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Halibut (Hippoglossus stenolepis / hippoglossus)
- Size 20 to 150lbs
- Food Value Excellent
- Game Qualities Good
- Habitats Nearshore, Offshore
Halibut are the largest flatfish in the sea and some of the largest bony fish overall. They are hard-fighting and great-eating, real gentle giants.
These behemoths of the belows inhabit cold waters and can migrate thousands of miles on end. Unlike other flatfish, they have a very muscular body that allows them rapid swimming and the ability to chase down faster prey. However, like other flatfish, most of their feeding is done by camouflaging and patiently awaiting for unsuspecting prey on the bottom.
The Pacific Halibut (Hippoglossus stenolepis) can reach weights of around 500lbs and about 9ft in length. Atlantic Halibut (Hippoglossus hippoglossus) are reported to grow up to 600lbs and 10ft (with speculations of 700lbs+ mammoths). Most catches will be between 20 and 150lbs.
The largest ones will be females, which are more common than males and many times their size.
When & Where
Pacific Halibut are native to the North Pacific waters along the west coast of the US, from California to Alaska. They are abundant in the Bering Sea and can be caught east of Kamchatka and in the Okhotsk Sea, down to the northern tip of Japan. They can be found as deep as 4000ft if shallower waters aren't cold enough for them. They are especially eagerly fished for in Alaska, British Columbia (BC), Washington, Oregon and Northern California. Farther down south in California, they are replaced by the California Halibut (which is actually a type of Flounder).
Atlantic Halibut make the North Atlantic waters their home, north of Virginia to the west and north of Ireland to the east, including the Barents Sea, Greenland and Iceland. The same rule applies - the farther south, the deeper they will be, up to astonishing depths of 6,600ft. These bottom-dwellers are popular game off Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Maine, Nova Scotia and Newfoundland and in Scandinavia.
Spawning takes place in deep, offshore, waters - December through February for the Pacific kind and March through June (sometimes up to September) for the Atlantic kind. After spawning, they head to shallower waters of the north in search for food.
In the far northern polar waters of the Atlantic and the Pacific, these species are replaced by the Greenland Halibut/Turbot (Reinhardtius hippoglossoides).
How to catch
Halibut can be caught on baitfish like herring, cod, mackerel or flatfish, or various mollusks or cephalopods such as squid (the bait will be determined by the local marine life and supply). The larger the bait, the larger the fish. Flies also work when the fish are to be found in shallow waters close to shore.
Heavy tackle is advised, as is using a wire spreader or a sliding sinker rig as heavy as 4lbs if the current and depth demand it.
Good to eat?
Delicate, mild and flaky white fillets of excellent quality. Larger/older fish will have tougher meat that might have higher levels of mercury.
Halibut have been widely overfished due to their excellent and efficient meat yield.
For the Pacific Halibut, complex regulations have been imposed to that effect, with different fishing zones having different dates for open seasons (which last until the date specified or until the quota is attained), different size and bag regulations, as well as ground possession limits usually different to water possession limits for guided/unguided anglers per person/boat and, at times, yearly bag limits per license holder. To make things just a little more complicated, these also change from year to year. You can follow the updates at the International Pacific Halibut Commission's website. A shortcut for California can be found at the CA Dept of Fish and Wildlife's website.
The Atlantic Halibut is seasonally regulated in Maine - open season is May 1 to June 30; other states have year-round open seasons. All bag regulations are 1 fish per boat per trip (up to 5 per boat per year in Maine). The minimum size limit is 41'' with the head on (32'' if head removed), with a desirable outcome being that the fish is not filleted or unrecognizable before coming back to shore.
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