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Team Mustad: Halibut
Biscuits or birthday cake?
Team Mustad Cracks the Code for Halibut
by Barry Ord Clarke
Norway’s most winning deep sea fishing team, Team Mustad, has been on the Island of Röst in Lofoten, northern Norway, fishing for halibut. They found the optimal halibut bait in the local grocery shop.
As we loaded the last of the luggage into the mini bus, waiting to take us to the ferry to Röst from Bodø airport, Asgeir shouts: – This is not my suitcase!! Closer inspection revealed the truth: Olof Olsen´s case from Sweden was full of personals and pants, instead of Penn reels and jigs. He had obviously taken Asgeir’s identical case by mistake and left the airport. With only minutes to spare for the next ferry, we left contact details with Norwegian airlines and jumped in the mini bus. Luckily Olof Olson found Asgeir’s telephone number and the luggage was retrieved and returned to its rightful owner.
After a four-and-half hour journey on the ferry, we were met at Röst harbor by Trond Storaaker, who is the owner of Röst Havfiske Camping and our host for the coming week. The first evening was used by the team to make tackle and fill their reels with new fire line.
Early the next morning anticipations were high, we were going after big coal fish with Trond in his 50ft fishing boat. It didn’t take long before Trod slammed the engine into reverse, allowing all four members of Team Mustad to drop their tackle to 60 metres. Before it had a chance to reach the bottom all four rods had assumed the golden arch position. After much pumping, the first big coal fish was boated. The action continued for an hour or so, until the team had doused their fishing fever to a tolerable level, it was then they reminded each other why they had come to Röst, for one reason only, Halibut…
Skipper Trond agreed with the team and ordered lines-up, and we were off to the halibut grounds. The idea was that Trond would introduce the team to some known hot-spots for the elusive giant flounder that would be useful for the rest of the week when they would command two 22 ft smacks to fish from. The plan for the halibut fishing was that two of the team would use shad jigs and the other two would use large jig heads baited with coal fish. Asgeir had rigged a large shad with a Berkley gulp worm attached to the large single hook and placed the shad into the gulp packet to soak up the smelly fish attracting scent. It didn´t take long before we knew what worked, Asgeir´s rod tip began jerking, firstly only once or so every two or three seconds, but then it suddenly disappeared violently into the deep blue. He was into the trip´s first halibut. Not a huge fish, 8 kg, but definitely an encouraging one. This showed that they were doing something right.
The next couple of days, with the whole team fishing jig, gulp combinations, produced a handfull more of halibut, but they still hadn´t made contact with the larger fish that Röst is known for, but on the next day, this was about to change. After breakfast the next morning, we decided a trip to the local store was in order to stock up on supplies, this was the turning point for halibut success.
While buying the regular items needed on such a trip, Asgeir came across a 2 kg frozen rainbow trout! The rest of the team looked on in astonishment when he threw this ugly frozen farmed fish into the shopping trolley. He wasn´t really thinking of eating it when we were catching so much fantastic fresh fish? Asgeir smiled and reassured us all that this wasn´t food for us but halibut bait… His reply was met with a mixed response and the shaking of heads, and “that´s typical Asgeir”. Listen here, said Asgeir, If you want big fish you need big bait, up to now I feel we have been serving them biscuits and I thought birthday cake would not only be more appropriate, but also more attractive to big halibut…
Later that day, his theory proved to be more than right.
A soft plastic shad with a metal head is deadly for the Halibut when winded up a few meters, stopping, then reeling in again, stopping. HOWEVER; the Halibut does very often grab the shad in the rear part. ALL our fishes were caught on the deadly sharp and strong treble hook mounted close to the tail, ref # TS90NP-ZS, size 5/0. Note the STRONG split rings and the thick monofilament.
The previous night, after a wonderful dinner of fresh halibut, the team spent some time studying the sea charts they got from Trond, looking for possible halibut grounds within reach of our boats. What they were looking for was shallower areas with flat sandy bottoms from 15 – 50 meters, these I understood as being optimal hunting grounds for the saltwater giant. After the team had agreed on 6-7 different locations, all chosen with the uncertainty of the next day´s weather to be considered.
The first half of that day´s fishing I spent holding myself fast to the hand rails of the boat while it rose and fell several meters, to the constant up and down rolling rhythm of old sea, that didn´t make fishing easy. Late afternoon, like magic the grey overcast clouds were suddenly replaced by clear blue sky and sunshine and the rolling waves with a flat calm. These conditions were in our favour.
Asgeir produced his frozen bait from his tackle bag and proceeded to mount it to a large jig head rig with two treble hooks, one mounted on a fifteen cm trace that was fixed to the midsection of the bait and one on a 30 cm trace that was mounted in the tail of the trout.
When the rig was finished Asgeir lowered it over the side of the boat to observe its swimming action, he wasn´t happy! The rainbow trout corkscrewed in the water when pulled. This was not only an undesired swimming action but it could also create a whole load of line problems. Asgeir being an extremely competitive and experienced competition angler is aware of the valuable fishing time that can be lost through trying to correct such mistakes as twisted and knotted lines and rigs. So he hauled the bait back on board and after a few minutes adjusting the traces he was satisfied, and slipped the monster bait to the bottom.
It took only a few minutes before the first fish had fallen for Asgeir´s bait, but it was no halibut, but a 20 kg cod. The cod should have been much heavier if it had been in better condition, but it had not recovered from the year´s spawning and was long and thin. But it also confirmed that big bait equals big fish.
I being a fly fisherman, and seldom out on a deep sea expedition, have always been under the impression that halibut is a bottom dwelling beast and therefore you fish at the bottom, I was quick to learn otherwise! Tore explained to me that halibut hunt in these shallower areas of water, but not just at the bottom but at all depths, including just a few meters under the surface! We even heard a story from the skipper that he had seen halibut rise and take seagulls like a big dry fly on the surface!
Asgeir´s fishing technique was to try and cover as much water as possible with the bait. This was achieved from a drifting boat. The boat manoeuvred into position on the up wind side of the grounds to be fished. Once the boat began to drift correctly the bait was released to the bottom and then reeled approximately 5 metres off the bottom, where it would then be jigged slowly for thirty seconds or so and then reeled up five more metres. This would be repeated until the bait was at the surface where it would be once again slipped to the bottom.
This way of fishing is an incredibly effective method; you are constantly covering new water with the drifting boat and fishing all depths with the elevator retrieve.
After five days of perfecting this technique, we experienced a seldom event. On the last evening´s fishing, Torun suddenly had a bent rod in the other boat, followed by Geir´s rod tip going south in my boat, and before I could photograph both of them, Asgeir and Tore were also into fish.
All four were into halibut at the same time, I didn´t know who to photograph! Torunn´s fish was the first up to the surface weighing18 kg, shortly followed by Geir´s of 12 kg. Tore´s halibut was lost in the chaos, just as it was about to be gaffed at the boat side. Asgeir´s fish on the other hand seemed to be unmovable, it just stayed down on the bottom, but Asgeir assured us that this was definitely a large halibut and not terra firma he was into.
After twenty minutes of hanging onto his rod with one hand and the boat with the other, it was clear that this was going to take some time and assistance. Tore skilfully manoeuvred our boat in the heavy swell along the back side of Asgeir´s and Geir, like an English pirate boarding a French merchant ship, jumped from one boat to the other, but with a gaff between his teeth instead of a cutlass. Now with both Geir to skipper the boat and Torun to assist, the fight really began.
Ten minutes later Asgeir indicated to Torun that he was showing fatigue and asked her to put the fighting belt around his waist, which was no simple task with the boat rising and falling two metres every few seconds. Now equipped with the belt, Asgeir began to put pressure on the monster and started the tiring process of pumping it up to the surface.
A while later Asgeir shouted, here he comes! And we all leaned over the side to get our first glance of the trip´s biggest fish as it approached the surface. But as soon as the leviathan got a glimpse of the boat, it dived again, pulling Asgeir´s rod tip under water and stripping off line so his Penn reel sounded like a tortured soul. It took two more trips to the surface and down to the bottom again before the monster rolled belly up and surfaced like a great white whale. As it was led towards the boat side Geir quickly set the first gaff in the head of the beast followed quickly by Torun´s, and as Asgeir and Geir hoisted the brute over the side of the boat, all hell broke loose as 45 kg of muscle made a last attempt for freedom by flapping like a newly caught mackerel.After the fish was boated and I had time to check the action I had managed to catch on camera, I noticed that from the first image of Asgeir hooking into the fish and the last when it was boated, 59 minutes had elapsed. Team Mustad landed 17 halibut during their five days of fishing at Röst and lost a handful more.
For anyone interested in big game fishing at Röst in northern Norway, if you hire the boats Team Mustad used you should check out positions 18.104.22.168 on the GPS, here you will find halibut.