By Wayne Hill
The Hunt for the Mighty Halibut
When fishing in Norwegian waters, in many people’s eyes there is one ultimate species they are chasing, the King of the Flatfish, the Halibut. By far the most popular reason UK anglers head over the North Sea, to the beautiful scenery of the Norwegian fjords, are the Cod. Plenty of them, and big ones at that !
But, it seems after the Cod high begins to wane, anglers are starting to realise there are plenty more species to target and the mighty Halibut is definitely at the top of that list. My own quest for catching a Halibut began several years ago, when there wasn’t many anglers that had landed a shore Halibut. Back then a couple of dedicated guides started trying to change that for us growing band of UK hopefuls. During a trip to Phill Dale’s fish camp at Scarnsundet, our large group headed off to a venue for a couple of day’s with a ‘chance’ of a Halibut. To our group this ‘chance’ was worth the effort and even a small one would have been a big result. Phill had been successfully targeting Halibut there for a while, but unfortunately for us it was not to be. However the seeds were sewn and for a few of us, it soon become an itch that needed scratching ! Time passed way too slowly, but after many calls and messages, a small group of us found ourselves heading to unproven grounds in Northern Norway. From the beginning it was hard work, catching the fish is one thing, but first you have to find them. It was a steep learning curve with plenty of miles driven, new marks fished and extra heavy tackle losses! Fortunately half way through our trip we hit the jackpot with Phill landing a fine Halibut weighing in at a touch over 12lb, mission accomplished ! A small but perfectly formed Halibut, but, still a Halibut ! We took stock of the topography of the sea bed, the rigs, bait and tide conditions and set out the next day with renewed motivation confident we had the all-important right set up. My first ‘run’ came the following day at a new mark that we found using sea chart information and internet maps. The hours of sitting around meticulously making rigs, checking line and knots for damage and setting the bait presentation had come, this was my chance of catching that dream fish………… Well it would have been had I played it correctly and set my drag right ! After making its first screaming run, peeling yards of line off my reel, the fish turned and was coming in then my rod tip dropped as the fish went to ground and straight in to a snag…..arrrrrgggggg !…….. It was lost. As soon as it happened I knew every detail of what I’d done wrong. I was panicking trying to get it over the ledge that was 30 yards out, everything I knew I should be doing left my brain. The drive home was very quiet as I was boring everyone of how rubbish I was, they all agreed! That said, looking back at it now, it was the best thing that happened to me as to date these mistakes have never happened again. The next day was ‘the day,’ time to even up the score card, Halibut 1 – Me 0 so far. It was a tricky day weather wise, complete opposite of the previous with passing squalls every half hour or so. Fortunately, while waiting for my ratchet to burst into life, I caught a solitary Mackerel which I swiftly cut off a long slice and cast out to the same spot around 80 yards out, this was right on the edge of a shipping channel. The tide was reaching the same state as yesterday when the Halibut ran off with my bait. Ten minutes later and the wind dropped, the sun came out and I was sitting on the back of our superb Mitsubishi estate from Rentawreck enjoying a slurp of coffee, my Penn TRQ reel suddenly went crazy. It was at the same time a large ferry was approaching and I wondered if the noise of the engines had provoked the take as the fish shot off way over to the right out of the channel. This time the Halibut was on, I was excited and nervous but determined that what happened the day before wasn’t about to happen again ! The fish, when swimming away was full of power and like nothing I’ve experienced before. Then it turned and started running towards me creating some slack which I eagerly wound into gaining line to stay in contact with the fish. After a few minutes I saw a flash of white as the Halibut’s belly came into view though the crystal clear water. It then came within 10 yards of the shore before it turned and headed back out, fortunately for me I was fishing on an old concrete platform about 20ft high with a wall dropping onto the sandy bay to my right. This bay is where the fish had to be landed as we’d all spread out and no one was within ear shot to help. I was on my own, fate in my own hands and no gaff long enough to reach the water ! The Halibut was now tiring and ready to be eased up the beach using the waves to guide it in. Luckily for me this happened quite easily, but I now had the problem of my dream fish sitting 20ft below me on the sand in the lapping waves. I couldn’t just drop my rod and run round, so I slowly kept the rod tip slightly bent and in contact with the fish while walking backwards down the wall and round onto the bay area, just keeping steady pressure as I went, finally walking towards my stunningly beautiful Halibut sitting on the sand. What a sight indeed and a huge relief as it was picked up and walked back to the car. I must admit I gave a little scream with sheer delight as the realisation that I’d put to bed all the mistakes of the day before. The fish hit the scales at 20lb 2oz,
I just kept staring at it in disbelief with such wonderful markings of various shades of brown and white, it had finally happened, my first shore Halibut ! Happy,, I was like a Cheshire Cat for days.
Over the last couple of years I’ve been fortunate enough to land quite a few Halibut from the shore with four over 20lb and a PB of 50lb 4oz.
The 20lb plus fish really pull your string and a highly recommended experience for any angler. That unmistakable initial take as your reel ratchet gets a good workout before the drag takes over trying to tame the beast below. The exception to the rule strangely enough was my PB Halibut. This was a shy bite with just gentle pull downs, not fast like a small fish but purposeful without a single click of the ratchet. After winding down with rod tip pointing towards the fish I lifted into it and the rod arched over with line just peeling strongly and powerfully from my Penn TRQ. Just like tying your line to the back of a van and it just pulls away. Nothing you can do with a Halibut of this size, it’s going to do what it wants ! I just kept a steady pressure on it and when it turns keep it moving. Halibut will almost always run, two, three, four times, so you need lady luck on your side and a plan of how and who is going to land it. The person gaffing or landing the fish needs to be fully informed where the fish is in relation to them as it’s not always easy to see your mainline or leader and it’s all too easy to catch it with the gaff and loose the fish. Not a good situation to be in !
These fish are truly magnificent and they are always worth retuning if unharmed. With growing numbers of anglers targeting them it’s good to catch and release as they are slow growing and this needs considering once weighed. Good luck and happy hunting for the King of the Flatfish !