HALIBUT (Hippoglossus stenolepis) The largest of all flatfish
Halibut are a member of the family Pleuronectidae (Right eye Flounders). Found in the North Pacific and as far south as Mexico, Halibut is harvested commercially as well as being a sought after game fish.
Halibut are a flatfish with a body width of approximately one-third the length. Both eyes are located on the top, darker half of the fish. As you can see in the photos, the underside is much lighter, making the Halibut harder to spot from below as it swims. Likewise, the dark top-side of the fish acts as camouflage alongside the sea floor.
Halibut are prevalent throughout the Gulf of Alaska, Cook Inlet and Prince William Sound. Halibut charter boats operate nearly year-round from Homer, Valdez, Seward, Dutch Harbor, Unalaska, Kodiak Island, Sitka and Cordova. Many of these small towns offer the excitement of Halibut derbies for the seasonís biggest catches. Checkout Fish Alaskaís July 2002 back-issue for one of the best halibut location and technique guides available.
Halibut are excellent swimmers and are able to feed on other fishes such as cod, burbot and Pollock. They are also known to eat clams, crabs, squid and other invertebrates. Although they usually stay near the bottom, they will rise to lesser depths to feed on sand lance and herring.
For those of us who live in Alaska, Halibut fishing is near and dear to our hearts. They are an incredible sport fish, and catching a big one (100-180lb. average for 'big' Halibut) is an experience you will never forget. We fish for Halibut with a short stiff deep sea pole and a heavy bait caster reel with 100lb. Spider Wire. Halibut gear is not expensive as fishing equipment goes because it is relatively simple, heavy duty gear. When we fish in Cook Inlet we usually fish in around 100 to 250 feet of water, with a heavy 20oz. weight or so, and that's a long way to reel up a large fish, or even a small one for that matter. We bait up with herring or squid we buy, but you almost always catch cod as a byproduct of fishing for Halibut, and Halibut seem to like them. Sometimes I'll split a cod right down the middle and put half of it on the hook (gets those big Halibut). Often, a fish reeled up from depths deeper than 60 feet will have their air bladder or stomach bulge from their mouth due to gas expansion. Halibut, however, do not.
Another thing unique about Halibut fishing is you never know what you've
caught until it reaches the surface, and Alaskan waters have some strange
creatures to observe. While fishing for Halibut, I've caught Cod, Skates,
Irish Lords and even some things I couldn't identify. Some anglers have even
found themselves battling sharks. However, the desired Halibut can
surprisingly be even more dangerous. If you fish Halibut in Alaska, be
prepared for the size and strength of the larger ones, and most of all, be
careful. Large Halibut are routinely harpooned or shot in order to safely
bring them into the boat. Also, be prepared with coolers to haul the
fillets home to awaiting freezers or friends. Almost all charter operations
will fillet the fish for you as part of the total price.
Halibut is a bottom fish, which lays flat on the ocean floor and can change the color of its skin to help conceal itself. Mature Halibut have two eyes on one side of their head, but they don't start out that way. When young, they have an eye on each side. Yet, as they mature they undergo a unique morphology as one eye travels over to join the other eye on the darker, topside of the fish.
Found on various types of ocean bottoms, Halibut typically come in to shallow coastal water in the summer and move to deeper waters along the edge of the continental shelf in the winter. The young are generally found near shore, moving out to deeper waters as they grow older. Spawning takes place along the continental shelf between December and February. Males are capable of spawning when 7 to 8 years of age, but females will remain fertile until they are 12. One female is capable of laying 2 to 3 million eggs per year. The maximum reported age for a female Halibut is 42. Meanwhile, the oldest male on record is 27. As Halibut age, the span of their ocean migrations lessen.
The earliest record of the harvesting of Halibut is from the native tribes of the Northwest Coast. For them, the Halibut was an important resource, as it was a large fish, available all year long and had good preservative qualities. In the 'Alutiiq' language it was called 'Sagiq'. In the 'Salish' language it is 'Thotx'. The 'Tsimshian' language it is 'Txaw' and in 'Haida' it is 'Xagu'. In those days they fished for Halibut with 'wooden' circle-shape hooks which they suspended from floats, sometimes made of inflated seal stomachs. For fishing line they would use cedar bark and spruce root for shallow waters and a line made of kelp for deeper waters. A kelp line properly cured, coil stored and soaked in seawater prior to use could last for years. Like most of the early inhabitants of this planet, they utilized every part of the animals they harvested, wasting nothing. The head was boiled in fish stew. The skin was lightly smoked and eaten after being blistered over the fire. The backbone was boiled fresh or preserved by sun-drying or smoking. The meat was filleted and fillets were sliced into strips that were sun-dried or partly smoked, then stored in wooden boxes. The cheeks of the Halibut were then, as today, considered a special treat.
Fish Alaska Magazine
|Fish Alaska Magazine
We are proud to be owned and operated by Alaskans, in Alaska. Fish Alaska Magazine is a full color glossy printing published ten times yearly.
P.O. Box 113403
© by Fish Alaska Magazine, all rights reserved. Photos and written materials may not be distributed or used without permission.