HOW BIG IS THIS HALIBUT? – After you’ve hooked up, how you play the halibut can be the difference in landing her in the boat. I tend to keep my drag tight when halibut jigging so when I set the hook, it gets driven through the lip or cheek instead of the spool just paying out line. This can also be accomplished by keeping pressure on the spool with your thumb while jigging and setting the hook. Once I’ve set the hook into the halibut I back off my drag a little and adjust it to the size of the fish. You may ask, “how do you know how big it is?” If she immediately runs on you and all you can do is hold on for dear life, then it’s a big halibut probably 100-lb plus. If all you feel are occasional slow heavy pulls and can’t move her off the bottom then we’re talking 200-lb plus. But for all other halibut the best way to immediately judge the size is by the head shake. Halibut over 15 lbs can pull hard and will sometimes fool you with their size but the head shake will tell you roughly how big they are. Quick short head shakes mean a smaller halibut. The slower and larger the head shake the bigger the halibut. A heavy fish with no head shake means it’s probably a Pacific Skate.
PLAYING THE HALIBUT & SETTING THE DRAG – My approach to landing halibut is to play each fish as if it were poorly hooked. If a halibut wants to run and take line, I let her. I want her worn out when she hits the surface. Obviously if you have hooked into a real big halibut you may have to keep a tighter drag to move her off the bottom and conversely you don’t want to give a 10-lb halibut too light of a drag unless you hooked it on a salmon rod. I fish 80-100 pound braided spectra and keep my drag at about 5 to 8 pounds when playing a halibut depending on the size of the fish. This may mean a little more work but you will land more fish.
THE PUMP AND REEL – When bringing up a halibut, use the pump and reel technique and keep good posture because it’s all about endurance. You should have one hand just above the reel, one hand on the handle and the but of the rod jammed into your waist (a rod belt helps). Keep your feet shoulder width, put your thighs against the side of the boat, and with a straight back slowly lean backwards and lift the tip of the rod about head high. Now reel down keeping tension on the line as you lean forward and drop the tip of the rod back to the water – repeat as necessary. If the halibut decides to go for a run, let her. Don’t try and thumb the reel, you’ll either burn your skin or break the line; just keep the rod waist high, hold on, let her run and quit reeling… why are you still reeling?..I said stop reeling! I know you’re excited and you want to reel, but reeling when a fish is taking line wears out my drags even faster. And don’t jerk the rod, after you’ve set the hook there is no more jerking – every thing is done slow and smooth from here on out. I had a lady catch her first halibut ever on a salmon rod while mooching. She went absolutely crazy and I thought she was going to clear us all off the deck with her rod the way she was jerking and swinging it around. We finally got her stabilized and under control and luckily the halibut was still on the other end. Her husband offered to take over (as any good husband would) but instead I made her stop and take a couple deep breaths and had her repeat after me, “No jerking, take it nice and slow, relax and stay in control”. After that she did a fine job and got her halibut and the point is – sometimes you get so excited you have to stop for a second and think about what you’re doing, collect your self and stay in control.
YOU HAVE TO HAVE A PLAN when you are reeling in a big halibut. What are you going to do when you get it to the boat? I’ll give you suggestions on this in my next post.