What Do Halibut Eat? A Guide to Their Diet and Nutrition

Halibut are carnivorous fish that start by eating smaller prey but grow to consume larger creatures like squid, fish, clams, and even young seals.

what do halibut eat

Halibut are delicious, good-for-you fish common in both the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. Although they’re common, they can be tricky to catch, so it’s important to know what halibut eat before you cast your line.

This guide will give you a comprehensive overview of halibut, where to find them, and what foods will make them swim toward your line.

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What Do Halibut Eat?

A halibut’s diet changes depending on age, with younger halibut preferring easier-to-catch prey. Over time, halibut become accomplished hunters, feasting on larger, harder-to-catch creatures. As a result, a halibut’s diet will expand throughout a lifetime to include creatures like squid, fish of all sizes, clams, and even young seals.

As carnivorous fish, halibuts are highly accomplished and stealthy hunters, often hiding on the ocean floor and ambushing prey. Since they eat so many different creatures, baiting halibut tends to be pretty straightforward.

Lamprey

Lamprey fish

Lampreys are prehistoric-looking fish with round, teeth-encircled mouths. They are eel-like creatures and a favorite snack for halibut.

Capelin

These smelt-like creatures tend to live in the same waters where you’ll find halibut, making them an ideal dinner choice. Like halibut, larger capelin tend to incorporate smaller crustaceans and other fish into their diets

Herring

Herring are cold-water fish and usually swim in schools near coastal areas. Their preference for cold water and proximity to the shore make them plentiful prey for halibut.

Sculpin

Sculpin are oceanic, and freshwater fish found all over the planet and another favorite snack for halibut. Although sculpin are smaller than halibut, on average, they also have spines on their bodies, so only larger or stronger halibut can successfully go after them.

Squid

Older, stronger halibut sometimes feast on squid, although smaller or younger halibut don’t have the strength to catch and consume them.

Flounder

flounder

Similar to halibut, flounder are bottom-dwelling flatfish. However, since some flounder are larger, only older and more aggressive halibut chase them. 

Cod

Humans and halibut both love cod. This white-fleshed fish is a staple part of many mid-to-older halibut diets, especially since cod and halibut tend to co-exist in the same habitats.

Smelt

Smelt are very small fish, so younger or weaker halibut can often chase and consume them. They’re also common all over the planet, in both fresh and saltwater.

Crustaceans

frozen shrimp turned white

Halibut often chase and eat crustaceans, starting when they’re very young. Less experienced or weaker halibut will chase krill or barnacles, while larger halibut can easily go after sea creatures like shrimp.

What Is the Best Bait for Halibut?

Since halibut eat virtually anything and everything that swims, it’s tough to go wrong when selecting proper halibut bait. The only fundamental limitations are your imagination and budget. Some people even prefer to freeze leftover fish scraps and use them.

Halibut are attracted by smell, so the stinkier parts of fish and crustaceans are often the best. Organs, heads, and tails are especially attractive to halibut. Although halibut rarely eat salmon in the wild, probably due to the latter’s large size, salmon bellies are a tremendous and often effective bait. 

Octopus and squid are good calls too, or you can use oily, strong-flavored fish like herring. Since halibut tend to be heavily attracted to scent, plastic bait tends to be less effective. While dummy fish or bright bait may attract other types of fish, halibut tend to follow their nose. As such, you’ll want to go with the real deal if you want to catch a proper fish.

What Do Large Halibut Eat?

Large halibut are opportunistic carnivores that will eat anything and everything they can get their fins on. Larger, stronger halibut will feast on small to medium-sized crustaceans, other fish, and even sometimes fellow halibut

As the most giant flatfish in the sea, they tend to dominate that slice of the ecosystem and can grow to incredible sizes. Some halibut are larger than humans, measuring up to eight feet long. In addition to their extraordinary size, halibut are evolutionarily fine-tuned to be apex hunting machines. 

How Old Is a 100 Lb Halibut?

It isn’t easy to gauge a halibut’s age without looking at the fish’s otolith or ear. As with trees, you count a halibut’s age by looking at how many grooves are in the otolith. Generally speaking, though, a 100-pound halibut will be pretty old. As halibut can live for several decades, well into 50 years old, the size often correlates with age.

Many halibut never get to this age. Most of the halibut you catch and consume will be between five and twelve years old and certainly not 100 pounds. Halibut size also directly correlates with how hospitable the environment it’s raised in is. For example, if young halibut have access to various foods, they’ll grow very quickly, especially if there are no predators.

What Attracts Halibut?

Halibut follow their noses to find the best prey, so using smelly fish is the absolute best way to get one of their tasty beasts on your hook. You also have to drop the line really low to catch these creatures, as they often swim around the bottom of sea beds looking to ambush their own prey. Use a fish or crustacean whose scent will travel far. Baiting your line with oily fish, fish organs, or heads will certainly pique some interest.

How to Eat Halibut

Any freshly-caught fish will taste incredible with just a few touches of seasoning and a little citrus, and halibut is no exception. Most people prefer to filet and pan fry or grill the fish with a bit of salt and pepper and lemon. If you cook halibut too long, it tends to dry out, so the quicker, the better, especially with a fresh product.

Halibut is a delicate fish, so you can also cook it in citrus juice and eat it like a ceviche. Its mild taste goes well with simply-prepared, fresh vegetables like carrots or spinach. You can also round out the tasty flavor with a decadent but easy brown butter sauce.

Another excellent way to cook halibut that won’t rob it of its juiciness is by poaching it. Additionally, you can customize your poaching liquid to fit a particular flavor profile or even use a mixture of water and white wine to give the filet a nuanced, sophisticated flavor. As with other preparations, serve poached halibut with some vegetables and possibly a rice or pasta side to round out the meal. Poached halibut also tends to be pretty healthy.

You can also cook halibut in soup broth. It tends to adopt the flavors of broths and sauces, making it a creamy, delicious add-in for more robust tomato-based soups and stews. You can even incorporate it into a larger fish chowder with clams, crustaceans, and other types of fish. 

Cubed, citrus-cured halibut or grilled, spiced, and seasoned halibut is an excellent fish for tacos. The milder flavor can stand up to salsas and other toppings, and the halibut’s consistency works well as a stand-in for traditional meat, beans, or chicken. Halibut also freezes well. If you catch a big one, filet it, label it and put it away to enjoy tasty eats all year long. 

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