When my father was a boy and Mission Bay wasn’t dredged from the reed-choked estuary of the San Diego River, my grandparents would tote the kids to the Bathtub Rock area about where Torrey Pines State beach and Black’s Beach meet. There was a shack there, and during the warmer months, they’d spend weekends camping there. The main catch was surf perch and California corbina, or an occasional calico bass or a halibut from the sand slots between reefs.
When my grandfather bought an old johnboat, he started fishing more in San Diego Bay and the estuary to the north – large halibut, big “buts” being the desired catch. The estuary was shallow and in most places you could reach the bottom with a six-foot pole from the boat. He made a spear with a trident tip and attached car lights to the johnboat, pointing down and hooked up to a spare battery. At night, he’d cruise the shallows of the estuary hunting halibut.
The lagoon, pre-dredging, was not visited that much; the best chance at a halibut or spawning white seabass was from the bridge between Mission Beach and Ocean Beach. Many of the folks that fished from that bridge used trident-tipped spears.
Once when about six or seven years old, from a rented flat-bottomed boat in Mission Bay, my father and I caught a halibut, maybe 20 pounds, and Dad told me the story of grandfather’s johnboat in the lagoon.
Halibut can be tough to get to bite: keeping a bait or lure down in the zone, avoiding by-catch like sand bass or rays, and being patient enough to hook a fish that sometimes grabs the tail-end of a bait.
For those that want to shorten the halibut learning curve. the final two Halibut Tournament half-day runs for the sportfishing vessel Dolphin will be this coming Wednesday. The weekly derby-style competition has been on since the beginning of the year and the winning fish will be the largest fish caught by the end of February.