Jig Fishing for Alaska Halibut
February 11, 2011

WHERE AND WHEN TO JIG – I jig for halibut all the time, bait is great but usually jigging will out fish it.  My favorite way to jig halibut is by anchoring on or drifting across a point or gently sloping shoreline with a gravely bottom during a slack tide (tide change) where schools of salmon, herring, or other baitfish are present to which large halibut are attracted.  This is a good time to bring up my No. 1 Rule of Fishing – Fish where the fish are. Now you must pay attention to how the boat is going to move with the wind and tide and then move up wind (or up current) of the spot you want to fish so you can drift across it.  If you are drifting too fast, back trolling with the kicker may slow you down enough to work an area; I like to be moving at about 0.1 to 0.4 knots.  Calculating your drift direction and speed is also important for anchoring in deep water.  Other wise you may be a couple hundred yards off your mark before your anchor’s set.

KEEPING THE HALIBUT JIG AT PROPER DEPTH USING PROPER POLE POSITION – You want to keep your halibut jig about 2′-3′ above the bottom when your pole is in the down position.  The “down position” is when the tip of your rod is about level with your shins and your hands are waist high with your elbows locked at your side.  This is where you live when you’re jigging halibut, this is your resting spot, neutral position, or what ever you want to call it.   Now you have to make that halibut jig work.  I jig by keeping my elbows at my side and aggressively raising my fists to my chest – I’m basically just doing quick arm curls, bringing the tip of the rod about head high and moving the halibut jig about 5 feet through the water.  Each jig is followed by a controlled free fall back to the down position.  After about 5 aggressive jerks I let the jig sit for about 10 seconds in the down position.   This is when most halibut will strike the jig so it’s important that the rod rests in the down position so you can set the hook and keep tension on the line.  Setting the hook in a halibut above your head leaves you helpless and will put slack in your line while trying to get back under control.  If you don’t get a strike within ten seconds then (this is important) find bottom again and reel up a couple feet with the pole in the down position and start jigging again.  I can’t stress enough how important it is to continually find bottom with a halibut jig when you’re drifting.  If you feel bottom at any time while you’re jigging, reel up a couple times to keep the jig from getting snagged.  Many people think you have to have your halibut jig or bait smack dab on the bottom…This isn’t California and we’re not trying to wake up sleeping halibut buried in the sand – we are targeting actively feeding fish in rocky terrain.  Bouncing bottom while drifting a gravely or rocky shoreline in Southeast Alaska = lost gear.  If your anchored up or fishing in sand, banging a jig on the bottom (ringing the dinner bell) makes perfect sense.

FEELING THE HALIBUT BITE AND SETTING THE HOOK – It’s truly awesome when a big Alaskan Halibut grabs your jig or your bait and just takes off with it, sparing you the trouble of wondering if you’re getting a bite, but this isn’t always the case.  Some times you have to figure it out on your own, and it may be just the slightest tap or she may grab it and swim at you until she get’s uncomfortable and heads back to the bottom.   It’s different all the time but usually a big halibut will suck the jig in her mouth at which point you have to nail her before she spit’s it out.  One quick, short, powerful hook set (similar to the jig motion I mentioned above) will do the trick.  There is no need to swing the rod over your head and get it tangled up with other rods and nets etc.  This isn’t bass fishing, you don’t have to over exaggerate every thing to make it exciting, an 80-lb Alaskan halibut will create excitement all on her own.  In most cases it’s just a matter of holding on to the rod and keeping your self in the boat, because these halibut will drag you right over the rail if you let them.  I’ve watched many halibut fishermen continue to jerk and yank on the rod after the initial hook set – THIS IS A GREAT WAY TO LOSE A NICE HALIBUT because all you’re doing is stretching out the lip or cheek and making a bigger hole for the hook to fall out, or possibly wearing out a piece of lip skin, which may be the only thing holding the hook.  Once I’m hooked up, I back off the drag and pretend it’s a poorly hooked fish.  This will accomplish two things, 1. If it is poorly hooked, you’ll probably still get the halibut.  2. By giving the fish a lighter drag you’ll wear it out before it gets to the boat. I’ll talk about how to land a halibut in my next post (this is where most large halibut are lost if not done properly).