Go deep or don’t for flatfish

Seventy-pound halibut are not infrequent at Newport Marina Store and Charters (541-867-4470) of South Beach, where fish dresser Brenda Verlini sprawled to the deck after unloading a recent boatful of trophies. (Courtesy photo)

DEPOE BAY — It's time to start pumping iron — the all-depths season for Pacific Halibut continues next week, Thu.-Fri., July 4-6, and is likely to recur July 18-20 due to the 2019 bonus quota of 239,000 lbs.

But here’s a secret: if you don’t have the sea legs for a deepwater halibut trip, fish inside the 40-fathom curve for nearshore flatties.

All-depths halibut fishing is not for the faint-hearted. You’ll need all the arm and back strength you can muster for these barn door-sized whoppers. In 2006, a 153-lb. monster was taken aboard Dave DeBelloy’s boat, the Enterprise, running out of Newport.

Lurking off the Oregon Coast at depths up to 1,600 feet are some of the largest halibut of the Pacific Ocean, migrants from Alaska that glide down the edge of the continental shelf to Northern California every year. Newport and Depoe Bay report halibut topping 100 pounds every year, though many skippers claim to have been dragged, Ahab-style, by fish over 200 pounds.

While the typical catch is 40 or 50 lbs., 70-pounders are not infrequent at Newport Marina Store and Charters (541-867-4470) of South Beach, where fish dresser Brenda Verlini sprawled to the deck after unloading a recent boatful of trophies. The bag limit is one fish daily, six for the year.

The bruising behemoths of the deep don't come willingly to the boat — you’ll think you’ve hooked bottom in the middle of a nine-point earthquake. Charter boats offer all the tackle and herring you’ll need to entice them from their 400-to-600 ft.-deep lairs with herring on the end of a 32-to-48 oz. lead setup. Black cod — a common bycatch — can be stripped-out, leaving the oily skin, for an irresistible carrot. Squid and chunks of salmon are also proven temptations.

The “secret” to catching monster halibut, according to old-timers, is keeping the weight on the bottom, with the bait elevated 6 or 8 inches.

Local skippers tell me conditions are ripe for a repeat of years past when flatties were thick as mohair in a carpet at popular honey holes 15-25 miles west of ports at Newport and Depoe Bay. Low-pressure Banana Banks and the ever-popular Chicken Ranch, a traditional roosting spot for trophy halibut, are top destinations.

If you don’t have the urge for a deep-water halibut trip, angle inside the 40-fathom curve for nearshore halibut. The shallow-water season opened June 1 and runs seven days a week until Oct. 31, or until the 32,591 lb. quota is reached — a fat chance since flatties are typically caught by luck on rockfish rigs. Still, a 40-pounders are routinely decked at nearby Government Point, barely 15 minutes from the Depoe Bay harbor entrance.

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