Saturday, February 17, 2024



"Look Mommy. I found a little fish in the river!"

That was the smallest halibut any of us had ever seen!
She lowered it down into the river and it swam away.

There were so many wonderful surprises when our family camped in Sea Lion Cove on the northwest shore of Kruzof Island so many years ago. 



(Hippoglossus stenolepis)

I lived most of my early years in a family of nine on the east coast of Massachusetts. Our home was just above a pebble beach. That's me in the bow.


No surprise that we all harvested seafood. We ate lots of clams, cod and that plentiful flatfish named flounder.

Flounder were fun to catch, manageable in size and so easy to filet.

                                                                                                                                    photo by Boston Herald

Fast forward to the first of my nearly fifty years living in Sitka, Alaska on Baranof Island. It was 1975 and I was age 26.                    

My husband and I were in a skiff rocking and rolling in  swells off of nearby Biorka Island. We had recently purchased a sturdy rod and reel. We took turns reeling in something surprisingly heavy. As time went by, we were not sure if we were hauling up a fish or if we had caught the bottom. After what seemed like forever, our eyes bugged out! We both gasped!!! 

A huge, wide, flatfish floated up into view from the deep. It looked like a monster flounder. But no, it was one of the largest of the flatfish species... halibut. Our very first halibut!  

Because of the enormous size, there was no hauling that halibut into our skiff. We were able to frantically club it and slide a rope through its mouth and gills. We slowly towed it alongside the skiff back to the distant dock. What an anxiety riddled thrill!

We do not have a photo of that halibut. The photo below is similar in size. The lovely young lady is 5'9"

                                                                                                                                             photo by R Uber

So according to the handy guide in the back of this tide book, the above halibut probably weighs in at around 150 lbs!

Compared with Atlantic flounder, Pacific halibut have been exciting to catch, often unmanageable in size and so easy to fillet.


Halibut spawn during the winter months in deep waters
when they are around 10 years of age. 
Each female produces as many as 
four million eggs! 

Once fertilized, eggs hatch into larvae about two weeks later. These larvae drift in ocean currents to shallow, coastal waters for nourishment.

It takes about 6 months for the larvae to grow into inch long fish. This is when the eyes gradually share what becomes the dark top side of the fish. The bottom side of the fish gradually turns white.

In the first three years of life, halibut feed on plankton and then increasingly larger food including all kinds of fish and shellfish while migrating great distances.

Halibut live as long as 55 years. The largest of halibut are the females weighing as much as 450 pounds. Males are typically under 100 pounds.

This halibut was swimming around above lots of pink salmon returning to the mouth of a river in August. 
The photo was taken from a road bridge.



The Alaska Department of Fish and Game 
Division of Sport Fish in Sitka, Alaska 
issued a WILDLIFE NOTEBOOK SERIES which includes Pacific Halibut
by Tamara Smid 1978
by Mike Bethers 1994

 and the outstanding
by Artwin E. Schmidt
copywrite 1996

I encourage anyone interested in catching Pacific Halibut to read up before heading out. The above handouts have been invaluable.

And, no question that it makes sense to go out fishing with experienced fishermen. No matter how long I have been fishing and how much I think I know, I continue to learn new and fascinating fishing information and skills from insightful locals.  

We make sure to have sturdy rods handy whenever we head out on a boat

 and sturdy reels with up to 100 pound test line

            a club

and a good supply of lures with accompanying weights and other relevant items:
We save salmon scraps in our freezer for bait and bring some of that along too. Lures seem to be more attractive with a shiny, smelly fish scrap attached to the hook.

What else to bring along? 
- a gaff hook
- a large net
- extra line

Look what I found on a remote beach when I first moved to Sitka...

It wasn't something I had ever seen before. 
And then there it was in this remarkable print  
by JoAnn George...


For several sensible reasons, we have done most of our boating during the fair-weather months April through September. 
Unfortunately, I have always been susceptible to seasickness in rough seas. From what I see and hear, I am not alone with this issue. 
Even in summer the outside waters of Southeast Alaska are often rough. Consequently, we limit venturing into outside waters to the rare, calm days. Otherwise, we have what seems like unlimited inside waters and bays available to us. 

Once we had gained some experience sport fishing for halibut with people who knew what they were doing, we found that fishing around slack tides was wise. Halibut tend to feed during slack tides when the strong currents subside. 

Because halibut often hang out on the ocean bottom near rock piles and drop-offs, we drop our baited lures in and around such locations.  We jig (bounce) the lure on the ocean bottom to attract attention. In general, we catch halibut in waters around 15 to 50 fathoms deep (depths around 100 to 300 feet). So the best depth for fishing for halibut simply depends on the ocean depth in the location you choose to fish. Thank goodness for GPS and depth finders. 
It's a good idea to drop an anchor if you catch a halibut and want to stay put to catch more. We make careful note of successful locations in our boat log book.

                      HOW MANY HALIBUT?
The number of halibut we are allowed to catch when sport fishing might change from one year to the next. 
Pick up a copy of the annual
                       SOUTHEAST ALASKA

These are available in the office of the Alaska Department of Fish and Game and from various marine supply stores around Sitka.

Locate the page with a section specifying  HALIBUT:

Be sure to read the entire section about HALIBUT
It includes many important issues including:

-  Fishing for halibut closed January 1 - January 31
-  No size limit.
-  2 halibut per day.
-  4 in possession.

I recommend also reading a current copy of 
                        NOAA FISHERIES  
                            Alaska Region
                    Regulations Summary
                and Frequently Asked Questions
        for Unguided Pacific Halibut Fishing in Alaska


What a surprise! I was so grateful! 
About 15 years ago my son brought me an unusual mother's day gift. He knew I had grown comfortable taking our old 32 foot Grand Banks cabin cruiser out on my own. 

He said he wanted to help make my halibut fishing excursions more enjoyable and efficient. So, he put together a halibut skate for me in a tub.

Soon after receiving this welcome gift, I wanted to acquire whatever I needed to legally catch halibut longlining with my nifty new skate.

                        What I needed was a 
              CERTIFICATE also known as SHARC

To apply for a SHARC contact:

National Marine Fisheries Service, Alaska Region
P.O.Box 21668 
Juneau, Alaska 99802-1668  

phone: 1 (800) 304-4846


online: the Alaska regional office of NOAA Fisheries

It will be useful to review a current copy of the 8 page frequently asked questions about the Alaska Subsistence Halibut Program.

I made a copy to have handy on our boat.

Our neighbors in the boat harbor are admirably knowledgeable and experienced... especially about fishing. So thoughtful. When they catch halibut, they often share. 
                                                                    photo by K. Haley

I asked them for advice about setting a skate.

Here is the diagram utilizing some of the information they shared:

The depth for setting the ground line will vary depending on the location. Sometimes shallower, sometimes deeper. 

             CATCHING HALIBUT 
I headed north of Sitka with my new halibut skate, a friend and my dog. We planned for a few days of fishing and gathering greens. After about 8 hours (my boat is slow) we stopped to do some fishing. After jigging about ten minutes, my friend was thrilled to catch her very first halibut... sport fishing with a rod and reel. It wasn't all that big, but it was a keeper.

And then, what do you know? A man with a smiling, familiar face just happened to be passing by in his Boston whaler. And he just happens to be one of the most successful fishermen I know. 
"Will you help us set my new halibut skate?"   Yes!

We anchored in a familiar, protected bay. After we baited up the hooks on the skate, the two in the photo below headed out in the whaler. We use fish waste for bait... in this case cut up heads and tails of salmon and black cod. 
The first buoy was anchored at a depth of about 75 feet just outside the entrance to the bay. Slowly progressing into deeper water, the longline with baited hooks was lowered. The second buoy was anchored at a depth of about 250 feet. It was quite late in the evening when this was accomplished.
Very early next morning they again used the whaler and went off to haul up the skate. They were not close enough for me to see if they hauled in any halibut. As they approached and I could see inside the whaler, I started jumping up and down and squealing like a little kid! Pretty thrilling. 


                CLEANING HALIBUT

As mentioned earlier, cleaning halibut is simple. 
The flat shape of this fish simplifies cutting filets.
                                                                                            photo by D. Corbell

Two filets are easily sliced in a scraping fashion from the top dark side of the halibut and two filets from the white bottom side.

And don't forget to slice out the cheeks
from the heads. Choice food! A delicacy!


                 COOKING HALIBUT
There are so many delicious recipes for halibut! It is such a firm and meaty fish.

The all time favorite halibut dish in our home has been

- Heat oil in a deep fryer to about 375 degrees 
   or set a pot on a stovetop burner to medium high 
   heat with about 3 inches of vegetable oil. 
   I prefer avocado oil.

- Cut halibut into any size you prefer.
   I usually cut each piece approximately 
            2" wide      2" thick      4" long

- Using a clean cloth towel or paper towel, pat the 
  pieces dry.

- Coat the pieces with white flour.

- Drench the pieces in beaten egg.

- Press the pieces into panko.

- Drop 3 or 4 pieces into the hot oil and cook about 2 
  minutes on each side.

- Set each on a brown paper bag or paper towel to drain
  off any excess oil.

We like to eat our crispy halibut served with coleslaw 

or served with potato salad

or served with asparagus and a lemon sauce

Another favorite is my version of

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

- Cut about 2 lbs. of halibut into bite sized chunks.

- Drain three or four cans of mushrooms 
  Chop up about three or four dozen fresh mushrooms. 
  Saute the chopped fresh mushrooms in butter or oil. 

- Cut up a head or two of broccoli into bite size pieces.

Stir the above ingredients together in a bowl and spread them out in the bottom of a large glass or metal baking dish


you will need :  1/2 cup butter
                       1/2 cup of white flour
                        3 1/2 cups milk
                        1 tablespoon of garlic powder
                        16 oz of sharp cheddar cheese-grated
                        1/2 to 1 tablespoon of hot sauce
                            (I use Frank's RED HOT)

- Melt the butter in a medium sized sauce pan.
- Blend in the flour.
- Stir in the milk.
- Add the garlic powder, hot sauce and shredded
- Stir continuously over medium heat until the cheese is
  all melted and the sauce has thickened.

Pour the sauce evenly over the fish and vegetables in the baking dish.

Bake at 350 degrees for about 50 minutes, uncovered.

It will look like this:



Here are 4 halibut cheeks that had been cut from halibut heads, rinsed, vacuum sealed and frozen. Once thawed, I rinsed in cold water and patted dry with a clean kitchen towel. Rolled in flour:

The oil, in this case avocado oil, was heated on the stovetop to a medium high temperature. The cheeks were then dropped in and cooked about 3 or 4 minutes on each side... just enough to cook through while giving the outside of each side a lovely, golden crisp. Palatable and delicious.

Served with seasoned, roasted broccoli