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Alaska’s Top Trophy Halibut Fisheries
By John L. Beath
Throughout the salty coastlines that make Alaska so great and incredibly vast, the largest flatfish in the world – the Pacific halibut – roam the depths in search of steady food sources. From the southern reaches of Prince of Wales Island to the most outer reaches of the Aleutian Islands, hard-fighting halibut can be caught with regularity. Without question, Alaska’s waters provide the very best and most consistent halibut fishery in the world. But when it comes to catching trophy halibut in the triple digits, a few locales stand out from the rest. All of these locations are great and all of them could produce the biggest halibut of your life.
While many Alaskans will argue about favorite areas left out, let’s make it perfectly clear – any of Alaska’s saltwater sport fisheries could produce a 100-plus pounder on any given day during the spring, summer or fall months. The list below, in my opinion, contains the most consistent areas to catch halibut over 100 pounds. Ranking could be easily argued too; especially by the dedicated halibut charter skippers who day in and day out enjoy the bounty of their home waters. That’s why we won’t be ranking any of the locales with the exception of Dutch Harbor/Unalaska, which no doubt offers the most consistent opportunities to catch triple digit trophy halibut. The rest of the list, however, can be ranked by you, the angler, according to your likes and dislikes. Each area listed contains valuable information to help you choose which place is the right place for you to fish for that once-in-a-lifetime trophy halibut.
My list of great triple digit halibut fishing areas is based on personal experience from most of the locales featured. The incredible experience and honesty of the top guides contacted for this article also helped greatly in determining which areas to list that offer the best chance at big fish. Even if you’re favorite trophy halibut area didn’t make the list, perhaps you will learn new locales that might one day make it onto your list of favorite places to fish in Alaska. And you’ll likely learn a few new tricks used by the very best halibut charter skippers in Alaska.
Nutrient rich waters provide the very best trophy halibut fishing currently available anywhere in Alaska. The Bearing Sea collides with the Pacific Ocean, causing the waters around Dutch Harbor/Unalaska to be a major feeding area for great numbers of halibut – especially 100-plus pounders. On June 11th 1996, Jack Tragis fished with Far West Outfitters and landed a 459-pound halibut – the largest ever taken on sport gear – to win the International Game Fish Association’s All Tackle record and 130-pound line class record. His catch eclipsed Michael James Golat’s 395-pounder, also taken in the same waters.
“I was born and raised in the state and over the course of about thirty years I have fished for halibut from many different Alaskan ports,” admits John Lucking, owner of Far West Outfitters in Unalaska. “None have even come close to the Aleutians for size, quality or quantity of fish.”
Lucking also recalls wide-open bites on his six-man charter boat, with every fish ranging in size between 150 to 300-pounds. And he says they have experienced days with four or five anglers releasing over 100-plus fish. “Though this is not every day, I don’t think you could find another spot on the globe where it happens on any day,” boasts Lucking. “Hundred pounders are easy and we have just about everybody who fishes a day or two catch at least one fish over one hundred pounds.”
Best time to fish for triple digit trophy halibut
Lucking says May is good for really big halibut, but the fishing is slower than the area’s prime time of late August and early September. But, he says remarkable catches happen during the other months of the season too. If it’s just 100-pounders, just show up and you’ll probably catch at least one.
“For exceptionally large fish, three to four hundred pounds plus, I use an entire fillet of Pacific gray cod,” admits Lucking. “I cut the fillet (usually about 1 ½ to 2 pounds) and then attach it, tail section first, to a bullet head jig.”
Lucking has his clients fish the lead head jig just above bottom, typically in very rocky areas strewn with steep pinnacles. Slow, long strokes, he says, work best to entice strikes. He also points out that drifting between 1 ½ to 2 knots works best. “When big fish hit this setup, or any halibut for that matter, they absolutely try to tear the whole rod and reel out of your hands,” recalls Lucking. “This is not a traditional halibut hit a all – it’s more like accidentally hooking into a freight train for those first few moments.”
Distance to best fishing grounds from port
Approximately 20 miles or one hour’s run time from port. However, the world record fish was caught within ten minutes of the dock, proving anything can happen at the #1 trophy halibut location in Alaska.
Getting to Dutch Harbor/Unalaska will set you back about $750 to $800 for a round trip ticket from Anchorage. Charter rates range from $165 to $200 per angler per day. Lodging costs $55 to $75 per night at a B&B or $155 per night single occupancy or $175 per night double occupancy at the Grand Aleutian Hotel, Alaska’s only five star hotel.
Far West Outfitters, John Lucking
PO Box 42, Unalaska, AK 99685
F/V Lucille, Dave Magone
PO Box 920247, Dutch Harbor, AK 99692
(907) 581-5949 or (907) 391-7907
AVI Charters, Andy McCracken
PO Box 208, Unalaska, AK 99685
Shuregood Adventures, Don or Chris Graves
PO Box 921088, Dutch Harbor, AK 99692
(907) 581-2378 or toll free at 877-374-4386
Silver Cloud Charters, Brian Whittern
P.O. Box1013, Unalaska, AK 99685
(907) 581-1348 or toll free at 1-866-773-3476
The Grand Aleutian Hotel
P.O. Box 921169, 498 Salmon Way Dutch Harbor, AK 99692
Carl's Bayview Inn
Unalaska/Port of Dutch Harbor Convention and Visitors Bureau
P.O. Box 545, Unalaska, Alaska 99685
(907) 581-2612 or 1-877-581-2612
Seward is one of my all-time favorite port cities in Alaska – a city I would love to call my home port. Accessibility to and from Seward from Anchorage combined with awesome ocean fishing makes this an obvious choice for trophy halibut hunters. In just 2 ½ hours time hopeful anglers can reach Seward from Anchorage, making it possible for super-affordable day trips aboard one of the many charter boats in Seward. But be forewarned, you’d better plan ahead because charters book quickly, especially on weekends.
Location is what really makes a great fishing location and Seward is no exception. The tourist and RV-friendly port city sits at the end of Resurrection Bay, surrounded by snow-capped peaks. Charters have the option of fishing in the open ocean in front of Resurrection Bay, or traveling great distances south or east to Montague Island. Fish Alaska Magazine’s technical editor, Captain Andy Mezirow of Cracker Jack Charters runs as far as any of the Seward skippers in search of trophy halibut and lingcod – sometimes up to 80 miles. At cruising speeds of 30 knots Mezirow’s fleet of charter boats can reach distant areas seldom fished by anyone – a definite advantage when targeting trophy fish of any kind. But he fishes close in too, depending on conditions. The ability to fish close to port, in fairly protected waters also helped to rank Seward at the top of this list.
“I caught a 161 pounder five miles from the dock on March day,” admits Mezirow. “I typically run 40 to 60 miles to get to where I can consistently produce nice halibut in shallow water. I don’t think that is because the fish have all been caught closer, but more that the right conditions exist in that area.”
Bad weather seldom causes Seward charters to cancel trips entirely. “Our first choice is to travel down the coast and fish the open ocean,” admits Mezirow. “Out of 100 trips there might be 10 that are marginal for ocean fishing. On most of those trips we can travel to a good fishing location by steaming through the weather to fish in a calm spot.”
Best time to fish for triple digit trophy halibut
Mezirow says the very best time to catch trophy halibut from Seward begins the third week of May and continues through the first week in July. “I have checked back in my records and found that on March 23rd 1998 I had two halibut over 100 on my first trip, so there is always a fair chance,” admits Mezirow.
Light tackle and shallow water ranks high with Mezirow. Typically his charter fleet targets depths ranging from 40 to 180-feet, but will fish deeper water from 270 to 575-feet to find fish rather than go home empty handed.
“I have found that lighter line (65-pound Tuff Line xp spooled on Penn Formula 10 reels coupled with G. Loomis 40-pound pelagic series rods) and less lead will result in more hook ups on big hogs. They also seem to bite better on scampi jigs.”
Mezirow rigs his 12 to 16-ounce lead head jigs with scented Berkley Power Grubs. For bait he says the fresher the better and will use cod, salmon carcasses or heads or herring. He fishes his bait three feet off the bottom and keeps it as still as possible. Rocky areas get the nod with Mezirow when fishing shallow areas. When he fishes deeper spots he likes to fish a subtle rise on a mud flat.
Crackerjack Charters charges $180 per angler for a standard day trip on the ocean or $225 for a long range halibut trip. The long range trip is one of the best bets going for an affordable option at triple digit halibut. Mezirow says anglers seeking triple digit halibut have a very, very good chance if they book at the right time and spend at least two days fishing. Always, no matter which charter you book with, let them know your goals. And ask them what your chances of accomplishing your goals are.
Getting to Seward is super easy. Anglers can drive, fly or take the train. Renting a car is one of the better options for anglers from out of state. U-Save Auto Rental near the Anchorage airport charges $65 per day, for an economy car, taxes included with unlimited mileage or $108 for an SUV capable of handling four fishing buddies and all their gear. If you want a unique way to reach Seward take the Alaska Rail Road for $90 round trip per person. Or you can fly to Seward, but that just adds to the cost of the most affordable trophy halibut destination. Seward’s airport is strictly a VFR (visual Flight Restricted) which greatly reduces the amount commercial air services that fly into Seward. Currently F.S. Air Service flies just three days per week, Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays at a charge of $99 per person round trip. During the peak summer months, hotel rates vary from $105 to $225 double. Seward’s finest hotel, the Hotel Edgewater, is the newest and one I’ve stayed at and highly recommend. During the low season from early September until about the third week of May is considered the low season. During the low season rates range from $65 to $105 double occupancy. Seward also has dozens of B&B options, with rates ranging from $50 to $125.
Crackerjack Charters, Andy Mezirow
U-Save Auto Rental
Website of all rental cars in Anchorage
F.S. Air Service
6121 South Airpark Place
Anchorage, AK 99502
Toll Free in Alaska 1-800-478-9595
Alaska Rail Road
411 West First Avenue
Anchorage, AK 99501
The Breeze Inn
Full listing of Seward’s B&B listings
How could any trophy halibut list be complete without the most popular halibut fishing locale on Earth? Homer, known world-wide as “The Halibut Capital of The World” proudly makes the claim and continues to provide one of the most affordable and accessible halibut fisheries in Alaska. An entire sport fishing fleet was built around the great halibut fishing throughout the area and continues to provide countless anglers with the opportunity to take home a brace of “average” halibut – almost guaranteed! It should also be noted that Ninilchik, Deep Creek and Anchor Point charter operators also enjoy great fishing, and for the sake of this list is included as part of the Homer area. On any given day, charters and lodges in this area could provide anglers with top-notch halibut fishing. I’ve personally seen excellent fishing for halibut to 125 pounds in shallow water in Cook Inlet, just minutes from Trophy King Lodge.
But for those looking for triple digit ‘buts, the Homer-bound angler should consider a trip with an experienced charter operator who consistently targets and catches big halibut or the handful of charters who provide long range trips.
The largest halibut ever taken during the Homer Halibut Derby weighed 379 pounds and was taken aboard Captain Gino Blackwell’s charter boat the Sea Nile. Blackwell’s 35-foot classic Bertram motor yacht enables him to provide overnight and multi-day long range halibut trips targeting big halibut and lingcod. Last year he averaged one to two triple digit halibut per day. While he doesn’t always go long range, he does target proven areas with larger than normal fish. Anglers on long range trips will likely catch at least one triple digit halibut during their trip. Blackwell says he will travel 80-miles away from port, but breaks up the long journey by fishing at several hotspots along the way.
“The run from port is not always what gets you on big fish,” admits Bob Ward, owner of A-Ward Charters in Homer. “For 17 years I have always traveled out, away from Homer because there are more halibut living in the Gulf of Alaska than in Cook Inlet. I have wondered on most of those days just how many halibut I have cruised over while on my way to someplace out beyond the Barren islands.”
And while Ward does run great distances in search of big halibut, he thoughtfully matches his client’s abilities to the conditions. “I’m proactive to seniors and cardiacs,” says Ward. “We might fish 500 to 600 feet deep, but only under the best weather and tides.”
Ward also has some sage advice for anglers planning their trip to Homer. “Watch out for large tide changes, avoid them if you have the ability to adjust your fishing trip date,” he warns. And he also warns about inexperience, either the boat owner or charter skipper. “They should be able to name the different land and water features, know where he intends to fish and all the water between the harbor and the destination.”
Best time to fish for triple digit trophy halibut
Blackwell likes July and August best but also likes the month of September for fishing the kelp beds for larger territorial females in 30 to 50 feet of water. Ward reminds anglers that they could catch triple digit halibut as early as April or May, through the summer and into fall. And he says fish over 100 pounds are found at all times of the typical summer season.
Blackwell’s favorite method is “walking jigs” while anchor. Walking a jig is simply a matter of walking it away from the boat, with the current. Blackwell also looks for humps on the ocean floor with cod hovering over the top of it. When he finds these locations he uses large cod heads to entice big halibut to bite.
Ward likes to fish the shallows while waiting for the larger tides to move through and then moves to a ledge or rock pile for the final feeding stage of a slack tide. “If you locate a good rock pile or mound on the bottom and anchor on its topmost portion you can fish it through the tide change,” advises Ward. “When the tide changes direction and swings the boat around you get to fish in a different area without ever moving.”
Herring hooked with a single hook to simulate a wounded or swimming fish is Ward’s top choice for bait.
Standard day trips cost $175 per angler. A two day long range trip costs $300 per person. Getting there is very reasonable for anglers who drive from Anchorage. The same rental car companies mentioned for Seward can provide anglers with affordable transportation or you can choose to fly aboard Era Aviation Airlines for about $158 to $222 roundtrip, depending on how early you book your flight. Room rates in Homer vary considerably according to time of year and type of room you choose. Homer does, however, offer dozens of motels and bed and breakfast options. In July you can expect to pay at least $125 to $195 per night, double occupancy in a motel or $100 to $175 in a B&B. Book your rooms early though, or you might find yourself sleeping in a tent!
Sea Nile Charters, Capt. Gino Blackwell
A-Ward Charters, Capt. Bob Ward
1-888-235-7014 toll free in Alaska
Homer Chamber of Commerce
P.O. Box 541
Homer, Ak 99603
Era Aviation Airlines
Best Western Bidarka Inn $146.
Ocean Shores Motel
Lands End Resort
800-478-0400 toll free in Alaska
Victorian Heights Bed & Breakfast
Remoteness rules much of the Kodiak Island group, but big halibut come in a close second to the island’s remoteness and beauty. Last year I spend a week enjoying the fishery at Old Harbor and couldn’t believe how un-crowded the local waters were and how many fish call the area home. During my trip I fished for large king salmon, but found big halibut without any effort. Kodiak Island’s remote ports provide one of the best opportunities to catch triple digit halibut in all of Alaska, but it will cost a bit more to get there. From experience I can say the added cost is worth the price of admission to these halibut-infested waters.
“We catch lots of halibut right at 97 pounds.” says Jeff Peterson, owner of Kodiak Combos & Peterson’s Adventures in Old Harbor.
Peterson also says his clients who want to fish for halibut for at least a couple of days during their four to seven day trip will usually see at least one 100 pound halibut taken during their trip. If anglers ask Peterson to target bigger halibut he takes them to any number of proven holes he has found during his lifetime of fishing the local waters. That’s one of the main reasons why his claims of catching so many near to or over triple digit halibut are actually truths and not exaggerations. Kodiak Island’s location, with the Gulf of Alaska to the east, the open Pacific Ocean to the south and west and Shelikof Strait to the north provides one of the most natural feed stations for large numbers of halibut. This fact combined with less fishing pressure makes Kodiak waters one of my top choices to target large halibut.
Best time to fish for triple digit trophy halibut
Peterson says any month of the year could produce big halibut, but says the best time to come to Kodiak Island is when the halibut’s food supply peaks during late spring all the way into the fall months of September and October.
Looking for the bait is critical for success according to Peterson. “If you can’t locate any bait, become the halibut. Where would I hang out for the ambush,” he asks himself. Typically he finds bait in all of the standard halibut haunts including rocky areas, pinnacles and flats. “My favorite setup is either, a B2 Triple Glow squid jig, Berkley Power Grub or a Norwegian stainless jig.”
When he three anglers aboard his charter boat he has each angler fishing one of the aforementioned lures. On each he’ll put a piece of squid and some bait oil to increase the scent field. As soon as one lure out catches the others he’ll have his clients switch to whatever is producing the best results.
Fly anglers should also take note of the halibut fishery at Kodiak Island. Five of the seven IGFA men’s world class fly tippet records were caught in the Kodiak Island region. “I have several spots halibut feed in shallow water. These areas would be great for the fly fisher,” Peterson advises.
Distance to best fishing grounds
The trophy halibut fishing grounds can be as close as a few minutes or as far as an hour. During my trip last year I caught and released a 125-pounder just 15 minutes from port.
Kodiak Combos prices for 4-day packages range from $1,880 to $2,160 per person. 7-day packages $3,290 to $3,780 per person. This includes all meals, guiding etc. Day charters out of Kodiak City are available too, for about $200 per person. A round trip ticket with Alaska Airlines from Anchorage to Kodiak ranges in price from $225 to $350. The flight from Kodiak to Old Harbor costs $156.00 roundtrip aboard an Island Airways flight. Anglers can also reach Kodiak Island aboard the Alaska Ferry.
Jeff Peterson, owner/operator
P.O. Box 141
Old Harbor, AK 99643
(907) 486 6196
Alaska Marine Highway System
Best Western Kodiak Inn
Sitka reigns king of halibut fishing in Southeast Alaska. The vast open ocean waters on the west coast of Kruzof Island or the inside waters of Sitka Sound could easily produce a once-in-a-lifetime halibut. A few years ago, while fishing just offshore from Cape Edgecumbe in 325 feet of water, I hooked and landed my biggest halibut ever, a 7-foot 1-incher that weighed 325 pounds. It was my goal to catch and keep a trophy that year and that’s the very reason I choose Sitka to attempt and ultimately achieve my goal.
Several other factors also make Sitka a top choice on this list. First and foremost, the salmon fishing gets red hot, especially the coho fishing with generous six fish limits. Early in the season, from mid May until mid July anglers can also enjoy spectacular king fishing. Typically anglers can catch a limit of salmon and halibut in the same day, making this destination one of my all time favorites.
But for anglers who want to target triple digit halibut it’s simply a matter of asking the charter operator prior to booking your trip. But be aware that most of the guides practice catch and release on large fish. This practice has worked out well and provides many anglers the chance to catch large fish without depleting the resource.
“If my customers tell me they want 100 pound or larger fish, I’d take them to the big halibut spot and we could catch one to three or them per day,” admits Greg Kain, owner of Kain’s Fishing Adventures.
Savy anglers who fish for three or four days will likely notice that the charter captains self regulate themselves by fishing in areas with average-sized halibut most days and fishing areas with larger halibut only part of the time. This practice as worked well to maintain the resource and works out well for anglers who want to bring the highest quality halibut fillets from halibut weighing 30 to 50 pounds. As stated above, if you want to catch bigger fish let your captain know your intentions ahead of time – including your desire to or release big fish or keep them. It’s much better to communicate your wishes with the captain prior to booking your trip.
Best time to fish for triple digit trophy halibut
Kain says any time of the year can be good for large halibut. “It’s more an issue of where you fish and your technique than the time of year,” advises Kain. “July is really good because the weather is more predictable. If someone wants
I absolutely echo your thoughts about Seward and Andy Mezirow - I have fished with him literally for years. Runs an outstanding operation and does a tremendous job with the folks who have never been out there before. He also makes it almost look easy (believe me, we know it is not.....)
To be succinct, over the years he has become more than just a skipper to many of us who go out year-after-year with him - he has also become a friend. You do not see that too often in this world.
Friendship notwithstanding, he is an excellent choice!