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by John Collar



California Halibut range from Baja California to British Columbia. A separate population resides in the upper Gulf of California.

Species Information

The body of the California Halibut is oblong and compressed with the head being relatively small and the mouth being what I consider somewhat large.


Although the California Halibut is a member of the left-eyed flounder family (Bothidae) nearly 40+ percent of California Halibut have their eyes on the right side. Their coloring ranges from dark brown to light brown and can include some black, orange, and green on the topside and white on the bottom, or the blind side. Their numerous and very sharp teeth along with a very large mouth and a high arch in the middle of their topside make them easily identifiable from other flatfish that reside along the California coast such as the Pacific Halibut, Petrale Sole, Starry Flounder, and the Pacific Sanddab.

California Halibut feed almost exclusively upon sardines and anchovies. I find they also eat and feed on Grunion, Smelt, Herring, Tom-Cod, small Spanish or Greenback Mackerel, small Perch, Pompano, and live or fresh-dead Squid. California Halibut have been observed chasing schools of sardines and anchovies close to the surface, and at times they can and will jump clean out of the water in an attempt to secure a meal. Male halibut usually mature when they are 2 or 3 years of age. Females usually mature when they are 4 or 5 years of age and are believed to live for more that 30 years.



California Halibut will move up into shallower water to spawn in Spring and Fall months. Spawning periods will differ slightly from southern to central and even northern California. I believe the California Halibut spawn throughout each year with the vast majority of fish choosing March and April, and September and October. Other common names for the California Halibut are flatty, fly swatter (small), barn door (large), fluke, and butt. Halibut prefer a sandy bottom although they can be found on the hard bottom areas, muddy bottom areas, gravel bottoms, sand dollar and clam beds, and even around structure such as reefs, rock piles, kelp, and lobster traps.

Mature females can produce hundreds of thousands of eggs with each spawning. Some larger 30 to 50 pound California Halibut females have shown they can produce into the millions of single round eggs with each spawning. Halibut begin life as larvae almost plankton in size which is nourished by a yolk sack.

They begin feeding at the 2 or 3 day old stage when their jaws become functional. They are born with eyes on both sides of their head and as they approach metamorphosis one eye begins to migrate over the top of the head and winds up on the same side of the head as the other eye.



Once the eye begins to migrate the larvae begins to swim on its side. This is when the eyed-side develops a pigment forming the brown side of the fish. Determination of how quickly the larvae grows depends on the habitat. Bays, harbors, and leeward sides of points and islands can produce warmer water temperatures and create a stable growth environment. These areas have shown to have a more abundant food supply. It's a shame though the California Halibut's habitat is being changed, altered, and destroyed by the activities of humans.

California Halibut have no air bladder.

Fishery

The California Halibut fishery has bounced back nicely after gillnets were removed from the near shore fishery. This now allows these fish to make their way up the canyons and sea floor traveling highways without being picked-off in nets. Halibut are found up and down the California coast throughout the year. A tagging program exists that researches the species from the Coronado Islands to Pt. Conception. Migration patterns and areas, growth rates, and other information is collected during tagging.



The Natural History Museum of Los Angeles (section of fishes) sponsors the Halibut tagging program which is spearheaded by John Bourget director of the Santa Monica Bay Halibut Derby. Anyone interested in the tagging program may inquire by calling John at (310) 450-5131, or they may contact me also. There is a California Halibut Hatchery (CHH) that is operated in Redondo Beach, Ca. to study the species and to enhance the halibut population in Santa Monica Bay. The hatchery has shipped halibut eggs and juveniles to numerous fisheries study groups throughout the United States to support the research on this remarkable fish. Eggs are cultured and young halibut are raised to lengths of 3-inches before they are released in the coastal areas, including Santa Monica Bay. Both hatchery reared and captured wild halibut are utilized for spawning purposes.



Fishing Season

The fishing season for California Halibut is year-round. I catch these fish every month of the year up and down the coast from San Diego Bay to the Channel Islands. My favorite spot to fish for them is clearly the Santa Monica Bay. Other areas such as the Orange County coast and the northern San Diego coast have really shown an increase in halibut numbers over the last few years. This is very positive and promising. Catalina Island can produce some nice volumes also, but clearly the largest fish seem to come from Santa Rosa Island and then Santa Monica Bay.

Techniques and Tackle

I like to drift for Halibut, it's calm and relaxing. Some say halibut are line shy and that you should use the lightest line possible or maybe even fluorocarbon line.



When halibut are in an eating mood it does not matter in my opinion. I use thirty-pound test main line and leader 95% of the time. Strictly Big Game Clear, and when I use twenty-pound test I use Green. I have tried using fluorocarbon and my results have me sticking with what I use currently. I like an 8-foot rod with a decent bend to it. Something to absorb the famed and wicked halibut head shakes. The reel should be simple with a smooth drag. I do not like lever-drags for halibut fishing. Some use an egg sinker above a swivel and a leader on the other end.

I prefer a sliding barrel swivel up the main line and then tie another barrel swivel to the main line.



 Attach a torpedo sinker with 8-10 inches of leader to the sliding barrel swivel and then attach my leader to the other end of the swivel that was attached to the main line. I prefer my leaders to be 30 to 36 inches long and I strictly use VMC hooks, both single hooks and treble hooks. I do fish a trap rig most of the time and never put my reels in the clicker. When fishing a trap-rig I do not allow the halibut to eat the bait and I do swing to set the hook.



I leave my reels in gear with the drag backed off just enough so they can not take line out. This method works because I use heavy sinkers each time out. I fish anywhere from 8 to 12-ounce torpedo sinkers. I find they hold the bottom and keep the bait in the strike zone, they kick up dirt and mud drawing a halibut's attention, and you when the wind kicks up you don't have to swap them out for something heavier. I like to fish from just before high tide all the way through the outgoing tide. Halibut seem to be more active with a bigger tidal flow (i.e. before a full moon). I believe presentation of the bait is the key.

Other techniques I've tried include trolling with a downrigger and bounce-balling using bait and/or hoochies behind flashers and other attractants. While these methods can require much more effort they can be very effective and sometimes lethal. I do periodically fish halibut with a lead-head and a twin-tail tipped with squid,


or maybe a whole live or fresh-dead squid. Swim-baits can also be a quite effective method.

Conservation



I also use a fine mesh net for netting California Halibut. Their tales can be easily split in many of the nets that are sold and used today. Once the tails split, and day's after the fish has been released, infection (tail rot) will set in and the fish will usually die.



They need to be handled gently. Do not put your hands in their gills or squeeze them too hard. There is no need to keep every single legal Halibut,  and using a fine mesh net will allow you to catch your fish, take a few pictures, and release the fish without any damage if you choose to do that. Practice Catch, Photograph, and Release (CPR).


Tips


Have a good fish finder. Preferably a color fish finder that will allow you to distinguish between bait types such as sardines, anchovies, squid, and mackerel. It can also help you see certain rock piles, hard bottom areas, softer sandy areas, kelp, and truly allow you to see little bumps or pockets where the fish may stage.

Good and cured bait is almost a necessity these days. This also means you need to have a good bait tank with the proper water flow to keep the bait from dying throughout the day.



Watch your bait for rake-marks. This means fish are in the area.

When you are catching short halibut there is a very good chance the female larger halibut are in the area also. Continue to work the area. Most times it's a time-of-day bite.

Make sure you have a reliable GPS.

Bring extra batteries if your GPS is not hooked up via 12-volt.

When you catch a legal halibut MARK the area in your GPS.

Chances are there are more legal fish in the area.

Other

I participate in the Halibut Tagging program, donate time to the California Halibut Hatchery in Redondo Beach, donate time to the Santa Monica Bay Halibut Derby with all proceeds going to charity. I have coordinated and participated in 2 halibut collection trips (year 2000) with one trip yielding 7 halibut from 8 to 27 pounds and the other yielding 10 halibut from 22 inches to 10 pounds. These fish were then handed off to the California Halibut Hatchery in Redondo Beach to enhance their brood stock, and I have participated on numerous fishing radio programs to promote the halibut fishery. It's my hope that as you enjoy the Halibut fishery that you would give a little back to the resource and be responsible with your fishing practices.

 

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