of Homer so I could fish my way. That’s just how I have always been. I like doing things myself. Besides that having lived on a boat in Southeast Alaska years ago I looked forward to captaining a vessel in the Alaska seas again. It felt good too.
I stopped into a small bait and tackle store in Homer to grab some tackle and bait for our trip the next morning. Thankfully I did grab a couple of J Hook rigs along with some circle hook rigs. What I quickly realized, shortly after reaching a spot that I got from the guy in the Salty Dawg Saloon over a couple of Alaskan Ambers. (see story above). Those ambers is Another great thing that I miss about Alaska. Here is the story about the halibut spot that paid off big for the two days we had the boat.
The ocean was rough when we arrived on the hump that we were told about the day before. I dropped two lines down, both rigged with circle hooks. The bites came quick but I could not hook a fish. It gets tiring reeling up from 300 feet of water to check the bait. I finally concluded that it was too rough for circle hooks. I surmised that the 6-foot swells were working the halibut rigs to much. Circle hooks are meant to hook the fish themselves. They were invented by Japanese fishermen so that the fish would not get off their rigs before they could check them. If you’ve ever been on a charter boat the first thing they tell you is not to set the hook. Let the halibut hook itself. The halibut rods were jerking violently with the bobbing of the boat and never sticking the halibut.
I finally decided to grab the J Hook rigs out of the bait and tackle bag and give them a try. The J Hook rigs were the answer and now I know that J Hooks are best in rough seas. I only rigged one pole with the J Hook rig which was a two hook rig with stainless cable and a swivel. Just like that, I had 4 halibuts in the boat. I might have released a couple of the small ones but it was so rough I was just glad to get our limit. No giants but great eater sized about 15-20 pounds. The next day was even rougher. We almost didn’t go to the drunk guy’s spot because of it but we were unable to find any halibut anywhere else and we wanted our limit again to offset the cost of the boat.
We had stopped by that same bait and tackle store and picked up a couple of extra J Hook halibut rigs and they did the trick on the second day and we landed our 4 halibut limit plus a pacific cod to boot. I would have liked for the seas to have been calmer but it was two great days on the ocean and a great feeling for this old crusty captain to get back on the Alaskan waters. I also learned that when the water is rough the circle hook might not be the best choice for a halibut rig. Always keep a few J Hook rigs on hand for those rough days that you need to get in and get out quickly.
Biggest Halibut I Ever Caught
This was my preferred halibut rig after I learned a little. However, let me tell you the story about the biggest halibut I ever caught. It was 185 pounds and I had yet to learn about Tuf-Line which is what everyone used that I knew in Alaska so I eventually adopted it so I could use a smaller reel to fish deep water for halibut. In the beginning, I used those giant inexpensive Penn reels. I think they were called or are still called Senator Reels. Here it is you can check out today’s Senator Reel here. When I was fishing in Alaska it was almost 30 years ago. That might be changing here soon, more to come on that.
So one day I invited a couple of friends to go halibut fishing with me and we were fishing my favorite big halibut spot. I was using that old Penn reel spooled with 100-pound monofilament. I had my salmon head and circle hook with a 4 oz weight. My favorite big halibut spot read “DANGER STRONG CURRENT” on the map. I needed more weight than I liked to use. I let down the first time and hung up on a rock. Halibut love to hunt around rocks, just saying. I could not break that 100-pound mono so I had to cut it at the reel losing probably half of my line. 100-pound mono is thick in diameter so not that much will fit on the reel plus I was fishing in more than 400 feet of water.
I needed more line and I did not have any on the boat. Remember I was a greenhorn at this point. So my buddy told me he had some in his tackle box. Long story short he had one of those spools of cheap line from K-Mart. It even was a K-Mart brand fishing line. More importantly, it was only a 50-pound test! I’ll never forget laughing when he handed it to me. It was all I had, so I blood knotted this line to the 100-pound line and let it back to the bottom. I can still see that blood knot skipping through those metal guides on its way off of the reel. I placed the rod in the holder and was soon getting a bite, or so I thought.
It was my friend tangling in my line at 400 feet and this would go on several different times. One of those times he was reeling in and my rod was bouncing. I asked him if he was tangled in my line? All the other times he swore that he was not but this time he was certain of it. So I sat there patiently as he reeled up 400 feet of line with a reel with no gear ratio at all so it took a while. When his bait reached the surface my line was not with it. My friend calmly announced that he was not tangled in my line, as he raised his halibut rig from the water. My rod tip was still bouncing.
I grabbed my rod and began to reel this giant halibut to the surface. My friend readied the harpoon. The halibut didn’t put up much of a fight. I noticed that he had swallowed that salmon head. I could see the line going straight down into its gullet from 10 or 20 feet from the surface. When I got the halibut into position my friend was ready with the harpoon and seemed excited to harpoon such a big halibut. I asked him politely not to hit the gill plate with the harpoon. Well, he hit the gill plate. The harpoon broke and that 185-pound halibut went straight to the bottom and I watched in horror as that blood knot zipped through the guides once again on its way off the reel.
I fought that big halibut back to the surface and refused to let my friend harpoon it. I had another harpoon in the boat thank goodness. This time the circle hook was in the side of its mouth and he fought hard all the way. I made the harpoon and tied the halibut to the boat. So my personal best halibut came on a 100-pound monofilament spliced onto K-Mart special 50-pound test monofilament. It worked in this case but I would not recommend it. Tuf-Line is tough as the name implies and the diameter is small. This allows you to get more line on a smaller reel.