Halibut Fishing Tutorial
Much of the topics regarding halibut fishing have been covered extensively on other sites such as Coastside Fishing Club and NCKA. This article is meant to give the reader some general knowledge but is geared towards halibut fishing on a Kayak.
Most people consider the California halibut to be a lethargic fish, sitting on the bottom and waiting to scoop up a meal that swims by. Nothing can be farther from the truth with this predator. Halibut are voracious eaters that use their camouflage to their advantage. When halibut are on the bite they will keep any angler content and satisfied.
Proper Halibut Identification
There are many flat fish that reside in the family of the halibut: Sand sole, Sand dabs, and Pacific Halibut are just some on of them. Since each species has a different set of regulation it is important to properly know them.
Different Species of Flat Fish
Per the California DFG “California halibut are usually uniformly brown to brownish-black on the eyed side, and have the ability to change skin color patterns to camouflage with the substrate. They may have white spots, especially juveniles, which often fade after death. The non-eyed side is usually entirely white, though some mottling may occur. The lateral line is most distinctive and is highly arched above the pectoral fin. The mouth is large with conical teeth.”
Department of Fish and game
The Pacific and California halibut can be found ranging from the cold waters of Alaska to the warm waters of Baja California. The Pacific halibut are mainly found from Alaska down to Shelter Cove, Ca but have been found as far south as Big Sur California. The California halibut inhabit the central down to baja california.
Popular Kayak Fishing Locations in Northern California (Bay Area)
Bay: Paradise Cove, Alameda Rock wall, Berkeley Flats, Oyster Park, and Tomales bay.
Ocean: Capitola, Santa Cruz (50-60 ft front of harbor), Pajaro Poop pipe, Monterey (MBK), Bean Hollow State Park ( YIKES!),
San Francisco Bay Key locations
The box like perimeter that connects the South Hampton Shoals to the Racoon Straits, to Treasure Island, and back to the Berkeley Flats is regarded by many as the perfect terrain for halibut. The northern portion of TI, the west side of Alcatraz and the south west sector of Angel Island are the areas to look for halibut as well.
Late April and early May signal the first major migration of halibut into the San Francisco Bay. Oyster point and the Alameda Rock wall are good locations to start the season off because the south bay waters tend to warm up first. June through August are considered the height of the run, although halibut can be found all the way into November.
The halibut is a predatory ambush fish. Their diet consist of smaller bait fish (Anchovies, Rock Fish, sardines, mackerel, and squid).Since they feed mainly on sight and by ambush, water clarity plays a big role in the success of targeting halibut.
Rock, Sand & Reef
Three factors play an important role in halibut fishing: Reef, Rocks,and sand. The ideal halibut location will provide these three elements. Reefs and rock provide cover for bait fish from predatory fish. Sand and Mud provide halibut with the opportune environment which they use to blend in and ambush their prey. (Unlike RF, Salmon, Sharks and Rays, halibut who swim up and down the water column, halibut mainly inhabit the floor of the ocean.)
Ledges and Eddies
Ledges and eddies are also good locations to find halibut because bait fish prefer to congregate around these areas. Here are some productive ledges in the bay and ocean: Alameda Rock wall (Flag Pole), Paradise Cove, and Moss Landing all produce good halibut areas.
Beaches and Surf Line
Beaches and Surf Lines are also excellent places to also target halibut. In the summer, the beaches off Capitola/New Brighton are good places to target halibut and strip bass when bait is congregating in the surf line. Fly lining a live bait in the surf line is a good bet for a halibut or striper.
Tides and Surf
Anticipating good tides is key to successful halibut fishing. There have been times when i’ve fished the morning without a single bite but when the tides start to change the fish start to bite in the EXACT area that i was fishing all morning!! This told me two things.
1) Tides are environmental feeding triggers 2) I didn’t suck all that bad.
What are the best tides?
For the bay, steady slow tides are best. Typically, two hours before the incoming and outgoing are the best time to target butts. Halibut will also start biting as the tide slows down before going to slack.
When do the halibut show up in the bay?
In SF bay halibut migrate in the early spring into the bay in order to breed. Halibut follow large school of herring that come into spawn and then lay down for the spring. Herring is a great bait to use in the early spring after the initial herring runs are gone. Drifting live bait such as shiners, smelt and anchovies is the preferred method when live bait becomes available.
SaltWater Tide Charts
Surf and Swells
Big surf and swells will play a big part in halibut fishing. Flat calm seas, clear waters, steady tides and bait are ideal halibut fishing conditions. Large swells, particularly a south swell will shut down most bottom fish action, such as Rockfish, Lingcod and Halibut. Look at the conditions to pick and choose which days to fish.
Surf and Swells report
Frozen bait as herring, anchovies, sardines, and squid are all great baits.
Live bait such as: Anchovies, sardines, smelt and shiner perch are preferred for drifting.
I prefer catching my own bait when possible. The annual herring spawn in the San Francisco Bay is a great time to make bait for the year.
Sliding Sinker Rig
In the ocean I run a sliding sinkers behind a octopus and treble stinger hook. Ocean regulations allow multiple poles when targeting halibut so use as many as you can handle.
Basic Bounce Ball Rig
A bouncing ball rig like the following is very effective when trolling for halibut in the bay or ocean, Although I change out the hoochie for a sex herring or anchovy.
(Note – For Diagram Purposes only. I would run 2-3 ft before the flasher than 2-3 ft to the hoochie or bait. Total Length is no more then 5-6 ft. for a kayak)
Live Bait Rig
In the bay, only one pole is allowed. A three way bounce ball rig with a frozen herring or anchovy for bait is what most fisherman use. However, my bait of choice is a live smelt, shiner perch or anchovy. They are all excellent bait for bay halibut.
In the ocean anglers are allowed to use multiple rods to target halibut. Anchovies, Sardines, Herring, Squid (Live or Dead), Mackerel (Spanish or Green Backs) are all good choices for halibut. It is best to match the bait the fish are feeding on.
The Halibut bite
An experience fisherman is able to distinguish a fish bite and quickly identify, with some degree of accuracy, what species is on the the line. The typical California halibut will slam the bait (Ambush). The head of the pole will slam and bounce back quickly followed by quick runs. In the ocean, at greater depths the strike will resemble a rockfish bite. The halibut “head shakes” is a dead giveaway that a flatty is on the lines. After their initial pounce Halibut will make a few runs then come up like “Dead Weight” or “Wet Carpet”. Don’t be deceived halibut have a notorious reputation as escape artist. Make sure to properly net/gaff and game clip a fish before prematurely celebrating otherwise tears of joy will quickly turn into tears of pain. Been there done that unfortunately.
Here are a few mistakes most novice and even experience anglers will make.
- Netting the fish from under.
- Using too small a net.
- Not learning to properly gaff.
- Not bringing a fish bonker.
- Not correctly game clipping a halibut.
Learning how to properly net/gaff halibut is the final part of halibut fishing.
- Keep their heads below water!
- Scoop forward not under
- Bring a gaff for large fish. Let me emphasize this again!! Bring a gaff for large fish!
- And don’t pull the hook.
KEEP THEIR HEADS BELOW WATER!, Halibut will remain fairly calm when they surface unless spooked. They will float on the surface where they can be easily netted or gaffed. Pulling their heads above water will scare them and lead to a fast dash and broken line, if the drag is not correctly tuned.
TIP – Halibut unlike salmon, sharks and other fish can only swim in two directions: Forward and Down This is important to understanding how to properly net a halibut. To properly net halibut, lead them to your net, keeping their heads under water, and move the net towards the fish. Halibut can only swim forward “INTO” the net or Down “INTO” the net. Other methods will either break the line or cause tangles that will lead to losing fish.
Gaffing Halibut –This is a crucial step when handling halibut. Use a steady upward motion and stick the halibut in the head or directly in the body. The action will paralyze them and make it easy to handle and clip them to the boat. If a halibut comes up vertical make sure it is position horizontal and flat before making a move.
Beating Halibut – Just beat them over the head, but ONLY AFTER THEY ARE CLIPPED! Quickly bleed them afterwards to preserve the meat and to subdue them.
How to Fillet a halibut-Taught by Crazy Fisher
NOTE: Halibut have a tendency to come back to life (like zombies) even after being subdued. I once had a halibut come back to life 1 hour after I have bleed and beat it. It jumped straight out of the yak into the ocean!! Of course I had my game clip on so it didn’t go far!!
Halibut are exceptionally fun fish to catch. They are excellent table fare and a formidable sport fish. Being patient, calm and prepared will help you become an expert halibut angler in no time. Good Luck, tight lines and sharp hooks – TheLostAnchovy
Read the TLA Blog for fun and exciting stories on halibut fishing.