Image courtesy of Andrea Pokrzywinski @ Flickr.com
When thinking about fishing around Ketchikan, the Pacific halibut is just as significant as the salmon in terms of its food value and importance to native Alaskans. This flat fish actually swims sideways on the bottom of the sea floor and is certainly much larger than most salmons. Many visitors to Alaska actually prefer coming during peak Halibut season (early summer).
Whether it’s a native Alaskan village, a fishing guide in Ketchikan, or a general recreational angler, most agree that live baits are the best option for attracting and catching healthy-sized Halibut.
While Halibuts are predators at the end of the day, they will in fact eat just about anything that looks and smells good. They search for their food primarily through scent, but will use sight and sound as well.
The scent trail is the most important though, so the biggest considerations for finding a good Halibut bait is that it smells good to the fish and is sturdy enough to stay on your hook. While there are many options available, there are a few types of live bait veteran anglers prefer to use.
We invite you to continue reading for more information on these baits as well as a method many Ketchikan fishing guides use to attract Halibut to your area.
Salmon bellies – Many people enjoy salmon because it isn’t slimy or “fishy” like other types of seafood. However, the belly has a distinct “fish” smell to it, so it’s generally not desired for human consumption.
Not so for Halibut…
This high fat, smelly piece from a salmon is like a dinner bell to Halibut. A 1-inch piece that is trimmed from the salmon’s belly and pelvic fin is considered the most popular type of Halibut bait by many.
Besides its smell, salmon bellies have a very tough skin, so they last a long time underwater. To rig, run the hook through the top layer of skin and continue running it until you come through the other layer of skin.
While the skin is very tough and helps keep your bait on the hook, the meat is flexible and ideal for properly setting the hook once a Halibut bites.
Salmon heads – The heads from salmon, especially smaller ones, are also popular bait for Halibut fishing in Ketchikan and around Alaska. Coho, Shinook or Pink salmon heads are considered the best by one expert, but any head is fine. Most salmon fishermen do not keep the heads.
While salmon heads are tough for baiting your hook, they’re not as ideal as bellies since there is no flexible meat underneath, which can present challenges when trying to set your hook. Also, if the salmon head is too big, you may get a lot of nibbles but no solid bites to set the hook.
To bait a salmon head, run your hook through its snout and back through its upper and lower lip. This will keep its mouth closed while staying securely on your hook.
Herring – Many will debate whether Herring or Salmon is better bait for Halibut fishing. Herring put out a good smell for attracting Halibut, but some contend that it isn’t as trustworthy when it comes to staying on your hook. The Herring’s meat is soft, which makes it easier for nibblers to munch away at your bait without your knowledge. It is possible to harden the Herring meat through a brining process you have to do for several days before your trip.
Despite this, many Halibut anglers like using whole Herring or fillets to leave a good scent trail then follow up with Salmon bellies or heads.
Often times, Halibut fishing experts will find a good spot then use a “chum” bag to attract the Halibut toward the boat
Besides the bait on the end of the hook, there are additional steps many guides and anglers will employ to try and attract good Halibut. Filling a mesh bag with unwanted heads, guts and old bait and tying it to the end of your anchor will create an ample scent trail that Halibut will be drawn to. You can also buy scents and pour them into the bag to further enhance the scent trail. While it’s okay to use bait from a few days ago or something with freezer burn, the Halibut will not be drawn to anything that is rotten.
As you let this chum bag work, you then lower your bait in the vicinity of the bag and wait for a good strike.
An experienced guide like Oasis Alaska Charters will know and provide the right type of bait for Halibut fishing in Ketchikan. They will also be able to help properly hook your bait and coach you on how to set the hook, land the fish and other important tips.