Sunday, 26 March 2017

Just for the Halibut Derby 2017

This year the derby will be held April 22 and 23, with tickets at $60 per rod. You can pick them up at Island Outfitters. First prize is $7,500; second - $3000; and third - $1000, along with prizes for hidden weights.

Do remember to pick up your new licence as current ones expire on March 31, 2017. DFO has 
improved its site for getting them on-line:  
See them also on:
Halibut limits in Area 19 and 20 (Sidney to Port Renfrew, including Saanich Inlet) are: 1 per day, 
2 in possession, six per year; one no longer than 83 cm and one no longer than 133cm, and you must 
enter your catch on your licence.
We are fortunate that there are multiple places to catch halibut in our area: Jordan River, Muir Creek 
apron, several reefs on Race Rocks, William Head, Constance, Hein, and Border banks, along with 
the Oak Bay Flats and Darcy shoals around Ten Mile Point.
On this year’s derby days, Race Rocks tables show slower current speeds in the morning when most 
people fish. Ditto for Juan de Fuca West. Juan de Fuca East currents are even slower, so one of the 
most important criteria is favourable. Slow speeds are needed if you are not anchored, so that you 
won’t be moved off a bank too quickly. When anchored, slow currents allow you to get your gear 
onto the bottom, particularly in deeper spots, for example, some fish the 300 foot flat out at the 
Quarantine Buoy. 
Oak Bay Flats with its conflicted currents – tide and current moving in opposite direction – can push 
you around on fast days. But even the Flats can be fished on the drift, because it is very broad and 
thus each pass is longer than if you are fishing a pinnacle. In addition, it is relatively shallow compared
 with other halibut spots, with water that is 100- to 150-feet deep across most of it. Sometimes halibut 
are caught in 60 feet of water in front of the Great Chain Islets, and even sometimes while trolling the 
bottom for salmon.
You may recall the very windy weekend many years ago, when the only fishable water in the entire 
area was the Flats with most of the fleet, anchored-up, hiding behind Trial Island as wind whistled 
past, pushing waves before it. A very bumpy fish, but one that yielded 47 halibut over the two days 
of the derby, an almost astonishing number for such a flat, shallow few square miles, with little 
Structure is key in halibut fishing, and banks, pinnacles and ledges concentrate the fish. Bottom 
structure influences tidal speed and direction, something that always spells more life than slow 
moving tidal areas. In the case of halibut, they are predators and the swelling numbers of bait on the 
lower end of the food chain, provides them a reason to stay around. Often, they lie just off the flat, 
where there is a well-defined edge. Edges automatically build up more fish, because, once off the 
edge, it is open space, and thus no reason to concentrate fish. 
Also, bank edges provide for vertical tidal eddies, a condition that also keeps bait fish swirling and 
not moving away. The 140-foot lip on the west Constance side, is an example of such a spot. Those of 
you who have fished Catface Bar just north of Tofino for coho, will have fished a classic vertical eddy 
that sets up because the shallowest part of it is only 12-feet deep, and tide smokes across, pushing bait 
down into the eddy then, in essence trapping it there, in a circular eddy. And Swiftsure Bank is a clover
 leaf of bank surrounded by canyons that drop away. Halibut lie just off the edge so they are below the 
tide smoking past, and thus do not have to waste energy while waiting for food to be swept off the flat.
And there is the flat tight to the USA border. 
An unusual variant of this pattern occurred one day when I was fishing off Ucluelet, 25 long kms off 
Amphritite Point. The oddly named Rat’s Nose, looks like, yes, a rat’s nose. The tide was moving fast, 
and we were trolling for chinook at 250 feet. The current was so fast it moved us off into deep water 
of 500 feet. As we caught one chinook, we kept going in a circle, catching more, and getting farther 
and farther away from the bank, where the rest of the fleet was. Radio chatter indicated no catch for 
them, and because we were catching fish, and unable to troll against the tide back to the bank, just 
kept on circling. We picked up our limit of chinook, but also halibut. They were all hanging at the 
same depth as the bank, but pushed so strongly, could not get back to it. 
So, the bank had attracted bait, salmon and halibut to its structure, but then the fast tide moved them 
all off, and we just happened to be in the right place at the right time, and recognize what was 
In this case, we were fishing salmon gear: hootchies and spoons on leaders to flashers, but still 
catching halibut. And putting bait down that far presented the real issue that it could be destroyed 
simply on descending so far so fast. So, we weren’t using the best gear for halibut.
Yes, bait is your best bet. In our area, typically you put a large herring on the tackle end (if a spreader 
bar, the weight is on the short arm) and because it is soft, and easily inhaled by a halibut, you add a 
salmon belly or octopus tentacle, both tougher than herring, and thus stay on the hook for the halibut 
to come back and whack it again.
Plastic Power Grubs, from Berkeley and others, with their own scent are also used because they are 
tougher than bait. In extreme, dogfish days, even artificial, large hootchies and heavy jigs find good 
use, and you can put artificial scent on them. While this may attract a dogfish, no fish of any species
 is going to destroy one of these lures.

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