Halibut Fishing: Catching Monsters From The Beach!
California Halibut Identification and Information
Before we get into halibut fishing and what it takes to successfully catch halibut in the surf, here’ some general information on the California halibut.
Quite possibly the easiest fish to identify in the surf, the California halibut may be the most coveted catch by surf anglers across the state. It has a brown coloration intermixed with white and black spots on it’s top-side, while the underside is usually white.
Halibut begin their lives as free-floating eggs and before surpassing their larvae stage, they have one eye on either side of their body. After about 1-month, the eye on the white side will have moved completely over to the top/dark side.
|Legal Limit (#)||(3) fish north of Point Sur, Monterey County, and (5) fish south of Point Sur, Monterey County|
|Legal Size (in)||22-inches|
|Record Size (ft/lb)||5-feet/72-pounds|
|Fighting Strength (-/10)||8/10|
|Range||Magdalena Bay, Baja California, to the Quillayute River, British Columbia|
|Habitat||Shallow/Sandy (nearby structure helps)|
California Halibut vs Pacific Halibut
Commonly confused with the Pacific halibut, the California halibut can be distinguished by a few characteristics. First, California halibut can actually be “right-eyed” or “left-eyed” while the Pacific halibut is always right-eyed. This refers to the direction in which the fish’s head is pointed in relation to an “eyes-over-mouth” position. The picture below depicts a right-eyed halibut as the fish is pointed to the viewers right when the fish is “upright”.
Second, the Pacific halibut usually has about 3 more dorsal “spines” than that of the California halibut. According to the California Department of fish and Wildlife, the California halibut usually has fewer than 77 while the Pacific halibut can have more than 80.
|California Halibut||Pacific Halibut|
|Depth||Surf Zone – 100-feet||Around 600-feet|
|Range||Magdalena Bay, Baja California, to the Quillayute River, British Columbia||Santa Barbara, California, to Nome, Alaska|
|Eyes||Right and Left||Always Right|
How Big Do Halibut Get?
While California halibut usually cap off at around 30-pounds, they’re said to be capable of growing to 5-feet long, weighing just over 70-lbs, and living some 30-years! More impressive is the Pacific halibut. It frequently surpasses 100-pounds and the 5-foot mark is considered average. They can reach lengths of up to 8-feet and grow to nearly 500-pounds.
Surf Fishing for Halibut
Alright, so now that we got the general info down, let’s talk about surf fishing for halibut. To have success targeting halibut in the surf, you need to at least know the answer to the following two questions. Where do halibut like to hang out? And what do halibut eat? After that, you can start getting into what types of lures and baits work. With all this information explained in detail, you’ll be able to piece the criteria together and discover the best beaches to catch halibut near you.
Where to Fish for Halibut
You’ll hear many different opinions on this and the fact is, halibut like many different types of beaches and structures. I’ve caught halibut on flat sandy beaches without any hard structure within miles. On the other hand, I’ve done the same at beaches with rocks and reefs near by too. It’s tough when you get mixed information, and that’s one of the reasons why it took me so long to figure out halibut fishing. It’s true that you could end up catching a monster halibut in the middle of a flat sandy beach with nothing unique about it. Heck, you might even get on a killer bite too. But, there is a secret to having consistent success when surf fishing for halibut.
The secret is putting these concepts together. Halibut are an ambush predator. They’re also very flat and blend in with sand quite well as they have the ability to slightly alter their appearance in color. That being said, rocks and other structure in the water provide for perfect ambush opportunities as Halibut can further blend in and hide from their prey before attacking. But almost equally important, these structures actually draw in bait fish too. This is where everything comes together.
Find the structure… and the sand… together
Halibut mainly prey on smaller bait fish like grunion, sardine, anchovy and other similar species. With structure like rocks, piers, reefs, and even jetties attracting bait fish and providing perfect ambush opportunities, there’s only one thing missing… the flat sandy bottom. Halibut are flat and they usually sit on the sand or something else relatively flat so they can comfortably and easily blend in. For purposes of surf fishing, that something flat, almost 100% of the time, is sand.
Where am I going with this? You need to find areas where there’s structure like rocks and reefs that are adjacent to, or have sandy flats within or around them. These are the ideal spots that have the potential to turn into honey-hole halibut fishing opportunities.
Get a Feel For It
I’ve been asked by many people, especially recently, “where do I catch halibut?”. Many fishermen put in hours and hours before hooking their first halibut. You know that feeling when you’re fishing and that guy 10-feet from you is catching fish after fish, and you’ve got nothing? You’re not catching fish because you don’t have that knowledge and confidence and familiarity of where and when those fish will bite (at least for that given day at that given time).
Every angler goes through a period of time at the beginning of a session in which he/she has to feel out the nature of the day and of the bite-type. After you get those first couple bites, you start to dial it in. The same is true in the long-run. You need to feel the bite for yourself, have success on your own, and then everything will start to click for you. That guy to your right has confidence due to his previous success [that day] that if he places his bait in the same exact spot in which he’s been placing it for the past 30 minutes, he’ll get a bite. every fishermen out there knows this feeling and it’s the same idea for figuring out how to target halibut successfully.
Halibut Fishing Tips and Tricks
There are a few different styles of surf fishing for Halibut. 1.) Live Bait 2.) Drop Shot (Flukes, Swims), 3.) Hard Plastics, 4.) Frozen Bait. Let’s go over each one in further detail.
Live bait will always be the most productive form of fishing (in my opinion) as you don’t need to trick the fish. You’re pretty much trading the fish a meal for a fight. This is much more commonly utilized when fishing from boats and even kayaks after catching bait fish with a Sabiki rig.
There is one really unique opportunity that we as So Cal anglers have that many other surf fishermen don’t have. Grunion Runs! There’s actually a grunion run coming up beginning early next week. But, since we’re in April, it’s observational only meaning that it’s illegal to catch and use grunion as bait for the next 60 days. When they’re in season, I strongly recommend fishing with grunion during a run as they are perfect halibut bait. Here’s a really good resource on grunion runs that I wrote up a few months ago. I detail when and where to go, including what characteristics to look for in beaches and what tactics to use.
Lures For Halibut Fishing
I’ve written about this specific topic before, and my opinion has yet to change. The best lure for halibut fishing is the Lucky Craft Flash Minnow 110. Of the vast color selection they have to offer, the most productive in my experience have been the Pearl White, Metallic Sardine, Sexy Smelt, and the Zebra Sardine. These are just the lures that I’ve personally had success with. I trust the brand very much and I’m sure any of the other lures that resemble bait fish within the line of prey for halibut will do just fine.
You’ll want to test out different retrieves and see what works best for you. Lately, for me, they’ve been preferring an over-exaggerated slow retrieve. Test out what works best for you though. And again, fish those sandy flats in between or adjacent to rocky structure. I know these are 20-dollar lures, and it pains me to say it, but fish where you’d be scared you might lose your lure. It’ll pay off… no pun intended. Try and get that lure right up against rocks and right between that 2-foot gap of reefy structure. I stand by this rule.
It’s also important that you pick the right rod and reel for lure throwing so check out which rods and reels are most trusted by So Cal surf anglers.
Put In The Time
And just like everybody else says, put in the time! I was skunked many times using a Lucky Craft before I caught even just one fish on it. In fact my first fish on it was a foul-hooked Bat Ray… one hell of a fight though. But seriously, put in the time and take note of where and when you had success and during which conditions. If you’re fishing near structure, paying attention to the tides just became the most important factor of targeting halibut for you.
You can also catch halibut using a drop shot with artificial baits such as swim baits and flukes. Click the link for each and you’ll see the most trusted type for each category. They all work similarly with different variations and techniques for retrieves and movements in presentation. There are many other types of lures that have proven to be successful and I mean MANY, but that’s all I’ll cover for now.
The last tactic for Halibut fishing that I’ll talk about is one that I here few people ever using but also one that’s been pretty clutch for myself. Using frozen bait such as Anchovy or Sardine has provided a means for my fishing buddy and myself to target halibut in conditions in which we may not be able to use Lucky Crafts. With frozen bait, we catch a wider variety of fish, but halibut are in that variety, and you don’t need to worry about losing $20. You can get these at your local bait shop for 5 or 6 bucks, and a bag should last you two sessions.
I like to use what’s called a stinger hook when fishing with frozen anchovies for 2 reasons. First, they fall off pretty easily if you cast to quickly. But, second, sometimes halibut will bite the back side of your bait. In that case, your stinger hook will do its job and make sure you don’t get robbed.
When to go Halibut fishing
Halibut, being one of the most coveted catches for light-tackle surf anglers across California, have an interesting “peak season”. The best time of year to go halibut fishing is pretty much year-round. In my experience, I’ve had the greatest success around late winter through spring, but that may be because that’s when all other surf fishing is at its lull allowing me to take the time to fish for halibut. Either way, they can most definitely be caught year-round. If you haven’t heard by now, they’re also one of the best eating fish out there.
Learn the tides and times that work best for the beaches that you frequently fish. For instance one of my favorite spots for halibut fishing has some really awesome structure, but its optimal water coverage is at a specific range of tidal height. Some people say that you should simply fish 2 hours before and 2 hours after a high tide and what not, but no. Put in the time, and figure out what tides hold the best opportunity for you. With the information listed above, this should be a breeze!
There’s a really cool article referenced below about more on halibut fishing. The author noted a couple interesting points about what time of year you catch more halibut and what time of year you catch bigger halibut with the bigger halis being in winter. In my experience, he’s spot on and it might be valuable to read up on that article as well. See link below.
Gear and Tackle for Halibut Fishing
- Rod: St. Croix Salmon/Steelhead Spinning Rod or Okuma Celilo
- Reel: Penn Battle II 4000
- Line: 15 lb mono
- Lure: LC FM 110 (Metallic Sardine, Sexy Smelt, Zebra Sardine, Pearl White and plenty more)
- C-rig: (all supplies for C-rig can be found here: My Gear and Tackle.
- Bullet egg weight
- Protective bead
- Barrel swivel
- Size 2 mosquito hook
- Bait: Frozen anchovies.
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Oh, and if you’re looking for more information on Halibut Fishing. Click the link here. I found this resource really helpful.
Geat Article! Thanks.
Thank you! I’m always looking to put quality information out there so if you have any questions or any intriguing topics, let me know. I’d be happy to research and write.
Good article, the only addition that might benefit readers, is learning to read troughs, bars, and holes in the surf. I find a lot of halibut on open sand, in a small eddy and seam running along a rip current.
Thanks for the input. I’ll go ahead and link an article about reading the surf in this comment. Appreciate your time!
Go to this link and scroll to the 4th section “Tips and Tricks”
Thanks for the info. It’s a big help. I’ll try after the lockdown.
No problem. Best if luck out there whenever that may be.
I use all those techniques but I’ve caught more legals on a 5/8 ounce krocodile spoon
Thanks for the info! Any specific retrieve or you just try out which works best for the day?
Have had some good luck in Seal Beach with live smelt and fish trap lures.
Any experience catching small mackerel, sardines or smelt from Oceanside pier and using in the local surf? Also do you have a list of live bait sellers that welcome walk-ins?
I don’t have much experience catching live bait from piers but if I were doing that, I’d just use your classic sabiki. I’m sure the local surf critters would eat up live bait. That’s the same idea with grunion runs and I do have experience with that.
As for the list of walk-in bait shops I’m not sure but I know Dana landing has been open for walkin
I just started surf fishing again after a dozen years. I live in Oceanside haven’t had any luck in the past month. Thanks for the info hope it helps.
Awesome! Put the time in and I’m sure it will.
Am I rigging the lure like the Carolina rig, just the lure instead of the hook?
No, the lure is just tied to the main line.
Do you use a weight above the lure on the main line? I caught (and released) a 10in Halibut a few weeks ago and used one of the LC lures on a Carolina rig :).. I put a piece of baitfish on the lure. But that was probably just a fluke. Wondering what you do usually? I find the LC lures kind of float around the top of the surf so I’m sure I’m missing a trick.
I tie the lure straight to my mainline. They are suspending lures but they should be about a foot underneath the water surface while retrieving. Seaweed can bring them right to the top so conditions need to be clean.
Thanks! Will try that next time. I have to say, your LC recommendations are spot on. The single halibut I’ve caught has been on an LC lure (I think it was metallic sardine) with a piece of baitfish attached to one of the treble hooks on it. Looking forward to a lot more!
Metallic Sardine is a good one! Never heard of attaching a piece of bait to one of the trebles though. That’s interesting.
Thanks for this and all of your great articles. I have learned a ton from reading them, and I am putting it to good use.
Just caught my 2nd legal halibut, as a result of all your help.
Heck Yes man! Thanks for letting me know and showing your appreciation.
Can’t believe I haven’t read this before, nice article Nick
I also found that glowing squid skirts on a dropper rig work well too. Mackerel on the hook helps a lot.
Way back in the 70’s I use to do a ton of surf fishing and jetty fishing at Seal Beach. In the mouth of the San Gabriel river, which is warmed by the power plant up river, Bonita would run. I use to use frozen anchovies, using a two hook method, stinger hook as you called it. One hook through the eye socket and then another in the tail. With no weight I would fly line the bait out and literally get worn out catching Bonita. I’m retired now and contemplating returning to the sport. Love to eat halibut, but love to fish too.
These days I usually do my fishing in the Sierra’s, cannot always go there, so a return to surf!
Thank you for an informative article.
Thank you for this website! I’m new to surf fishing and have had some great success following exactly what say on your different articles. Am I right that you use 15 lb mono with no leader when targeting halibut with lucky crafts and/or swimbaits? I’m weary of those sharp teeth breaking me off. I saw somewhere else you talked about using 30 lb braid?
Hey Nicky, thanks so much for the kind words. You’re touching on an area where I totally see why you’re confused. So, I will flip flop back and forth between straight 15-pound mono and straight 20 or 30 pound braid when I’m throwing a jerkbait in an area that I know mostly/only holds halibut and surfperch.
When I’m deliberately targeting halibut, white seabass, and calico etc. in a reefy, rocky area, I stick with 30-pound braid and a 30 pound mono or fluorocarbon leader. I apologize for how confusing it might all seem on the website as part of it is that I juts do a few different things for different scenarios and part of it is that I don’t always get around to updating old info in real time. Hope this helps!
Thank you for the response! Makes perfect sense.