Successful halibut fishing really depends on timing and weather…
From mid June through August halibut fishing is pretty good to excellent in Ketchikan. I can only think of a few days in recent years that we targeted halibut and did not catch our limit while I was guiding. Some of those days were due to weather and some were due to the maximum size limit imposed on guided anglers in Southeast Alaska. For instance one day on my charter boat four anglers ended up keeping only three legal halibut (under 43″) but we released four halibut between 70 lb and 120 lb.
We do not yet know what the size limits will be for guided anglers in 2015 (this announcement will be made in January by NOAA Fisheries) but unguided anglers who take out our smaller boats on their own will be able to keep two per day, per person with no size limits.
Halibut fishing is different than 20 years ago. We must travel further to get into productive halibut grounds just about everywhere in Alaska due to local depletion near ports, lodges, harbors and towns where fishing effort exists. I typically run 40 minutes to an hour to get into good halibut fishing and a two hour run will get you catching halibut like trout in a stocked pond but it is not uncommon for guests to catch nice halibut 10-20 minutes away from our dock during the summer. The average size halibut caught in Ketchikan is around 20 lbs but halibut over 100 pounds are landed every summer at our lodge by our self-guided fishermen.
The biggest difference in Alaska halibut fishing today compared to 20 or 30 years ago is the size of the fish. Twenty-five years ago an eleven year old female halibut weighed 40 lbs but now an eleven year old weighs 20 lbs. The small size at age phenomena has happened in the past (1920-1940) so we are hopeful things will turn around at some point in the future as they did from 1940 to the 1980’s when the halibut were huge. There are a lot of halibut in Alaska today and there are still some big “barn doors” left – there are just fewer of them.