Big Baits, Lots of Scent Key For Trophy Halibut

By Andy Martin | 08/13/2013

Big bait catches big fish. While the saying has become a catchphrase for nearly all types of fishing, it couldn’t be more true than when it comes to trophy halibut. Big halibut like big baits. The bigger, the better. And the more scent they give off, the more likely they are to entice a barndoor into biting.

Many of my customers are often shocked when I pull a whole pink salmon from the bucket it has been marinating in and slide a large circle hook through its jaw and plop it into the water. Some think I’m joking when they see the giant bait. Others quickly point out the bait itself is bigger than any fish they have ever caught.


But when a giant halibut slams the bait, buries over the rod tip, and begins peeling line from the reel, they are quickly turned into believers.

From the Oregon coast to remote areas of Alaska, there are a variety of big baits that will result in bigger halibut. A plain half herring often catches plenty of fish, but to catch the biggest fish in local waters, whether it’s a 50 pounder out of Newport, Oregon, or a 300 pounder off of Homer, Alaska, a bigger bait is often needed. Adding scent to the bait will make it even more effective.


Whole Pollock, whole horse herring, salmon heads, salmon carcasses and whole Pacific cod are among the baits that will catch the biggest halibut found where you are fishing. When a big halibut swims by your baits, if your offering is simply a half baitfish, the halibut may not be interested. A substantial bait, meanwhile, may be what it takes to provoke a strike.

The first key to catching big halibut is drawing them in with a potent scent trail. When I’m targeting trophy fish, I’ll take a five gallon bucket and fill it with salmon heads, large Pollock, big horse herring and other large baits and then add a container of Pautzke Nectar or Pautzke Halibut & Rockfish Nectar. Both are effective. One of the main food sources of halibut is salmon, and even if you only have large herring to use for bait, adding the Nectar will infuse the bait with a natural salmon scent (salmon eggs) that halibut often can’t resist. The Nectar also makes the scent trail from the bait more powerful.


Biologists have learned halibut will move long distances to feed when they pick up the scent of food in the water. Halibut are opportunistic. While they are top of the foodchain predators, they also will take an easy meal. For example, International Pacific Halibut Commission stomach content analysis of halibut have shown they key in on specific foods. Salmon is one of them. During abundance surveys, biologists have examined what halibut are eating and sometimes find large amounts of salmon gills and guts. They’ve conclude when commercial salmon trollers are gilling and gutting their catch and throwing it overboard, halibut will travel long distances to feed on the easy meal.


A herring soaked in Nectar, or a salmon head that has marinated overnight in a bucket of Nectar, triggers an aggressive feeding reaction of halibut. And the bigger the bait marinated in Nectar, the bigger the fish you are likely to catch.


Editor’s Note: Pautzke pro Andy Martin is an Oregon State Beavers fan who spends his summers guiding trophy halibut in Gustavus, Alaska. To learn more about Martin please visit