Halibut Fishing Tips - Southern California Sportfishing Tips - Halibut
California Halibut (Paralichthys Californicus if you want to impress your friends) are the most popular of all Southern California ground fish or bottom dwellers caught while sportfishing off San Diego or anywhere along the California coast. Everyone loves to catch and eat Halibut, especially those who prefer a more mild and less gamey tasting fish. This is not the species that grow to 300 lbs or more in Alaska (Pacific Halibut) appropriately nicknamed "barndoor", but a home grown, Southern California only species. They're just as tasty as their bigger cousins, though. Halibut start out their lives swimming more or less like other fish, vertically in the water with one eye on each side of their heads. As Halibut become adults one eye shifts from its original position around the nose of the fish and ends up on the other side. That side then turns white and the fish starts its life as a bottom-dwelling, predatory machine swimming horizontally over the bottom with the white, blind side down. Halibut are members of the left-eyed flat fishes, however 40% of them are actually right eyed (the left eye migrates to the right side.)
California Halibut can grow to five feet long and 60 lbs, but most are far smaller. In fact, throughout most of the 1980's and 1990's it was very unusual to find a keeper sized Halibut (22 inches.) Fortunately for both anglers and the Halibut conservation efforts and heavy restrictions on commercial fishing, the population of Halibut is dramatically recovering and the sizes of sport caught Halibut is increasing as Channel Islands Sportfishing Center anglers found out a few years back when multiple record 50 pound-class fish were caught. By 1997, about half of all Halibut caught were breeding adults (bigger than 22 inches) so the comeback of this popular California or West Coast gamefish is well on its way.
Halibut Fishing Tips
Halibut are masters of ambush. They sit partially buried on the bottom awaiting prey to wander by, then dart out grabbing the unsuspecting prey fish. Halibut usually prefer live bait although I (Rob Mailly, owner of Sportfish San Diego) caught my personal best on a old metallic green heavy jig stripped with dead squid. Scientists used to believe they were more like scavengers similar to Sole or Sand Dabs scavenging anything that came by. Now it's known they're aggressive predators and opportunistic feeders eating sardines, anchovies, squid and any other smaller bait fish available.
Halibut range from in-shore beaches, harbors and river mouths, all the way to deep, deep water. They live in over 1000 feet of water. Deep water caught fish are the best eating, but often trophy fish are caught in about 20 feet of water.
They are often caught while drift fishing where Captains drift over known sandy or muddy bottoms or near drop-off's from about 80 feet and drift to about 30 feet of water. Anglers gather to one side of the open party sportfishing vessel, popular trips off Southern California and fish the bottom with enough weight to hold bottom with a Halibut Rig sold at any landing or tackle shop. To catch Halibut, drift over likely sandy bottom with a live anchovy, sardine, herring or other bait fish (grunion work great too!) with a reverse dropper loop setup - that is, a sinker attached to a loop tied a foot or two above the bait. Keep it close to the bottom and just barely moving to cover more ground. Halibut wait for bait so if you keep your bait still, it might be literally inches from the tail of a big fish and it would never know it was there. Use just enough weight so that the bait stays on the bottom. When Halibut hit, they mouth the bait first so the strike is more like a slight ticking feel on the line. At this stage have patience, if you set the hook too soon, you'll pull the bait right out of the Halibut's mouth. Give it line and when you're fairly sure it's got the bait, go ahead and set the hook. A slow, steady wind is the best way to reel in the fish.
Halibut will also strike lures either plastic swim baits or heavy iron jigs stripped with squid or fin bait filet. Rubber swim baits seem to work best and are even more effective when baited with a thin strip of cut squid. Halibut have even been known to come up off the bottom and strike Sand Bass or other local fish being targeted at the time.
On the boat, have Halibut headed and gutted, then ice them down quickly. Be sure to leave the proper legth skin tab that meet local regulations and the filet is the minimum length. You don't want to be cited for leaveing the tab of skin off or a short-cut filet if the fish is close to legal size. The meat is delicate so spoils easily. Once home peel four nice fillets off the fish. Don't bother trying to steak the fish, like Pacific Halibut in the grocery store, the local variety are usually too thin for this. Be sure to peel off the engawa (outer strip of meat at the base of the fins.) The Japanese know how to find these great eating morsels on different types of fish. It makes excellent sashimi!
Halibut are one of the best eating fish in California waters and have the most broad appeal to people with different tastes. I've never heard anyone ever say that fresh Halibut tastes fishy. They're excellent as sashimi, baked, broiled, fried, sauteed, and even poached. The meat is light, delicate, flavorful, and mild.
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