Southeast Alaska is truly one of the most stunning geographical regions in the entire United States. Just about everywhere you look you’ll find a view that could easily be featured in National Geographic. When you factor in aLEARN MORE
For many of us, an Alaska halibut fishing trip is a dream come true. Halibut’s reputation of having a feisty attitude and flaky white meat have made them a world renowned game fish. It’s no wonder that people have been targeting this species in the great state of Alaska for thousands of years.
Though halibut can be found all around the northern hemisphere, Alaska has been the top destination for both sport and commercial fishermen for generations, and for good reason: massive populations of pacific halibut travel through the Gulf of Alaska every year. In fact, the populations are so robust, that the vast majority of commercially caught halibut eaten around the world (and over 65% of all pacific halibut sport fishing) takes place in Alaskan waters! Thanks to some excellent population management from the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, the pacific halibut population is booming and fishermen will be able to enjoy this delicious natural resource for generations to come.
If you’re interested in halibut fishing, there’s a few things you’ll want to know about these impressive animals before you get in the boat and reel one in for yourself. In this article we’ll teach you everything you need to know about halibut fishing in Alaska!
Halibut are a type of “flat fish”, meaning they lay on the bottom, have a compressed shape and have eyes on one side of their body. They have a unique coloration, with their top side being an excellent camouflage of a brown base with light and dark mottling, with a bottom that is ghost white. Why so white, you ask? When an animal spends a majority of their life laying about, why expend energy making pigment for its skin when no one is going to see it?
FUN FACT: Though uncommon, there are some halibut that have brown coloration on both sides of their body. Usually this means that the fish is missing eyes, is blind, or has vision problems.
Both male and female halibut have an incredible 55 year long lifespan, though most only make it to their late 20s. Halibut begin their life cycle off fairly slowly; males take around 8 years to sexually mature while females take 12. Born swimming upright and looking like any other baby fish, larval halibut mainly feed on zooplankton for the first year of their life. The young halibut swim higher up the water column as they grow and depend on ocean currents to carry them to coastal waters hundreds of miles from their spawning grounds. During this time, their body will change and their skull starts to compress. As this happens, a halibut’s left eye migrates over the top of their skull until it settles next to their right eye.
After their first year, halibut begin to feed on small crustaceans and fish and eat progressively larger creatures as they age. Once sexually mature, the female halibut–which grows faster and larger than males–will lay anywhere between several thousand and several million eggs!
FUN FACT: You know those photos of massive trophy halibut where the fish is taller than the angler who caught them? Every one of those halibut were undoubtedly female.
When most people think about halibut, they’re thinking of the pacific halibut, Hippoglossus stenolepis. There are two other species of halibut in the world, atlantic halibut and greenland halibut, but the commercial fishing industry largely avoids these species due to their threatened status. So chances are that any halibut you’ve eaten came from the pacific ocean.
How did they come up with the genus name Hippoglossus for halibut, you ask? No one knows for sure, though it is assumed it was because halibut that come out of the water were wet and shiny and glossy, and also very large, like a hippo.
Pacific halibut can be found all throughout the west coast of the United States and Canada, going as far south as California and as far north at the Bering Sea between Alaska and Russia. That being said, halibut tend to concentrate in the gulf of alaska region. Halibut are a highly migratory fish and return to the gulf every year to spawn. A massive chunk of the pacific halibut population start their life in this area and then travel dozens to hundreds of miles to shallower waters near the coastline to feed after their annual spawn.
This is why the fishing at Pybus Point Lodge is so incredible. Halibut enter the shallow waters near the ABC islands (Admiralty, where the lodge is located, Baranof and Chicagof) every summer. Here the water is full of food like crabs, squid, herring and other small animals that halibut love. Halibut will spend the whole summer in the region gorging on anything they can get their mouths on before heading back out to deeper waters to spawn in winter.
The benefit of fishing at Pybus Point Lodge over some of the other Alaska fishing resorts is that Pybus is located in the famous Inside Passage region. This massive waterway is protected by gigantic clusters of islands. Here, the water is nearly always calm, and the ocean floor is full of hungry halibut looking for something to eat.
If you’re on an all-inclusive Alaska halibut fishing trip with Pybus Point Lodge, you won’t have to worry too much about locating halibut on your own. All of our guests have an expert, full-time, fishing guide that can take them halibut fishing every day. That being said, it’s still a good idea to have a solid understanding of where halibut tend to hangout so you know what you’re looking for while fishing. Learning and understanding the fish you’re chasing is part of the adventure, and don’t hesitate to ask your guide any questions that come to mind.
Halibut are flat fish meaning that their mouths are on the bottom of their bodies and their eyes are on the top. If you’ve ever seen a halibut before you’ll know that the top of their bodies are greenish brown, and the bottoms of their bodies are white. This unique coloration is no accident.
Halibut are ultimate ambush predators. Hanging out on the ocean floor stalking their next meal, they orient themselves down current along humps, ledges, slides, rocks, or any place an unsuspecting prey might get carried past with the water current. They lie still, their colored tops act as perfect camouflage, making it difficult for their prey to notice them. Once an unsuspecting fish swims overhead–BOOM–the halibut will attack. In a mere second or two, the halibut lunges off the open floor and clamp down with powerful jaws on their helpless prey.
While they swim up, any creatures down below will look up and see the white side of the halibut which blends in with the glare from the sunlight above as the halibut eats its prey. It’s hard to see their teeth in photos, but don’t be fooled. Whatever enters the halibut’s mouth, is not escaping.
FUN FACT: Halibut don’t always hang out on the bottom. They sometimes “free swim” hundreds of feet off the bottom chasing food if they know it’s there.
Halibut are typically sport-caught at depths between 100 and 400 feet, but can commonly be found in depths as extreme as 1,500 feet by commercial fishermen. Halibut are considered to be a cold water fish that are typically found in water that roughly ranges between 35-45 degrees fahrenheit.
Halibut aren’t known for being picky eaters. They’ll practically eat any creature that they can cram in their mouths like crabs, squid, salmon, cod, rockfish, herring, other flatfish, and their absolute favorite food, Octopus! This is one of the reasons why halibut fishing is so fun and easy. If there’s a way that a halibut can get its mouth around something, they’ll try, no matter what it is. They are very curious animals, and unlike humans who have fingers and hands, a halibut’s only tool to sample the world with is its mouth.
When it comes to halibut fishing, most lodges just fish a large piece of dead bait at the bottom of the ocean and wait for a halibut to bite. BORING! At Pybus, we have the unique opportunity of being in an area where halibut concentrate in large groups, so we can fish them in more exciting ways. For us, there isn’t a better setup than a jig with a soft plastic lure. Jigs are essentially just a big fake wiggly bait with a large hook attached to a heavy weight, perfect for sinking to the ocean floor and getting a halibut’s attention quickly. Jigs are so effective and the halibut in our area so plentiful, that people even have success hooking halibut on a naked jig: no lure, no bait, no nothing.
But when you put a soft plastic lure over the top of the jig–oh boy! The lure will hide the hook and make your jig extra appetizing to a hungry halibut . Remember how we said that halibut aren’t picky eaters? Well we meant it. The specific lure you use doesn’t make a huge difference as halibut don’t really care about color or shape. As long as your lure vaguely looks like a sea creature you’ll be fine. The advantage of using a lure is that as you jig (more on that in a minute) the lure will mimic the motion of a small fish moving through the water and the color will attract the eye of the halibut. This natural look provided by the lure will give you the extra edge you need to catch a fish!
While the specific colors and shapes of the lures you use doesn’t make much of a difference, the quality of your lure can have a big impact on your fishing trip and your wallet. At Pybus Point Lodge, we fish hard all summer long and need lures that are built to last–that’s why we try to always buy from Madame Lure. Madame Lure is owned and operated by Pybus’s very own Captain Matthew Strang. Captain Matt is both an experienced Alaskan fisherman and marine biologist who’s spent over 20 years in the industry–so when we say he knows his stuff, we mean it. If you want to fish with the same jigs as the guides at Pybus, check out Madame Lure!
If you really want to make sure that all those halibut notice your jig you can add some bait onto your hook. While bait isn’t necessary when halibut fishing, it certainly doesn’t hurt your chances. For best results try using herring or pink salmon bellies!
While the color of the lure may not be as important, how you wiggle it is! With a little bit of practice, Jigging for halibut is incredibly easy! In fact, this is probably one of the best fishing techniques for beginners to master. There are just a few easy steps that you’ll need to follow to catch your own alaskan halibut!
But before we get into the specific steps, here’s our most helpful tip for halibut fishing: always listen to your guide. Their job is to make sure you catch fish and have fun, so what they tell you is meant to make you more successful. If you follow your guide’s advice, your halibut fishing vacation is guaranteed to be a success!
Now, keeping that in mind, here are all the steps you need to catch your own Alaskan halibut!
First things first, you’ve got to actually get your jig to the bottom of the ocean. All you need to do is let out some line (usually between 200-400 feet) until you find the bottom. Sounds easy enough, right? There’s only one small trick that you need to know during this process, and it’s important. Always maintain tension while releasing the line so it doesn’t “backlash”. This single trick can entirely make or break your halibut fishing experience, especially if you’re a beginner.
In order to do this, you’re going to want to let your line out slowly. As you’re releasing the line, use your thumb to apply pressure on the reel and control the speed at which your jig is sinking. Like we said, jigs have heavy weights attached to them, and you should always feel them at the end of your line. If you allow for slack in your line you could run into any number of difficulties like getting tangled, or even worse, not finding the bottom of the ocean. More on why that matters in a moment.
If you’re maintaining tension on your line during the descent, you’ll be able to feel precisely when the jig hits the bottom of the ocean; all of a sudden you’ll feel the weight stop pulling, you’ll feel the slack in the line, and you might even feel the thud caused from the impact in your arms. As soon as you feel the bottom, put the reel in gear by moving your lever forward, and reel just a little bit until the line is taught and you can feel the weight of the jig.
Once you’ve hit bottom, it’s time to get a halibut’s attention! To do this, you’re going to be jigging to mimic the movements of a fish swimming above the ocean floor. So what exactly is jigging you ask? Jigging is really just a fancy way of saying moving the rod tip up and down. When you do this, the jig will vertically swim up and down and hop and skip across the ocean floor creating vibrations and noise that will catch a halibut’s attention.
To get started, you’re going to want to reel in about two full rotations off of the ocean floor. While jigging, you’re going to be lifting the jig off of the ocean floor and slowly letting the jig touch back down again. To make sure you have the right amount of line out, slowly lift the tip of your rod up and lower it back down–you should feel the jig touch bottom each time you lower the rod tip down. Adjust until you’ve found that sweet spot where your lure touches down with every jig. You don’t want to make large lifts on the rod. Just little 12 to 24 inch hops and “pops”.
Now that’s out of the way, all you need to do is bounce the rod tip up and down. It’s a pretty easy technique that can be mastered by fishermen of all skill levels. The great thing is that there’s really no wrong way to jig, and you can try a whole range of different methods. You can jig aggressively, you can jig gently, you can slowly control the descent of the jig, or you can let it slam back down on its own. You can either be rhythmic or random. Just find what works for you.
There’s really only one big thing to keep in mind, you’ve got to stay on bottom. Remember how we said that it’s best to fish for halibut on slopes? That means that as your boat drifts along the slope, you’re going to be fishing at different depths. It’s crucial that you’re periodically checking to make sure that your jig is actually being pulled off the bottom and touching back down. If it’s not, make the proper adjustments by either reeling in or letting out some line. But remember, don’t get too focused on finding the bottom or you won’t be jigging. We suggest about once a minute let a bit of line out if you haven’t found the bottom, or of course, get a bite!
The key thing is to keep the bait moving. The fish don’t want it to just lie there. If you aren’t constantly moving the rod tip, you run the risk of allowing your jig to drag across the ocean floor and getting snagged on a rock or on some vegetation. While this is usually fixable, sometimes all you can do is cut the line–something we’d like to avoid whenever possible. If you’re not hitting bottom at all, nothing bad will happen, you’ll just be wasting your time. Halibut are bottom dwellers and it’s highly unlikely that you’ll attract the attention of any halibut from too far up above. Remember, listen to your guide! Have them look at your technique and they will make sure you have the best bounce for the ‘but!
Now that your jig is skipping across the ocean floor, it should be attracting the attention of any nearby halibut. Once the halibut notices your jig it will attack, and it’s your job to notice that a halibut is taking interest in your jig. Most of the time, this is pretty easy. You should be able to feel the halibut tugging on your line, and your rod tip will start bouncing like crazy. This is probably the most challenging few seconds of the halibut fishing process, and it might take you a few attempts to get it down.
Once you notice that a halibut is attacking you need to get the hook through the halibut’s mouth. To do this you’ll need to forcefully yank the rod tip upward, sort of like how you’ve been jigging, just with more velocity. If you do it correctly, you’ll have yanked the hook through the halibut’s mouth and you’ll be in for the tug of war.
Now setting the hook might sound pretty straight forward, but there is a fair amount of technique and skill involved. You can’t simply set the hook the moment you feel some action. You need to give the halibut enough time to get the hook fully in its mouth. If you attempt to set the hook too early, you run the risk of yanking the hook right out of the halibut’s mouth. Or maybe the halibut was simply nibbling at your lure and its mouth isn’t anywhere near your hook. As soon as you feel the halibut grabbing the lure, give it a brief moment to get the lure in its mouth, Then swing upwards while slowly reeling to get the fishing rod to do the work for you.
NOTE: If you miss the hook set, give it a few jigs before letting the job back down to the bottom. Sometimes the halibut will turn right back around and bite it again!
All that being said, there’s no need to worry. It only takes most folks a few attempts before they start to get the hang of it. And while on an all-inclusive vacation with Pybus Point Lodge, you’ll have plenty of opportunities to catch a halibut. The halibut fishing is so incredible in our area that guests often hook halibuts without even realizing it!
Now that the halibut is on your hook, there’s only one thing left to do; real that sucker in! While this is definitely the most straightforward step of the process, there is a little bit of technique involved to make sure that the halibut doesn’t pop off the hook and swim away.
While reeling in it’s important to always maintain tension. When there’s any slack in the line, the halibut will have the opportunity to shake loose from the hook. In order to do this it’s best to pull your rod tip up and then reel as you slowly lower the rod tip back down keeping the rod bent. This way you’ll pull the fish up through the water with your arms, and then reel in the excess line maintaining tension the whole way through. Always keep the bend in the rod!
It’s important to remember that halibut fishing isn’t a race–you’ve got all the time in the world to get that halibut in the boat, and it’s better to do it correctly than quickly. If you get tired feel free to take advantage of the rod holders on the sides of the boat. Just place the rod in the holder, and all you have to do is reel. In fact, if you try to bulldog a halibut, they will bulldog you right back. If you reel nice, steady and easy the whole way, the halibut tend to come up easier. Sometimes they won’t even fight at all. Though it’s not quite as fun as a fish that is “peeling drag” it’s much more effective.
Once you get your halibut near the surface let your expert captain or deckhand know and they will help you get the halibut out of the water. While this is happening, never pull the halibut out of the water. If the halibut manages to flop off of the hook while out of water, you’ll have a heavy, spring loaded, hook flying right at your face–something that we’d like to avoid at all costs. For your safety we have free protective eyewear available.
Once that your halibut is just below the surface, your captain or deckhand will haul the fish onto the deck of the boat where it will be measured to make sure that the fish is within the legal slot limit. After verifying that your fish is legal, your guide will ask you if you’d like to keep the fish.
As long as the fish is a legal size, it is YOUR fish. If it’s small but legal, you are free to keep it or release it–it’s your call. Each year the state sets the slot size and limit on how many halibut you can keep and we want to make sure that you’re always happy with the fish you take home.
NOTE: If the fish appears very small at the surface and you wish not to keep it, let the captain or deckhand know, and they can remove the hook without bringing the fish into the boat. It is much safer for the fish and the people on board.
PROTIP: Halibut on the smaller end of the slot are the best for eating! In order to protect the breeding aged halibut, the government has implemented a “reverse slot” where all fish within a given length range are illegal to keep. Lucky for you, the best halibut for eating are the younger halibut that are perfectly legal to keep! Young halibut have that flaky, buttery white meat that we all know and love whereas the big old trophy halibut have meat that is much more dense and difficult to cook.
But that doesn’t mean you can’t catch a trophy halibut at Pybus Point Lodge! If you want to catch something bigger, check out your own boat and go on a self-guided fishing excursion! Self-guided fishermen are allowed to catch up to two halibut of any size every day. If you want to go fishing on your own, just talk to one of our dockhands after arriving at the lodge and they’ll set you up with your own boat and all the gear you need to catch the halibut of your dreams!
FINAL FUN FACT: Be sure to look at the halibut to make sure it is “right eyed”. When you lay a halibut dark side up, it should have its mouth pointing to the right, and thus their eyes on the right side. While many other types of flatfish are left eyed, a left eyed pacific halibut is a 1 in 20,000 chance! Those are bigger odds than most lottery tickets!
Now that you’re a halibut fishing expert, come fish with us! Alaska is the uncontested greatest halibut fishing destination on the planet, and our all-inclusive resort has everything you need for your dream halibut fishing vacation. Rods, reels, rain gear, boots, tackle, boats, and guides are all included.
While staying at our lodge, you’ll be able to fish 8 hours every day and target halibut along with rockfish, ling cod, pacific cod, and 5 different species of salmon (depending on the time of year.) You’ll also have full access to our freshwater guide who will take you out on a local river to catch salmon or the famous Dolly Varden trout depending on conditions.
We offer a myriad of other exciting excursions as well. Glacier tours, kayaking tours, waterfall tours, hikes, trips to a gorgeous natural warm spring, water skiing, and so much more!
When you get home from your vacation at our all-inclusive lodge, don’t forget to check out our recipe page! Even after your vacation is over, Pybus Point Lodge is still here to help you out. If you’re looking for new and delicious ways to cook up your freezer full of fresh Alaskan fish, try out one of our staff favorite recipes!
Experience world-class halibut fishing with your own full-time, expert guide at Pybus Point Lodge! You’ll have your own five star room in an ocean front cabin, three gourmet meals a day, and full access to a wide range of exciting activities. Come see what Alaska is all about.
Click here to reserve your spot at our all-inclusive resort! If you have any questions about fishing, our all-inclusive package, or anything else give us a call at 435-412-4286!
Southeast Alaska is truly one of the most stunning geographical regions in the entire United States. Just about everywhere you look you’ll find a view that could easily be featured in National Geographic. When you factor in aLEARN MORE
One of the most exciting animals that you can observe during your vacation is the majestic bald eagle, and Admiralty Island happens to boast one of the highest bald eagle densities on planet earth. If you want to see one of tLEARN MORE
Discover why people like you can’t stop talking about Pybus Point Lodge. More than 30 years ago, the lodge opened as a simple fishing camp, drawing a devoted following in spite of basic accommodations. With new owners and experienced captains and crew, our corner of Alaska has become an unbeatable fishing and eco-tourism resort.
Pybus Point Lodge has some of the most stunning scenery I’ve ever seen. I mean absolutely breathtaking! In addition to the amazing fishing, I hiked to a beautiful secluded lake, soaked in some hot pots, saw several waterfalls, went whale watching, saw bears and all kinds of wildlife and marine life. As a photographer, photographing a wedding under a waterfall will remain a highlight of my life.
Pybus Point Lodge - WOW!
We had the best time! This was our first visit to Pybus, but it definitely will not be our last. The stunning scenery, amazing fishing experience, and the joy of meeting new friends – all outstanding! We did not want to leave!!! If you are thinking about this trip – don’t think any more, just book it. You will not regret it!!!
Trip of a Lifetime!
We had such an amazing time the staff was so wonderful and the lodge was fantastic! capt Joe was so helpful and always doing what ever he could do to make each day special. a special thank you to both Scott and Jody for taking the time to make us feel like family. can't wait to go back next year
Wonderful and Magical Place
We had an amazing business retreat to Pybus Point Lodge. Everything was top notch... the fishing, the staff, the boat captains, the food, the accommodations, and especially the scenery. I really liked that Pybus took care of everything from start to finish. Chef John is an amazing cook. We had delicious hot meals the entire trip. The cabins were amazing and very comfortable. The fishing was awesome and that’s coming from a guy that doesn’t fish that much.
We brought home 100lbs of fish!
My wife and I spent a week at Pybus Point this Summer. We had a beautiful, private room overlooking the bay and our own new, ensuite, private bathroom. What an amazing place for couples to get away together. We set our own breakfast time, met our boat captain after, fished the day along, and returned to clean up and enjoy a nice dinner at the restaurant. Next time Alaska is on the trip list, Sherrie and I will go together, and it will be to Pybus Point!
Fun in Alaska
This was my first trip to Pybus Point. I stayed in one of their new cabins. The accommodations were incredible, the view onto the bay in the mornings was stunning. I loved the staff and the food was really very good. All of this and they have new boats to take you out onto fairly calm waters to fish. The fishing guides were great. Overall a great experience. Definitely going back.