Besting big halibut on light tackle

  • Editor's note: "George Poveromo's World of Saltwater Fishing" airs each Sunday at 8:30 a.m. ET on ESPN2 television. Episode 6, depicting Alaskan halibut caught South Florida style, debuts Sunday, March 4; it re-airs March 10 at 6 a.m. ET and March 11 at 6:30 a.m. ET on ESPN2. For more on George Poveromo, visit www.georgepoveromo.com.

    The prospect of experiencing some of the wildest halibut fishing anywhere prompted me to board a plane and fly from my home in South Florida to Kodiak, Alaska.

    That's 13 hours of seat time, mind you! I was truly hoping those halibut would be big and plentiful!

    I had no interest in using the heavy tackle and downrigger ball-size weights normally associated with halibut fishing in these parts, however. Instead I wanted to take these fish by deep jigging, South Florida style.

    So I took along my bait-casting outfits, a box of jigs and some fluorocarbon leader and set forth to see what these huge flat fish really had to offer.

    Follow the leader

    In Kodiak, I met up with Paul Leader, a long-time friend and CPA in Miami Lakes, Fla. Like me, Paul grew up fishing off Miami and in the Keys and mastered the art of deep-jigging.

    Several years my senior, Paul was one of the premier light-tackle anglers during the 1970s and 1980s. He set numerous IGFA World Records during that period and had taken countless trophy class snapper, grouper, cobia, kingfish and tuna by deep jigging. He's one of South Florida's best light tackle anglers.

    Paul has been visiting Kodiak, Alaska, going on 16 years. In addition to deep jigging for halibut, he has been targeting them on fly tackle. In fact, Paul holds the IGFA World Record for Pacific halibut in the Men's 6-pound Line Class, and in five of the seven fly tippet line classes.

    Under the guidance of Captain Chaz Glagolich (907-486-6930; www.alaska-fish.com), who operates the 32-foot charter vessel C-Devil from St. Herman's Harbor, Paul and I set forth to pit our deep jigging skills against big halibut.

    Chaz took us on a 30-mile ride south to Ugak Bay, where he edged into 80 feet of water. After studying his fishfinder and locating a slight drop in the bottom, Chaz compensated for the wind and current and dropped anchor. He ended up right over his mark!

    Kodiak kountry

    The Kodiak Island Archipelago, which is situated in the Gulf of Alaska, is comprised of 16 major islands and numerous smaller ones. At 5,000 square miles, the archipelago is about the size of Connecticut.

    Kodiak is the largest Island in the group and the second largest island in the United States, next to the main island of Hawaii. Kodiak ranks as one of the top three commercial fishing ports in the country.

    The reason the halibut fishing is so impressive between June and September is due to the Albatross Shelf, which extends many miles to the east of Kodiak Island.

    This shelf supports the largest biomass of halibut in Alaskan waters. After the fish spawn out here, they move close in to the Kodiak Island Archipelago and into the bays. When this happens, the action can be off the charts.

    Pacific halibut are highly migratory and tagging returns show that they can travel upward of 2,000 miles. Female halibut are more numerous than males and can grow to over 400 pounds.

    They also can live as long as 45 years. By comparison, male halibut grow to only 40 pounds and have a maximum life expectancy of around 25 years.

    In addition to being a valuable food fish, the halibut is a powerful fighter. It feeds just as aggressively in midwater as it does along the bottom. That's why deep-jigging is such an effective technique.

    The South Florida way

    Adhering to our South Florida deep-jigging roots, we even brought up several blocks of Captain Mark's Sardine Chum (954-524-3338; www.captainmarks.com).

    Paul put a single seven-pound block of frozen chum into a mesh bag, added a 32-ounce weight, and lowered it down to the bottom via a fishing rod.

    While chumming isn't widely practiced here, Paul and I reasoned that the more scent and particles we can introduce along the ocean floor, the more life it will bring around the boat.

    Even though chumming attracts plenty of small species such as sculpins, greenlings and rockfish, all that commotion brings in the halibut and keeps them under the boat.

    Deep jigging requires a rod that's light enough to feel and work a jig. It must also be strong enough to muscle up big fish from the bottom.
    Therefore, we used 7-foot Penn Inshore Series baitcasting rods rated for 15- to 30-pound test line. The rods were paired with Penn International 975 baitcasting reels.

    To enable the jigs to rapidly slice through the current and reach bottom, feel the jig's action as well as any subtle strikes, and to set the hook more effectively in 70 to 100-feet of water, the reels were spooled with 20-pound test Sufix Performance Braid.

    Paul fished either a blue, 4-ounce SPRO Sushi Spoon, or a 3-ounce SPRO bucktail tipped with a plastic glow worm. I mainly jigged with a purple Sushi Spoon. We used a Number 6 SPRO Power Swivel to join the braid fishing line to four feet of 50-pound test Sufix InvisiLine Fluorocarbon leader.

    Our tactic involved dropping the Sushi Spoon to the bottom, and then repeatedly whipping the rod tip from the water's surface to up over our shoulder, and then dropping the rod tip back down after snapping the jig.

    This gave the lure a tight wobbling action as it raced upward several feet, and an erratic, wobbling action during its free-fall to bottom.

    Halibut bites back

    These halibut proved that they were indeed up for the deep-jigging challenge.

    Once one belted a jig and pulled the rod tip down to the water, it would wallow in-place for several seconds.

    Once it realized it was hooked, the game was one! The larger fish ran off nearly 200 yards of line before slowing. Then they'd use their wide body and current to rest momentarily and make you struggle to gain line.

    The second run was shorter than the first, with each run thereafter progressively shorter. Eventually, you'll see an impressive fish rise up from the depths, and come alongside the boat!

    Paul Leader and I enjoyed two great days of deep-jigging. We caught 70 halibut to just over 100-pounds, releasing all but eight fish.

    The fun part was that we absolutely tore them up on relatively light tackle and jigs just like we use on grouper, snapper, kingfish, cobia and tuna back home off South Florida!

    The trick in using light tackle here is to fish when there's a light to moderate current. A strong current will require more weight to reach bottom and, therefore, stouter tackle to handle the extra weight.

    Quarter moon stages seem best for milder currents, whereas the stronger gravitational pull associated with new and full moons often produces strong currents.

    That long flight to and from Kodiak was well worth the effort and time. It gave me an opportunity to fish with an old friend who I haven't shared a cockpit with in over 20 years.

    What's more, we proved once again that we can take our South Florida deep jigging sticks just about anywhere and beat big fish with them.

    Throw in some majestic scenery, abundant wildlife and friendly people, and you can see why fishermen from all over fly here when the halibut arrive  just like I did!

  • Editor's note: "George Poveromo's World of Saltwater Fishing" airs each Sunday at 8:30 a.m. ET on ESPN2 television. Episode 6, depicting Alaskan halibut caught South Florida style, debuts Sunday, March 4; it re-airs March 10 at 6 a.m. ET and March 11 at 6:30 a.m. ET on ESPN2. For more on George Poveromo, visit www.georgepoveromo.com.