Bait Your Hooks for Alaskan Saltwater Fish

Herring for bait for Alaskan salmon and Alaskan HalibutI thought that today I would touch a little on the bait used in Alaskan fishing. The whole method and style were quite unexpected to me on my first trip to Alaska.

Of course there are many fish caught on lures in Alaska just as there are anywhere else and it is also quite true that there are as many different lures as there are fishermen. In fact, I have a fishing buddy who insists that lures never were intended to catch fish. He avidly maintains that lures were invented to catch fishermen. Never the less, today’s topic will deal with natural bait rather than lures or man-made bait.

By far the most commonly used bait in ocean or saltwater fishing in Alaska is the herring. A herring is a small fish caught out of the ocean. They are mostly found in great schools of tens to hundreds or more of thousands. These little fish are an average length of 6-9 inches long. They are caught commercially and frozen to be used for many uses, bait being one of them. Many of the guide services and fishing lodges have them delivered weekly or more often. They come frozen in boxes just the same as beef or pork is handled in the Lower 48 States.

These small fish are threaded on to the hook of the Salmon or Halibut line and lowered into the water to do their job. It is a job that they perform well. They may also be caught and used live or fresh and will always perform better fresh than frozen.

Also used as bait for halibut are the heads of salmon and the bellies of the salmon left over from the filleting process. The Salmon bellies are extremely tough and leathery and will stay on a hook almost indefinitely. We quite often use a mix of several or all of the above on the same hook.  The salmon head is one bait that is hard to steal off of your hook. Insert the hook inside of the mouth and then bring it out through the top of the head, through the bone of the skull and it is almost theft-proof. It is true that its size may appear intimidating, but I can assure you that a large halibut will make short work of it. Sometimes a brightly colored plastic jig-skirt is also added to the mix. Some fishermen also have their own favorite artificial scent that may be added.

Halibut are fished below the boat, usually at anchor and the bait (or lure) is dropped to the bottom and then jigged. Jigging means that one would let the bait settle to the bottom and then occasionally jerk the pole and line up to raise he bait a couple of feet, then let it settle back to the bottom, repeatedly. The idea it to simulate movement and to attract the attention of the target fish, in this case halibut or rockfish.

For salmon, quite often the herring is cut in half with either half then having a hook threaded through it to be trolled for salmon. Flashers are usually used with this setup, again to attract the attention of the salmon. I usually use a double hook rig with the both hooks embedded in the herring.

One of the big disadvantages to frozen herring is that when it thaws it gets a little bit soft which makes it harder to keep on the hook. The lines must be checked more often to be sure that he bait is still intact.

The bottom feeders like the rock cod, the lingcod, etc will also eat all of these different combinations. All of the bottom feeders including Halibut, Cod, Rock fish, etc are scavengers and that prefer their food come to them rather than to go out and hunt it down.

We will address lures in another post.

Alaska Jim signature