The Fishing Report: Fly Fishing for Halibut
When David Bayes told me that I could catch halibut on a fly rod if I came to Homer in late May or early June, I was intrigued.
Since halibut fishing often calls for several pounds of lead, large circle hooks with bait and a rod and reel combination that feels so stiff if could lift a small pickup truck off the bottom of Cook Inlet, the idea of potentially hooking up with a several hundred-pound halibut on a relatively flimsy fly rod stuck in my head.
Bayes, who owns
, grew up in Homer and has owned his charter business for 17 years. While in college in Montana, where fly fishing for rainbow trout is the thing to do, he figured he might as well try using fly tackle for halibut at home.
“This time of year the halibut have followed the bait fish in shallow,” Bayes said. “We’re trying to avoid the big weights of halibut fishing, but you’ve still got to have some weight to get you down. So it’s like a super-sized streamer basically.”
We fished with jigs nearly identical, though sometimes smaller, than you would when jigging for halibut. Purists may not consider it fly fishing because the technique is the same as jigging with a baitcaster, but once you hook into a fish, the entire dynamic is different.
With Bayes’ 15 wt rod and a reel with 60-pound test monofilament, I didn’t feel nervous that I would break the gear when fighting smaller fish, but the sensitivity of the rod allows you to feel every twitch and movement of the fish, highlighting just how powerful halibut can be.
When fishing with my 8 wt fly rod, every fish felt like a barn door. Since I’ve already broken my 8 wt once on a sockeye in the Russian River, I know the sound of graphite shattering in your face is no fun when it happens, but down the road, the temporary loss or a rod the shipping cost to redeem the rod’s lifetime warranty is a price that’s worth the story.
Catching halibut on fly tackle may not be something everyone is doing, but it’s been done before.
The International Game Fish Association, which verifies world record game fish, lists the world record halibut caught on fly tackle with a 16-pound tippet as a 102-pound fish caught in Kodiak in 2004 by Paul Leader. James Seagraves holds the record for the 20-pound tippet category, which is the heaviest line the IGFA allows in the fly fishing categories. His fish caught in Icy Bay in 2008 weighed in at 138 pounds.
For women, fly fishing for halibut is a relatively easy way to land a world record, although it is undoubtedly both an obscure and nuanced category.
If a woman lands a halibut on fly tackle with 2-pound tippet and can verify the catch with IGFA, any size Pacific halibut could set a new world record. A halibut around 18 pounds caught by a woman on fly tackle with a 16-pound tippet could also set a new world record, if verified.
Fishing for a fly rod will never displace the tried and true techniques for success on saltwater, but it can work and make filling the freezer even more fun.