Awesome Halibut in Norway E-mail
Written by Joel Abrahamsson   
Saturday, 09 August 2014 14:54

NWYbeach1 Earlier this year a friend of mine working as a guide was out with clients fishing for cod. The client was fighting a good-sized cod and as it neared the boat an enormous dark shape appeared just under it. It was a halibut. The halibut engulfed the cod and took off. Needless to say the client got the ride of his life. The halibut was not actually hooked but was just holding on to the fish itself and after fighting it for a minute it spat the cod back out again. They got the cod to the boat and they were amazed by the size of the cod that had been taken. They simply had to weigh it. The cod went 50 pounds and that entire fish had just been inside of the halibut’s mouth!

Encounters like that that make me go back again and again to the northern tip of Norway. One day I want to hook one of those monsters from my kayak. I know I am unlikely to land such a fish but I at least want to get a shot at it. I have actually hooked one of the true monsters, but from a boat. As soon as I hooked it I instinctively knew I was never to land it. My tackle was inadequate and the fish slowly started swimming against the current while our boat was drifting the opposite direction. To avoid being spooled I had to hold the spool eventually leading to a break off. I am sure I would have had a better chance at that fish if I had been fishing from a kayak. You see, I could have let it tow me and maybe, just maybe I could have managed to position myself straight on top of the fish giving me at least a chance to gain some line.

The Atlantic halibut grows slowly. A 100-pound fish can be maybe thirty to fifty years old and commercial fishing has affected the quarry in a negative way. However, Norway has imposed some strict laws to secure a sustainable fishing and the recreational fishing has experienced a boom during the last years. Targeting halibut with a rod and line can be very productive during the right season. When we fish during the summer we can catch multiple fish in a day. Even if not all are soroyaNWY monsters they all put up a good fight.

An average size would probably be between 50-100lb in the areas where I fish but the angling pressure is non-existent and the true potential is yet to be discovered. We keep only smaller specimens for food since the old warriors are worth too much to ecosystem. In Scandinavia we try to practice catch and release as much as possible and only harvest the fish we are to eat personally. A fish that is more than fifty years old has the right genetics to ensure sustainable fishing for the future. A private person it is not allowed to fish in order to sell the catch and we are only allowed to bring 35 pounds of fillet over the border if we have travelled from another country.        

The key to fighting giant halibut is to come straight over them and force their head up in the water. As long as you can point their heads upwards they are possible to move. They are fast though, and if given as much as half a chance they will turn and take off again. It is a normal scenario that you get them to the surface fairly easy the first time. However, once they have seen the boat that is when the real battle begins and a fight can take a long time.

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I fish mostly on the north side of the Norwegian island Söröya. The advantage as well as the downside of that area is that it is extremely off the chart. On the positive side the nature is wild and the waters unfished. On the downside, just getting there is an adventure in itself.

To start with you have to make it to the worlds most northern city, Hammerfest. Hammerfest is just sort of a fishing village situated between sharp mountains and a never-ending ocean. From there you catch a ferry departing once a day to Söröya. Once on the island there are no real roads and I make an appointment with one of the few people living year round on the island to pick me up with a tractor to take me on the hour-long drive to the camp. From my house to Hammerfest it is about a 1300-mile drive and I go there between two and four times a year. There is of course an airport on Hammerfest but we as kayak anglers cannot really check in our kayaks and fishing gear on a tiny airplane, so we just turn on some good music and enjoy the scenery during the two-day drive.

There are no shops on the north side of Söröya so all food needs to be brought from Hammerfest. The fishing is nothing short of spectacular though, so mostly we eat fresh halibut, cod, and seafood and sometimes we eat smoked seal provided by Einar, the camp owner. But I got to tell you, that seal tastes like something not meant for eating…

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In Söröya I fish in areas that are around 130 feet deep, but in other places it is possible to catch them in much more shallow water. The advantage of fishing for them in a bit deeper places is that they seem to mostly fight vertically giving  a kayak angler the advantage of always being on top of the fish. In shallow areas they will take off along the bottom and a big fish is extremely hard to land, since the bottom is very often full of sharp rocks to cut the line against.

The hardest part about fishing for large, strong fish is catching them and bringing them boat side without killing them. Just a few years back it was considered almost impossible to handle halibuts over a hundred pound without killing them. Now we have learned ways to do so, and dedicated recreational anglers release most of the big fish. But when you see a huge, dark figure coming in under the kayak you cannot help yourself but to get a bit nervous.

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Getting the tail rope on is usually the hardest part from a kayak but I have worked out a system of passing the loop over the fish´s head and letting it slide down over its body. I am positive I will be able to land a 200lb+ fish from a kayak and release it alive. I am not claiming it will run smoothly or without physical damage to the angler but it is at least possible. To me personally it is very important to not harvest fish needed to maintain a healthy balance in the ocean.

In our cold waters the fish grow so slowly that big fish equals old fish. If we were to harvest all the fish over 100-200lb within a ten-year period we would see a  decrease in the numbers of specimen fish caught simply because there would be fewer left . Atlantic halibut are quite old before they are ready to spawn.

The biggest known halibut caught on rod and line from Norway weighed over 460lbs and was caught just a couple of years ago. The biggest commercially caught fish was more than twice that size, so it is not hard to understand why my heart always starts racing when I get that first initial bump on the end of my line

The biggest halibut I have landed from a kayak so far was a 136 pound fish. It took me exactly nine minutes to land it. I know because I have it on film. I somehow managed to gaff it the first time it surfaced and I was probably as surprised as the fish on how quickly it was all over. I have caught seventy pounders taking at least twice as long and normally I would have expected the 136 pound fish to take an hour to land from a kayak. A halibut of 136 pounds is a good fish, but not considered a specimen by Norwegian standards.

If you feel that some extreme halibut fishing from a kayak is something that you just have to try I have started doing kayak expeditions to a couple of extremely productive areas. Northern Söröya is probably the best place for both catching fish in numbers as well as size and it is that area I know best. I will do one or two guided expeditions a year and all that is needed is to bring some cold-water clothing and make it to either Luleå in Sweden or Hammerfest, Norway.

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During summer it will be boiling hot in the air but as mentioned earlier, the water is always freezing. On the kayak fishing expeditions to Söröya we will always have a safety boat in the area since the weather is very unpredictable and it is also too far to paddle. Plus, it is so remote there is no coast guard to rely on helping you out if you are in need. For those who only want to do unassisted fishing, there is actually one beach among all the sharp cliffs where it is possible to land a kayak. For the truly adventurous, we could build a camp on that beach far out to sea and just live off nature for the expedition.

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Personally I dream of catching one of the biggest halibut ever caught from a kayak and there is one specific place in Norway where the chances are the highest for reaching that goal. That area is a very special type of habitat with certain features making it capable of producing the largest of halibut. It is an area that I will start targeting the coming years. Fish are few and far between. Landing just one halibut in a week is nothing unusual. However, the number of fish between 200-400 pounds caught from this area is much higher than anywhere else in the world. Plus, in this area it is possible to fish unassisted and launch your kayak from shore. NWYbeach13

I know that given enough time I will get a shot at one of those true monsters and that is what keeps me fishing for them.

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