Happy Halibut Hunting:
Just in time for our next installment on halibut hunting, the InternationalPacific Halibut Commission has released its report on the health of halibutstocks. And happily enough for fishers, the results indicate what many havesuspected for years: the halibut population is twice as large as previouslyestimated.
Covering the pacific northwest from California to Alaska, the Commission'shot-off-the-press statistics indicate that in 1996, 70 million pounds ofhalibut were harvested. The commercial side reports a healthy 47.8 millionpounds, with 13.4 million by-catch. The sport side, the side that individualsports fishers from around the world key in on, caught 7.7 million pounds.And that's a lot of chow fishers are taking home to every corner of theglobe after successful fishing trips to British Columbia.
Fishers in the
Straits of Georgia
Juan de Fuca
have noted an increase in numbers and size over the past few years. Within sight of the provincial legislature this past year a butt of 160 pounds was landed on a beautiful blue-sky summer day. And further out toward the open Pacific, past
(covered in a
previous Salmon on Line
), the heavier rollers hide numerous hot spots in what is largely untouched fishing grounds surrounded by some some of the best scenery available.
Peter Hovey of Trailhead charters fishes from Sombrio Beach to SwiftsureBank a stretch of ocean some 30 miles long. His advice on hot spots takesthe guesswork out of finding the barndoors nosing out of sight under theirblanket of water. Sombrio Beach, 8 miles to the east of Port Renfrew, holdshalibut half a mile offshore in the 80-120' depths over the flat sand bottom."The Big momma's are feeding and nesting in this area, so the fishare large." Magdalena Point is a good bet.
Most of sandy bottom ledges between Sombrio and Botanical Beach can holdhalibut and a good plan is to drift back to Port Renfrew on a falling tide.Botanical Beach is well-known for its colourful tide pools, and is a definitestopping spot for anyone with kids or cameras. The Beach is a marine park,so fishing begins 300 yards off shore. Peter advises that anywhere alongthe 2 mile beach has fishing potential. Due to areas of rock and strongtides, fish the 80' depths being careful not to snag bottom.
Although a 256 pound halibut was angled from Cerantes Point in
some years ago, most anglers venture west to Carmanah or out onto the Swiftsure Bank. Carmanah, some 13 miles from port, gives up halibut about half mile from the lighthouse shore in 170' waters. Although rocky, there is a good sandy stretch that follows the shore east for a few miles.
For those with adequate electronics, the Swiftsure Bank is the localhotspot, lying 16 - 20 miles south west of Port Renfrew. For these deep,fast-moving waters, Peter uses heavy 6' rods and Penn double action reels,backed with Tufline or another braided line such as Spider Wire. The rockyshoals at 170 - 250' are where the halibut hole up. To counteract the tides,Peter sometimes puts the boat into reverse to keep the lines directly belowthe boat. "The boat will naturally swing the transom into the wavesso the motor acts as a sea anchor." But, Peters notes, take care, hehas buried an engine in a following sea more than once. As for hot spots,he says, "Take your GPS and find the fish within the open area alongthe 38 degree, 40 minute line and somewhere between 124-125.5 degrees."
Lower tackle quickly to the bottom and wind up two feet. Work that lureand feel for the bottom every 15- 30 seconds. Peter decks the lures withscent or octopus. He uses the squid jigs almost exclusively - the GibbsMudraker and Radiant Halibut Hammer. These lures weigh an astonishing 1-2lbs. The more colourful, bright hootchie skirts catch more fish: chartreuse,green, orange. The colours vary from day to day and Peter has clients usedifferent colours until the hot colour is determined, then everyone switchesover.
Halibut are territorial and congregate in certain size groups. The bigones move off from the crowd or simply bully the rest away. Peter's tipfor a productive day is to keep the lure looking good "Or you're wastingyour time. Replace used, scuffed-up skirts, use sharp hooks and set themhard, keeping a steady pressure on the line."
When properly hooked most halibut provide arm-draining action until theyreach the boat. As a good percentage can be lost at the boat, Peter usesa harpoon with a rope to a float. "I've seen them pull bumpers outof sight 40-50 feet before resurfacing." With the 10-12' rollers encounteredon the Banks, this can mean losing fish if you don't stay with them. "Thebig ones are too heavy for cleats. I've ripped them right out of the boat."
Peter's final tip for the big fish of the sea is his technique for gettingsnags off the bottom. The quicker you can determine it is stuck the better."Strip off line and 90% of snags come loose. But when you're reallystuck, wrap the line on a cleat and yank. The point when you're 20 milesoff shore is to get fishing; sacrifice the lure and get back fishing assoon as possible. You never know when the weather will blow up."
In the next column, we move up the coast to the Bamfield area. BarryMoll will be our guide. Along with Peter, Barry preaches safety: never ventureoffshore into the Pacific without a full array of electronics. A day witha guide often proves cheaper, safer and more productive than going alone.
For more information from these knowledgeable guides phone:
Peter Hovey, Trailhead Charters,
, Port Renfrew,B.C.
Barry Moll, Sea Otter Charters and Bamfield Lodge,
,Box 23, Bamfield, B.C.