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Holy halibut: Local charters relish bottom fish bonanza

ILWACO - Fishing roughly 20 miles off the Washington coast near a vast submarine canyon, it took the bait more than two minutes to reach the bottom in an ink-black abyss.

It's in this deep-water habitat, near the rim of the Astoria Canyon, where one of the most prized fishes in the Pacific Northwest lurks. Pacific halibut eat their fill in this nutrient-rich environment, where a gradually sloping Washington seafloor drops precipitously from a few hundred feet into a dizzying depth thousands of feet below. Even the best sonars struggle to discern details. It's here that vessels from Ilwaco, Astoria, Warrenton and Westport gather in hopes of hooking a big, delicious catch.

Heavy-duty halibut fishing On May 22, F/V Sea Breeze skipper Tyler Pearson gave the signal and six recreational halibut charter fishermen let their baits free fall into the 1,000-foot waters.

Fishing at such significant depths, between 500 to 1,000 feet, requires a significantly sturdy rod, and heavy tackle, including a weight between three and five pounds. In comparison, most bottom fishing - for lingcod and rockfish, for instance - requires sinkers of eight ounces or less.

The baits used for halibut are also super-sized, typically sandwiched and bound together using heavy monofilament line. On Sunday, aboard the F/V Sea Breeze, deckhand Cole Stillman and vessel co-owner Brian Alexander worked diligently to prepare attractive offerings to entice the colossal flat fish. Baits included fresh Chinook salmon belly, mackerel fillet and strips of squid - all slathered in special halibut-scent concoction called 'Butt Juice.' At several hundred feet below the surface, in a pitch-black world, a smelly and oily bait is essential.

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