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Targeting Halibut From A Kayak

by Andy Allen

The initial bite means nothing. Length of the headshake and weight once almost straight up and down provides a clue to fish size. Let the body shape work for you. After the initial burst, if there is one, surf them up. You have all day to catch them. Be smooth and steady. Let the drag do the work. This was from Rick  "Da Goose" Ferguson, just one of the many generous halibut gurus that helped in the writing of this latest column.

Although, not a kayak fisherman, Ferguson was also quick to answer my questions last Fall that aided in landing my second biggest halibut at thirty pounds. The advice included something that I find to be crucial, the depth that seemed to be producing at the time for him. Another golden piece of advice I received was the reinforcement of how deadly the kayak is for live bait presentation.

Don't expect any serious halibut fisherman to tell you all their secrets of success, but some are more than willing to help you find your own way. I asked a group of successful halibut hunters if they would help me find some answers. My first question was: Why do you target halibut in the Fall? Most of the replies imparted that while surface fishing dwindled, halibut not only continued to bite, but also increased in quantity and quality. Trophy sized halibut can be found just beyond the surf, but my success has been between 35 and 65 feet. So-Cal mornings can also provide the best fishing conditions with bright sunny days and light winds and plenty of post-summer solitude.

I have repeatedly heard that halibut most actively feed around the high tide. Todd "C Level" Groessl has made me a believer with the following explanation: "Time of day for fishing for halibut is dictated by the tide, changes of tidal movement seem to trigger them into a feeding mode.  They seem to bite best just before and after the changing of the tide.  This is true of both high and low tides, but from experience I believe that it is around the high (or even more exact around the lower of the two high tides in one day) tide that they bite the best.  Personally I believe this is due to the fact that that the halibut lay in ambush facing into the current.  As the tide swings, many times the current switches directions also (always if in a bay).  At his point the halibut need to leave their ambush point in order to change their facing direction.  Given a reason to leave there resting spot they spend some time swimming around actively looking for forage, rather that waiting for it to come to them."

By far the favorite method used to pursue flatties would be with live bait. The preferred hook is a light wire one that is matched to the size of the bait. Adding a quality treble 4-6-size hook has gained a lot of popularity.  Jason (Misuse) Hayashi of told me: "I was taught how to rig and fish a sliding sinker trap rig with live bait. I power drift. Once I find the depth the fish are in I go parallel to the beach staying in the same depth. Up and down the beach, over and over, as slow as the boat can go, in and out of gear, 1.5-2knots with sardines or mackerel. This method is ideal for the kayak and is my favorite way to fish halibut. Power drifting keeps you from being at the mercy of the wind, or lack there of. You are covering more area and also eliminating some of the unwanted by catch, such as sand sharks and rays that are more likely when you remain idle.

Everyone of this seasoned group admitted the merits of the trap rigged live bait. Jeff "Rhino" Krieger had this on his list. Krieger also claimed bounce balling with a flasher, one-pound ball and hard bait or hoochie could be hard work, but rewarding. This is also a  great  tandem tactic.  At the top of Krieger's list of favorite methods of targeting halibut was a light line setup 8-15 pound and a five inch rainbow pattern Fishtrap. Casting around bait balls and other bait signs or working reef edges and transition areas is done with confidence. Rhino holds the current record for a halibut caught on a kayak. His fifty-pound fish was caught on fifteen-pound line, casting and slowly retrieving an artificial.

The gear varies with the technique. I would start with outfitting your kayak with at least one forward rodholder.  Seeing your rod tip will tell you a lot about what is going on at the end of your line. I also recommend using a rod that has a sensitive tip. Several manufacturers assign the number 270 to the ideal stick for the job. I also find this seven-foot, twenty-pound class rod to be a great match up with super-braid line. The lack of line stretching will make every bottom tick visible at the tip and at the same time this rod offsets the lack of stretch when fighting any sizable fish. Those violent snaps of a halibut can tear that little hook out. That energy is absorbed at the tip of a softer rod.

If the wind is providing sufficient drift and the paddle is not in my hand, I need to be casting or working some artificial on the bottom. My first decent sized halibut was the result of lifting and dropping a swimbait just off the bottom Jason Morton of www.kayaksportfishing wrote: "If they're full how can I create a strike?  Maybe it is a territorial reaction, protecting the den type of reaction.  Maybe they'll hit something just to kill it rather than to eat it. Sometimes the plastics will draw that reaction strike when they won't feed on live or fresh dead bait." Adi Ljubovic lends this to the credibility of the reaction strike: "One thing that should not be overlooked is bouncing a heavy iron on the bottom. Especially when the visibility is low, halibut seem to be willing to hit the heavy jig on the bottom. A lot of these turned out to be foul hooked when brought to the surface."

Kiyo of best describes playing a hooked halibut: "I let them run. Let them take the line, when they stop bring them in. If they take another run, let them! Keep your drag loose, a little pressure is all you need. Usually the bigger Halibut comes straight up and it's like your pulling up a large piece of wet carpet or plastic bag (but with some head shakes) you will like it when those headshakes are big. Which means Big Halibut."

The general consensus is if you're going to keep it, gaff it. I aim for a headshot on most other fish when able, but learned first hand that halibut have hard boney heads. A belly or shoulder shot will often paralyze the halibut as long as upward pressure is maintained. Once a line is through the mouth and gill, the fish should be dispatched before bringing it into your lap.

Halibut is incredible table fare and that is an obvious answer to why halibut fishermen spend countless hours looking for just that one strike. A lot of the dedicated sand-pounders also enjoy the hunt involved with this most adversarial fish, as well as the soul searching relaxation of just being out on the water looking for dinner and just a little more.