If you are going on a halibut fishing spree, one of the best things you can do is to learn how to handle these muscular fish once you have actually caught them. Needless to say, these fish will not give up easily without a fight. And if you are on a catch-and-release “license”, safely getting your catch on and off your boat should be your number one priority. When we mean “safely”, we actually mean this on your behalf since a 300+ butt (halibut) can easily make a punching bag out of you. Spines, fins, and the butt’s tail can also cause major cuts; and being bitten by a fish is uncommon but certainly not unheard of. So here are some tips on how to handle a halibut out of water.
Always come prepared. An ill-prepared angler is bound to go home with a black eye or two or worse, a cracked rib or a broken limb. Wrestling with a live one can cause you a lot of bodily injuries (not to mention the shame of being whooped by a san dwelling fish). First of all, never go fishing alone if you are after this game. This is one of the cardinal rules of anglers since deep sea or ocean dwelling fish can reach staggering proportions. Carry with you a fine meshed net for the smaller butts. However, for the really huge monster, a gaff or harpoon is more than necessary.
Before using the gaff or the harpoon, let the line run until you have thoroughly exhausted the fish. This will take some time, but reeling it in after the fish has tired considerably will make it safer for you. This is as opposed to bringing in an angry, thrashing halibut on board no matter what size the fish may be. If you estimate the fish to weigh no more than 30 pounds, you can easily net and bring it on board. Keep the net and the line away from your body and try not to settle it immediately on the deck. Anything heavier than 30 pounds ought to be given a wider berth. To make matters less complicated for you, you can gaff or harpoon the fish while it is still in the water. The halibut is most likely to go berserk as soon as you reel its head beyond its watery domain.
Aim for the base of the spine if you can, but most anglers simply prefer to harpoon the fish through and through. Only when the fish has stopped moving can you put in on deck safely. Even then, the fish will continue to have muscular spasm, so keeping several feet away is still advisable.
Some anglers use pistols and golf clubs to subdue the thrashing fish but these are recommendations we would like to reserve for “never”. There are two primary concerns here. One, there are certain fishing grounds that do not allow anglers to carry guns and pistols on board the boats (i.e. most Canadian fishing haunts). So if you are relying on taking the gun to kill a 400+ halibut, and no back-up plan, then you would be in serious trouble indeed. Also, bullets do not really kill “clean”. Residue of the gunpowder can contaminate the fish meat. Two, swinging a golf club at the butt’s head or body will cause a lot of damage to the fish, but it will most likely not kill the halibut instantaneously. In fact, this will even make the fish angrier and more prone to fighting back. A gaff or harpoon will still yield faster and safer results.