Of all our local fish, halibut is probably our favorite. This large deep-sea fish migrates to comparatively shallower waters in the summer months to hunt salmon. Because we fish more from shore than from boats, halibut is a rare treat. Prime fishing grounds are just off our beach, but we need calm seas and a good launching tide to get out to where we can drop a line.
Fishing for halibut is easy. It requires patience, a good stout rod with plenty of line, and a rig. I grew up using store-bought rigs, basically a swivel with two lengths of leader line. One length holds the hook; the other holds enough weight to take the rig down to the depths, usually more than 200 feet.
One day at a sporting goods store I found rigs made in Alaska. I grabbed several, glad to be “buying Alaskan,” when I realized that I was holding a very simple rig that I could make myself, using materials I already owned! I’ve never bought a rig since.
These homemade rigs use a doubled length of seine twine instead leader. I make mine using either the standard circular halibut hooks, or mid-sized octopus hooks. Both have caught halibut; the latter has the advantage of being small enough that it can catch other fish as well. I’ve seen cohos (silver salmon) dive after a descending halibut rig, snatching the bait and hook before it reaches bottom.
Unless I have herring, I initially bait my rig with a rubber “hootchie” octopus lure. If it doesn’t attract a halibut right away, it usually catches a sea bass or sculpin. These smaller fish then become halibut bait. I often cut a thin strip of belly and hook it so that it waves in the current. Halibut adore octopus. A waving strip of belly meat looks like a tentacle.
Of all the halibut we’ve caught since moving to the homestead, my favorite came from the bay. One day we went there in the canoe to bait our crab traps. We jigged with light rods and lures, catching a few small flounders. We were having fun, but I felt like we should go home and fish off the rocks for some real food.
Just as we were about to quit, something hit my lure and bent my rod double. We were in less than twenty feet of water, so we had no idea what I might have on the line.
It was a 10-pound halibut! It probably didn’t even qualify as a “chicken” as small halibut are called, but that’s okay—we don’t have a freezer to keep a bigger fish.
Michelle baked it using my mom’s beloved halibut recipe (below). With a fresh garden salad, it made quite a feast every night for four nights.
For the record, according to the tide book, that was not a good day to fish for halibut! We were in the wrong place at the wrong time, and we ended up with four fish dinners as a result.
Hard to beat that.
Gertie Zeiger’s Baked Halibut Recipe
Fresh halibut cut into 2-inch pieces
Salad oil mix with garlic salt
Roll fish in Parmesan cheese, then 1/2 cup of oil and 1 Tbsp garlic salt, then cracker crumbs. Place in shallow pan and bake at 450° for 12 minutes. Serves well with rice.