Halibut are one of the tougher fish to target when it comes to surf fishing. Usually, they require an active technique of surf casting and retrieving until a fish decides to take your lure. Of course, there’s a lot more that goes into it than casting and retrieving. You should know how to read the surf and understand their desired habitat and prey etc. This article outlines the best tactics and techniques for halibut fishing and it’s a great place to start.
But, what if you didn’t need to cast all day? What if you could catch them on frozen bait?
A few seasons ago, a buddy of mine and I committed to figuring out halibut fishing from the surf. We tried the lure throwing method, but without any success in our first six or seven “tries”, our confidence began to dry up.
Oddly enough, lure throwing is now our number 1 trusted method for halibut fishing. But, we would have never got there if it weren’t for our unconventional tactics.
Catching Halibut Using Bait… Frozen Bait
One day, we strolled up to a spot we’d fished a few times prior. Our choice of bait for the day was frozen mussel meat and frozen anchovy (sand crabs were long gone this time of year). The target for the day? Barred surfperch, yellowfin croaker, and maybe a big corbina or spotfin if we were lucky. The idea of catching a halibut from the surf was still a shot-in-the-dark at this point in our surf fishing careers.
It was early-spring and the conditions were favorable. The surf was coming in between 1 and 3-feet, the current was minimal but slightly pulling south for most of the session. It was just enough to allow for a long and effective drift -which helped, given we were using frozen baits.
We began our session at 3:30 pm as low tide was approaching. We’d be fishing through a low tide of 0.1-feet at 4:02 pm and we planned to hang around as long as the bite was good. High tide wouldn’t be until after 10 pm as it worked up to 5.5-feet. The water temp was 63-degrees Fahrenheit, oh, and one other thing, it was the first night of a grunion run.
It didn’t take long before we saw bait fish schooling and in some cases, jumping out of the water as if something were chasing them. As low tide approached, the rocky structure became more and more apparent. Looking back now, it was an ideal day and an ideal beach for halibut fishing.
And so it begins…
We both begin the day using mussel meat for bait. While I’m still rigging up, Kyle starts fishing. In no time, he’s on! As he works the fish into the shallows, we don’t see anything break surface immediately (which is atypical at this point). Soon, we realize why. It’s a halibut! Nothing crazy, but at 14-inches in length, it’s the first hali either of us have caught from the beach.
Almost my turn
I wasn’t having any luck right away, so I decide to wander south towards a sandier section of the beach. As I work my way down the beach, I spot what appears to be a massive corbina cruising in a few feet of water. The water was crystal clear and relatively calm, but still, a few feet is a lot of water so I can’t be certain of what I saw. After losing track of it, I wade out a little further and take one final cast in the direction I last saw it.
“Tap… … tap-tap-tap-tap”. I set the hook and my drag starts screaming! Whether I hooked what I saw or not, I don’t know. What I do know is that whatever I’ve hooked into is a tank! Up and down, side-to-side and back and fourth we go for seemingly a few minutes. It doesn’t help that I’ve waded some 25-yards out into the water either. Finally, as I get her in the shallows and onto the sand, I can breathe again. It’s an off-season corbina and a solid one at that.
Back to Kyle
At just over 20-inches in length, she wasn’t the monster I’d seen earlier, but she sure fought like one! For an off-season fish, that’s one I’m happy with. As I run back to show Kyle my dinner-fish, I see a crowd gathering around him. I see something dark and flat flopping on the sand. The other adjective I’d use to describe it is “big”… really big.
He’d switched to the frozen anchovies at this point and he was using a modified Carolina rig with a slide-swivel clip (see description at bottom).
I start running faster now. It’s the biggest halibut I’ve ever seen (at this point in time) and I know he’s stoked. I quickly grab my pliers, phone and tape measure. We tape it out to be 25-inches, get a couple photos and he decides he’s going to keep it.
We’re not even an hour into our session and we could easily wrap it up now and call it a big win. But, we both know that’s not going to happen.
Switching to anchovies
I decide it’s time to switch it up and try out some frozen anchovy. We can assume that the halibut on mussel meat was a fluke, but frozen anchovy on the drift makes sense. Kyle shows me where he got the last one and I try a neighboring spot.
Kyle lands a couple sting rays and another short hali while I have some croaker luck and similar luck with sting rays. I was onto my last anchovy with still no halibut to show for my efforts. I cast out and my heart sinks.
You see, as the anchovies thaw, they become very delicate. Just as I finish my follow through, the anchovy flies off the hook and into the water. But, this is where the story becomes a novel. I see where it lands, and with a little help from the surf, I’m able to snatch the mangled bait and work it back onto my stinger set up.
Not expecting anything special, I throw what would be my final cast on frozen anchovy for the evening. This time, I wade out 70% and cast the final 30% to ensure I don’t lose it on the cast again. Perfect placement and after a few minutes, the drift is working as expected. Little-by-little, my bait drifts left into a nearby hole caused by a few close-in rocks. I feel an ever-so-subtle nibble with sustained tension, but nothing else. My line is still decently tight, but no real head shakes or run. I wait, then I feel another slight headshake and I go for it. Wham! I set-the hook and we’re on!
Immediately, I know it’s a halibut. I’ve never caught one from the surf, but after watching Kyle’s 2 short halis swim off, and now feeling this bite, I can picture the fight as it’s happening. The power in relation to the unique style of swimming is ever-so clearly transmitted from the fish, through my line and rod, into my hands. My heart begins to pound.
So much goes through my mind in just a couple seconds. As the fish darts away, my first thought is to keep it smooth and let it run, but I know the rocks might complicate things if I’m not careful. After some quick thinking, I settle with the tactic of letting it run and working my angles as I’m simply not willing to buckle down the drag and lose the fish that way. After a strong run, I feel an opportunity to somewhat “glide” it towards me.
If you’ve ever fought a halibut in the surf, that term should resonate with you. Usually, after a run or two, if you fight them smoothly, they’ll just glide right towards you in a docile manner.
I take the opportunity, but my hands aren’t steady enough. It takes off yet again, heading for the rocks! I stick with my gut and let it run (luckily my drag was set perfectly). Just before it reaches the rocks again, it comes to a stop and I’m able to glide it in once more. This time, I glide her all the way onto the sand. I’ve done it, my first halibut from the surf is a 23-inch legal!
With two fish already in the cooler, I decided to let this one live to fight another day. No matter how much I second-guess releasing a fish, I never regret it. It always feels good to watch a big fish swim off strong.
That was the day we began to gain some familiarity with this strange method of halibut fishing. It offered a fresh perspective and a different look at how halibut attack their prey. Feeling a fish bite on bait allows you to gather so much more information on the aggression and tendencies of the fish.
The bite is subtle… very subtle. You can picture the fish gobbling up your bait really quickly, and then sitting. It’s what they naturally do, they typically won’t continue to swim after catching their prey. I’d bet most of the time, they settle back down very close to where they ambushed a previous meal and wait for their next victim.
Using frozen anchovies (or any similar bait fish), you’ll get lots of rays and some croaker, but the hali percentage is worthwhile. Also, it helps when there’s mild current. Even if your bait only moves from 1:30-10:30 in a matter of 10 minutes, that movement, along with the movement of the waves, constantly causing your bait to sway back and forth is enough to trigger an ambush.
Explaining the Rig
The idea of the stinger hook or the trailer hook is to increase your chances of hooking a fish that might bite the back half of your bait and otherwise get away free. I typically use this set up with grunion, anchovy, and other similar baits.
It’s your typical Carolina rig but we change two things. We’ll eliminate the bead and replace the sliding egg weight with a 2-3-ounce pyramid. That pyramid will be attached via this sinker slide clip and you can view the tandem as one piece replacing the egg weight. The orders of rigging is described below: