Halibut Fishing: Catching Monsters From The Beach!

halibut fishing from the beach
halibut fishing 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
RangeMagdalena Bay, Baja California, to the Quillayute River, British Columbia
HabitatShallow/Sandy (nearby structure helps)
All information within this chart and this page is unofficial. Refer to the Department of Fish and Wildlife for official numbers and regulations.

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”.

Halibut Fishing
Right-eyed Halibut

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 HalibutPacific Halibut
Max Length70-pounds8-feet
Max Weight5-feet500-pounds
DepthSurf Zone – 100-feetAround 600-feet
Range Magdalena Bay, Baja California, to the Quillayute River, British Columbia Santa Barbara, California, to Nome, Alaska
EyesRight and LeftAlways Right
California Halibut vs. Pacific Halibut

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

halibut fishing from the beach
31.5-inch halibut caught from the beach

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:

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

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.

Frozen Bait

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

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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.

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