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Halibut anglers zero in on spring catch

Central Oregon's near-shore halibut fishing season closed Thursday for a month after a successful early season that gobbled up the entire spring quota.

Angling effort seems to have matched last year's season, which ran 11 days longer, because this year's fishers were better at catching these tasty denizens of the deep than in previous years, according to the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife.

Anglers fishing out of halibut hotspots such as Newport and Garibaldi have done well enough in waters 240 feet deep or less to finish off Central Oregon's near-shore quota this year of 13,800 pounds.

Last year, one out of every five halibut anglers on average caught a fish in the Central Oregon zone, which runs from Cape Falcon south to Humbug Mountain near Port Orford. This year's success rate was one in four.

"The effort was about the same this year as last year, but people are doing better," says Brandon Ford, spokesman for the ODFW's Marine Program based in Newport. "They're zeroing in on some areas that work."

Such spots include 120-foot-deep waters right off the Yaquina Head Lighthouse and another area north of Garibaldi, Ford says.

"Maybe the folks out of Coos Bay haven't found their sweet spot inside 40 fathoms," Ford says.

This year's average fish was up two pounds, Ford says.

"Two pounds sounds like a lot," he says. "But when you're talking the difference between a 37-inch halibut and a 38-inch halibut, that's two pounds."

The limit is one halibut per day of any size. Anglers may catch and release smaller halibut in search of larger ones, but culling these tough-to-find fish is rare.

Halibut fishing reopens Aug. 5 for the summer all-depth fishery, which will start with a quota of about 44,500 pounds. That's about 1,000 pounds more than the published quota because 1,000 pounds of uncaught fish from the spring all-depth quota will be rolled in, Ford says.

The extra poundage wasn't enough to justify another fishing day because it likely represents fewer than two dozen halibut, Ford says.

Oregon anglers have historically preferred more all-depth days so they can fish the deeper halibut havens farther off shore.

Oregon, however, has discretion in how it divides its poundage quota as allocated by the International Pacific Halibut Commission, and anglers could get more near-shore days with a higher near-shore quota should they lobby the ODFW and the Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission for it.

Reach reporter Mark Freeman at 541-776-4470, or email mfreeman@mailtribune.com.