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Names: Halibut, barn door (big one), chicken (small market size)
Range: North Pacific from Hokkaido, Japan to California
Size: Usually 10 to 50 pounds up to 700 pounds
World Record: 459 pounds
Fishing Method: Mooching, jigging, bait fishing on bottom
Season: May through September
Techniques: Mooching, jigging, bait fishing.

Scent and location matter most when halibut fishing. It all starts with your captain picking the right place to anchor. Then the baits, big and odiferous, are rigged on a 16/0 circle hook, a 200 pound test leader, and a 2 pound sinker. The bait hits the bottom and begins drawing halibut in. Baits include salmon guts, pink salmon strips, herring, squid, octopus, strips of arrowtooth flounder, and artificial baits like Berkley Gulp. Halibut sometimes eat any kind of bait which hits the bottom, but other times they are highly selective. When they are fussy, experimentation is key and dropping a jig down often draws a bite when all else fails. Gear: Penn 345 GTI, 6 foot stand-up rod, 80 pound braided spectra. A 16/0 circle hook, a 200 pound test leader, and a 2 pound sinker form the terminal end of your tackle. All the gear we use for lingcod is available from our favorite supplier – Ted’s Sporting Center ( in Lynnwood, Washington.


Halibut are found on both sides of the Pacific with Nome, Alaska and Santa Barbara, California forming the extremes ends of their range on the North American side. They migrate extensively when young, and then they settle down. The eggs and the larvae float and drift, mostly moving toward the north and west on the Alaskan Stream. After reaching the adult form, the young halibut tend to migrate in a southeasterly direction, perhaps to counteract the earlier drift. Upon reaching sexual maturity the fish pretty much settle down, simply moving from shallower water in the summer to the edge of continental shelf in winter, where they spawn in depths ranging from 100 to 250 fathoms. If you’ve never seen a flatfish before, the first look at a halibut will be a surprise. The vast majority of vertebrate animals on the planet are symmetrical – the right side mirrors the left, and vice versa. Though single organs, like the heart or stomach, skew the picture a wee bit, this symmetry generally applies internally and externally. Most fish have left gill and a right gill, a left pectoral fin and a right pectoral fin, a left eye and a right eye, etc. Oddly, halibut have a left eye, but it ends up the right side of the head. How did such a creature evolve?  If we see evolution as a gradual process based on natural selection, what explains the halibut?  In cases such as the long pectoral fins of the albacore, the mighty bill of the swordfish, or the deadly upper caudal fin of a thresher shark, one can see the incremental advantages of these features.  Over the millennia the fish with the slightly longer fin or bill survive better than those with the shorter ones. Those with the better survival rate reproduce more, thus passing the ever growing trait along. It’s difficult, however, to see how halibut gradually became halibut. If the left eye moves slightly, to what good? The flatfish form only appears to make sense in the final incarnation.  How it got that way is beyond me, but current theory of evolution suggests that many adaptations come about via quantum leaps, not gradual adjustments. A close look at the order of flatfish might lend some support to that theory. Halibut hatch as normal looking larvae. They swim upright and have an eye on each side of the head. Immediately following hatching, larval halibut feed off the yolk sack of the egg.  After absorbing the sack they turn to small planktonic organisms for sustenance.  At the wee length of an inch, halibut larvae metamorphose into the adult form. The left eye slowly migrates over the snout, coming to rest next to the right eye.  Additionally, the pigment fades from the left side of the fish, leaving it lily white.  The young halibut then heads for the bottom, where it will spend most of the rest of its life.

Pacific halibut belong to the family Pleuronectidae © the right sided flounders.  California halibut, which we’ll get to some other time, have both eyes on the left side. Young halibut feed extensively on shrimp and small fish. As they grow, halibut turn more and more to a fish diet: cod, hake, sculpin, pollock, rockfish, lingcod, herring, candlefish (sand lance), and other flatfish, including small halibut.  Additionally, they dine on the crabs, clams, squid, and octopus. I know of one 200 pound plus halibut landed in Neah Bay that had a lingcod of roughly 25 pounds in her belly.  Halibut stick mainly to the bottom, but show no shyness about rising in the water column when the dining is right. The asymmetrical form of flatfish, though peculiar, is quite successful. Flatfish occupy niches in all oceans on the planet, from tropical to arctic.  Halibut reign as kings of the flatties, reaching a maximum of nine feet in length and 700 pounds in both the Atlantic and Pacific.  The vast majority of commercial and sport caught halibut range from 10 to 200 pounds. The females grow larger and live longer than the males, with few males exceeding 80 pounds.  Any halibut over 100 pounds is a female. The oldest halibut on record is 55 years. Halibut have been managed by the International Pacific Halibut Commission since 1924. These fish are highly valued by sport and commercial fishermen alike.