By Lee Leschper
A halibut pushing 400 pounds landed last week in Petersburg has raised a recurring question about releasing larger halibut.
When is a halibut too big to keep? When should the fish of a lifetime be released instead of added to the fish box?
The largest halibut are all big breeding females, so they are the most productive of the breeding population. Halibut are also among the most durable of saltwater fish, especially if left in the water and unhooked carefully, so released halibut are highly likely to survive.
Since these are table fish, regardless of size, it comes down to food quality.
Like most Alaska anglers, I’ve been lucky enough in a dozen years to catch a handful of halibut pushing a hundred pounds, and gladly kept every one. So, I’ve been saved the question of releasing that 300 pounder.
But for my taste, the meat from even the 90 pounders is getting a big coarse and the fillets too thick to cook without “filleting the fillet.” Which matters not at all in fried halibut recipes, but is not the best of halibut.
Most of our Alaskan friends who live on the water and live on fish year around always focus on 15- to 25-pound chickens. That’s big enough to fool with, easier to catch and prime eating.
I’ve also filleted a lot of under 28-inch ping pong paddles, those under-size fish that regulations allow as a second halibut in most of Alaska’s waters now, and you have to be good with a knife to get more than one meal off a fish that size.
From our informal straw poll, most charter halibut fishermen looking for their four fish a year are looking for one good halibut a day, weighing 50 to 80 pounds and producing 30 to 50 pounds of prime fillets.
Commercial fishermen, it should be added, want the biggest fish possible, to generate maximum meat from each fish harvested and would not release a fish that size.
So, on the “too big” question, the consensus seems to be—get lots of pictures, but keep her in the water and release her to go make us more halibut. Unless maybe you’ve got a derby ticket and there’s a big prize on the line.
But what do you think?
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