TECH BULLETIN WASHINGTON STRAIT OF JUAN DE FUCA HALIBUT
Compiled from the Diaries and Logs of the Luhr Jensen Fishing Research Team.
Late spring is halibut time for many Northwest saltwater anglers, especially those who fish Washington's Strait of Juan de Fuca. The halibut fishery here traditionally opens in early May, with catch quotas determining how long the season runs. Those quotas have crept upward in recent years, providing anglers along the Strait with excellent opportunities to catch big “flatties” from May well into July or longer.
The Strait of Juan de Fuca is popular with halibut anglers for several reasons. More
protected from harsh weather and water conditions than the halibut grounds of the wide-open Pacific Ocean, the Strait is a place where even small boat anglers have a crack at big fish. Resorts, marinas and boat ramps scattered along the northern edge of the Olympic Peninsula provide easy access to these waters, making them logical targets for anglers trailering their boats from Everett, Seattle, Tacoma; even the Portland area and eastern Washington.
The main reason, though, for the Strait's popularity among halibut anglers is that it offers a number of productive halibut-fishing areas, many of which can “turn on” and provide hot halibut fishing for those who time their fishing trips right and master a few basic halibut fishing skills and techniques.
To catch halibut consistently, you have to understand the fish and its habits. The Pacific halibut is one of the Pacific Northwest's largest fish species, sometimes growing to 500 pounds or more. Although a typical halibut from this area is a 15 to 50 pounder, several of 200 pounds or more have come from the Strait, and 100-plus pounders are caught every year.
The most important thing for any halibut angler to remember is that these fish are bottomfish. "Pounding the bottom" continually with your sinker or jig is key to catching halibut consistently.
It takes a lot of protein to feed a halibut, so these fish are attracted to places where smaller fish are concentrated. Sometimes these halibut feeding spots are “holes” where bait is washed into a bottom depression or basin. More often, though, halibut are found on “hillsides” that rise up out of deeper water. Underwater humps and plateaus, as well as breaklines where the bottom falls away more sharply than the nearby slopes, often draw herring, candlefish and other baitfish on which halibut feed, and are good places to search for them. The bottom in these areas is usually gravel and cobble.
Halibut commonly feed by ambushing their prey, lurking on the down-slope side of
a dropoff and gulping smaller fish that swim or are washed into striking range by the current. Try to fish these slopes and breaklines by working "downhill", drifting with the tide (or using your motor) to work toward deeper water.
There are several ways to catch halibut from the Strait, depending on how deep
you're trying to fish, wind and water conditions, and your own fishing preferences.
Jigging is perhaps the simplest and most effective halibut fishing method, and you can use either metal jigs or soft plastics. My all-time favorite halibut jig is Luhr Jensen's Crippled Herring ®. Smaller fish comprise the bulk of a halibut's diet, and this jig is an almost-perfect baitfish imitation. Besides its true baitfish shape and action, the Crippled Herring's large siwash hook is generally more dependable for hooking and holding large, hard-mouthed fish like the halibut. Another good jig, especially where halibut are feeding on candlefish, is the Deep Stinger ™, a slender, soft-metal jig that can be bent slightly to give it a more dramatic action.
Speaking of action, metal jigs like the
Crippled Herring and Deep Stinger must be
yo-yo'd up and down to be effective. Bounce
them up and down with upward sweeps and
quick drops of the rod tip, being sure to stay
in regular contact with the bottom. Halibut
will almost always strike you lure as it's falling
or at the bottom of your rod sweep.
Soft plastic jigs have caught on for Northwest halibut in recent years. Six to 10-inch twin-tail and curl-tail plastic bodies fished on large lead heads account for many halibut, as do the 9-inch and 14-inch B-2 ™ Bomber Squid in both 8-oz. and 12-oz. weights. Luhr Jensen's 9-inch B-2 is a perfect match of the native squids found in the Strait. The most popular B-2 colors are the Pearl White and Triple-Glo.
Whether using metal or plastics, use a jig that's heavy enough to reach bottom effectively. Depth, current and line diameter are factors in determining lure weight. Many halibut anglers carry jigs from 4 to 20 ounces or more for various fishing situations.
Since both metal and plastic take halibut, try using them together. One of my favorite halibut rigs is a 5- to 16-oz. Crippled Herring at the bottom end of a heavy monofilament leader, which is connected to the main line by a McMahon swivel. Off the swivel I run a short (2 or 3 inch) stiff mono leader tied to a 3- to 5-inch B-2 Cruiser Squid. The unweighted squid body flutters 16 to 24 inches above the metal jig, adding action and visibility to my rig and enticing many more strikes that I'd get from a single lure (See illustration).
White, Pearl, Green and Blue are good color choices in any halibut jig, especially
when fishing deeper water of 150 feet or more.
Halibut also can be caught on herring, squid and other baits. If you use herring,
especially in deeper water, use good, fresh bait or soak it in a strong salt brine overnight to toughen it up and keep it on the hook. Herring and other baits can be bounced along the bottom with a wire spreader or sliding-sinker rig, or they can be slow-trolled on a downrigger behind a size 000 or 001 dodger. Cool colors are Chrome/Green Scalelite ™ on those dodgers. For variety, in place of that herring or squid bait, use a 9-inch B-2 Cruiser Squid.
Rods, reels and line for halibut fishing depend more on the depth you're trying to fish than anything else. For shallow water fishing (under about 200 feet) in moderate or slow current, you can go with a reel in the size range of an Abu Garcia ® Ambassadeur 6500 or 7000, loaded with 40 to 60 pound superbraid line, such as Berkley ® Gorilla Tough ® or Stealth Spiderwire ® and a 7 to 8 foot, fast-action rod such as Berkley's Air IM7 A92-7-9 HB, a combination that will handle 4 to 8 ounce weights and jigs with ease. Deeper water and heavier lures call for bigger reels, shorter (heavier) rods (such as the Air A96-5-6 XH) and stronger lines of 80-lb. test or more.
Here's a quick rundown on some of the Strait of Juan de Fuca's top halibut fishing
NEAH BAY: Offshore spots such as Swiftsure Bank, the Blue Dot and 72-
Squared are well known but inshore anglers find halibut in such places as the “Garbage
Dump” (Koitlah Point), around Tatoosh Island and off the mouth of Bowman Creek.
Koitlah is often the best bet, especially for anglers who work the 40-fathom line straight out from the point. Trolling works here, but jigging and bouncing bait along the bottom also can be productive.
SEKIU: The mouth of the Hoko River is Sekiu's best known halibut fishing spot. There's a 40-fathom (240-ft.) shelf off the river mouth that produces some of the Strait's biggest halibut every year. This fishery is often best in late June and early July. The smooth bottom here allows for successful trolling with dodger-and-herring rigs. Jigs also work here, and if the current and wind are calm, you can fish a 7-oz. Krocodile ® effectively here. If you aren't sure about what finish to use, try a Chrome/Blue Prism-Lite ® or Chrome/Neon Blue Stripe. Earlier in the spring, you might look for Sekiu-area halibut off Eagle Bay and the mouth of the Sekiu River, both located west of town.
DEEP CREEK/TWIN RIVERS: Both of these areas are near Pillar Point, and both
offer good early season halibut possibilities in May. Smooth, sand-and-gravel bottoms
allow anglers to troll dodger-and-herring rigs here. This is a good place to use that Herring Dodger ™ /B-2 Cruiser Squid combination, trolled slowly along the 20-fathom breakline. Both Deep Creek and Twin Rivers produce some big halibut, so you might want to gear-up a little here!
LYRE RIVER: Slow-trolling and drifting with whole herring are productive fishing methods here. The vast sand and gravel flats off the river mouth are home to some large halibut, including the occasional 100-pounder.
FRESHWATER BAY: Located between the Lyre River and Port Angeles, Freshwater
Bay occasionally provides good halibut fishing. Some anglers do well drifting along the 30-fathom line, either east from Salt Creek on the flooding tide or west from Angeles Point on the ebb. There's a boat ramp for smaller boats in the bay itself.
PORT ANGELES: Green Point, half a dozen miles east of town, can be a decent
springtime halibut spot, especially for anglers bouncing bait or jigging from a boat following the 30-fathom line. Due north of Port Angeles is a rugged hump called “The Rock Pile”, which produces some big halibut each spring. It is, however, fairly tough to fish except right at the high or the low slack tide. Farther out is Coyote Bank, which has a smoother bottom and is therefore easier to fish. Since it's on the U.S./Canadian border, be sure you know where you're fishing or carry both a Washington and a British Columbia saltwater fishing license.
HEIN BANK: The millions of candlefish congregating here make this underwater plateau north of Sequim a real halibut magnet in the late-winter and spring. The
west side and south end of the bank are favored by halibut anglers, most of whom
bounce metal jigs along the gravel bottom for their fish. Much of the fishing is in 120
to 160 feet of water, where it's possible to reach bottom with a 3- or 4-oz. Crippled
Herring, a size 3 or 4 Deep Stinger or a 5-oz. Krocodile.
MIDDLE BANK: Candlefish also draw springtime halibut to the eastern edge of
Middle Bank, located a couple of miles east of Hein Bank. Working a dodger-and-herring
along the bottom contours takes halibut here, as does jigging. Both Hein and Middle Banks are accessible from boat ramps and marinas in Sequim to the south, the San Juan Islands to the north, and from the Whidbey Island-Anacortes area to the east.
ABOUT THE AUTHORTerry Rudnick is a freelance outdoor
writer/photographer/speaker specializing in Pacific Northwest fishing, hunting and boating subjects. Since beginning his career more than 30 years ago, he has had over 1,000 articles and photos published in more than two-dozen regional and national publications. Rudnick is also a book author. His first book, Washington Fishing, is the most comprehensive angling guide ever written about the state's freshwater and saltwater angling opportunities, and is now in its fourth edition. He also coauthored How to Catch Trophy Halibut, the complete guide to recreational
halibut fishing along the entire West Coast. Both books have received excellence
awards from the Northwest Outdoor Writers Association. A third book, Washington Boating and Water Sports was published in the spring of 2000.
Published As a Service To the Industry by Luhr Jensen, Inc.
Puget Sound Fishing Trolling or jigging for that elusive Puget Sound Salmon is what "Life in Des Moines" is all about. Whether you are trying to catch that big 30 pound Wild King Salmon or that beautiful Bright Silver it is definitely a rush. We have many days of fishing, in the spring and summer there is the Chinook run and fall brings the Sockeye, Coho, Chums and Pinks. But wait the year is not over in the winter there is the Winter Blackmouth. But don't get in trouble check the Home Page for the fishing regulations for the right times to drop your line.