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Targeting Local Halibut From A Kayak

By Brian Long

San Diego has one of the premier halibut fisheries in California but many anglers prefer to target the more flashy species like yellowtail or white seabass. By making some slight adjustments and exercising a little patience, you may just get hooked on halibut fishing and this is the best time to learn.

Halibut sit on sandy flats waiting for bait to swim by so that they can ambush their prey, but that's not their only method of hunting. At times halibut can be very aggressive and race one another to a bait, follow your bait all the way to the surface and at times even jump out of the water chasing bait! So while halibut fishing does take a lot of patience, be sure to maximize your odds so that you're doing the right things in the right areas.

Halibut, especially smaller ones have a tendency to grab a bait just behind the gills (and hook) and clamp down. If you go to set the hook or start reeling on the fish, often times you'll see large, clean slashes down the sides of the bait where you pulled the bait right out of the fish's mouth. We call this a raked bait. For this reason a trap rig is a necessity, especially when fishing for smaller fish, such as in the bay. To do this take a piece of piano wire (available at most tackle stores) and simply tie a haywire twist around the eye of your hook and another haywire twist on the other end to a treble hook. The distance in between the two hooks depends on the size of bait you're using, so be sure to match your intended bait size. Hook the bait as usual with the single hook, then stick one point of the treble hook in the bait' s tail area. If done properly this should cut down on a lot of raked baits.

Now there are two basic rigs for halibut fishing. The first would be a simple carolina rig with a leader of about 4 to 5 feet from the hook to a swivel, then an egg sinker of about 2 to 3oz above the swivel. Weight should be determined by depth and current, but 2 to 3oz should cover most situations at La Jolla. In the bay 1 to 2oz is plenty. A bead is optional between the swivel and egg sinker to keep the sinker from sticking to the knot. I prefer this rig, especially in the bay because it allows the angler to freespool the fish while it's chewing on the bait without any resistance of a weight on the fish.
The other rig is a reverse dropper loop which has a torpedo sinker on the dropper loop and the hook on the tag end. I feel this rig is better suited for bottom bouncing type of situations where you're actually slow trolling across the bottom and letting the weight drag or bounce along the bottom. 3 to 4oz is suitable for this rig.

The main technique for halibut fishing is basically sit and wait. Make sure you have some type of drift so that your bait is being dragged along the bottom, and make sure you have enough weight so that your bait stays on the bottom. Focus on 40-60ft. Then sit back and crack open a cold one. Or, if you forgot the beer that day, continue reading.
Artificial lures at times can be more efficient than live bait. The biggest advantage they have is the ability to cover more water and eliminate areas where the halibut ain't. Soft plastic lures with a leadhead of 1 to 2oz are perfect. Big Hammer offers many colors designed specifically for this type of fishing. While drifting that live bait, you can cover more area by fan casting a swimbait as you drift. Let the bait sink to the bottom, then give it three to five quick cranks and let it drop back to the bottom. As soon as you feel it hit bottom, repeat. Most hits will come right as the bait is about to hit bottom again, as if the bait falls right on a halibut's head, so be ready. Large plastic grubs are also effective with this technique. Visit OEX Point Loma for more info on Big Hammer swimbaits, or color selection.

Halibut have been known to go completely crazy once at the surface. Be sure to sink the gaff very well and have a clip or stringer at the ready and secure the fish as quickly as possibly. It' s not a bad idea to carry an insurance policy (billy club) and reference it repeatedly to the fish's head once secured.
Hopefully you'll give halibut fishing a try this winter. Halibut are here all year long, so by becoming a better halibut fisherman you ensure yourself at always having a shot at the fish of a lifetime on any given day on the water.