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Halibut can rip your fingers

From February – June they move into shallows to release eggs

A fat San Diego Bay halibut can relieve off-season saltwater fishing blues.
A fat San Diego Bay halibut can relieve off-season saltwater fishing blues.

Yellowfin tuna and dorado long gone

Generally, mid-December is the time of year inshore and offshore fishing winds down to rockfish and sand bass in San Diego area waters. Though fine eating, targeting and catching rockfish and sand bass is not nearly as exciting as summer and fall ‘glamour fishing’ that can test anglers and their tackle. Except for a few ‘home guard’ stragglers that remain near kelp beds through winter, yellowtail move back south to warmer climes. Though colder water tolerant bluefin tuna have been hanging out around Tanner and Cortez banks through the holiday season the past few years, other pelagics like yellowfin tuna and dorado are long gone. White seabass, bonito, and barracuda have yet to make their springtime appearance off Point Loma and La Jolla, and angler counts at the landings dwindle down to less than a thousand from summertime highs of over six thousand men, women, and children stepping aboard a sportfishing vessel per week.

Down to taco meat

For many who cannot afford the time off or cash required to hop aboard a long-range boat, it’s down to ‘taco meat’ from the sea, or trout from one of the stocked lakes in San Diego County. On the beach, surf fishing is also winding down as sand crabs dig deep or wash away with winter swells. Sand crabs live about two years and die off as the water cools in the fall, so, though there will still be a few around, usually found deep near rocks or pilings, there are not enough to keep corbina and croaker fed and those species move south coastally, or into bays to spawn. Surf perch can be caught year-round, and though they can be a fun distraction, surf perch do not usually raise an angler’s heart rate. One saltwater species found in San Diego during winter months, however, will increase the pulse of the average angler when caught: California halibut.

Right or left eye begins to move to the opposite side of head

That California halibut move into deeper water during colder months doesn’t mean they leave the area. Typically, halibut spawning migrations in Southern California are from February through June as they move into shallows to release eggs. The eggs float freely for about sixteen days, after which they hatch into larvae with a large yolk sac. Larval halibut spend their first month swimming upright in shallows, bays, and estuaries. When larval halibut are about a month of age, their right or left eye begins to move to the opposite side of their head. Halibut are about 1.5 to 2 inches long at six weeks to two months old, and with both eyes on one side of their head, they are ready to settle into sand as flatfish.

Found near mouth of Mission Bay

That halibut move into deeper water in cooler months doesn’t mean they all travel further offshore in the open ocean, many remain in the bays, but move to the deeper channels along drop-offs and steep edges where they can ambush passing prey fish. Commonly, adult halibut feed on finfish; sardines, smelt, anchovies, mackerel, and bottom-dwelling lizardfish make up most of their diet. In the shallower Mission Bay, winter halibut can be found along channels nearer the bay mouth and under bridges, while in San Diego Bay, where the deeper boating channel runs back to J Street Marina, halibut can be found throughout the length of the bay.

Slow drifting bait best

While targeting spawning halibut in the surf or bay shallows, they will readily strike lures from heavier spoons such as Krokodiles to the lighter Lucky Craft and Rapala stick baits. When in deeper water, bait will work better for halibut, as it is hard to properly present a lure as a baitfish swimming laterally. Their bite tends to slow down in cooler water as well, so awaiting a strike while winding a lure can be a lengthy affair. Slow drifting a bait along the bottom is the most productive technique used for halibut in winter months. A heavy enough weight to stay down given wind and/or current, and a long 2’ to 3’ leader with a hook sized to the bait is the basic halibut drift setup.

Move the rod tip toward the fish

Where and when to send a bait to the bottom makes most of the difference in getting halibut to bite, but once bit, there are basic ‘rules’ that gets most fish caught to the boat. Though they can destroy lures with violent strikes, a halibut bite on bait can be so subtle that it is easily missed. Often, there is pressure as though the weight found a snag, and if the angler pulls to free the snag, the halibut will usually let the bait go and not chase after it as do many other species when fishing with bait. When you feel pressure, the best method is to move the rod tip toward the fish while maintaining pressure as the fish slowly takes the bait. Halibut usually strike a bait tail-first and slowly chew it into their mouths. For this reason, a stinger hook is often attached to the main line hook and embedded into the tail of the baitfish.

They'll spit the hook or tooth-cut the line

With or without a stinger hook, patience is commonly required for the best result when halibut bite. Often, the angler will feel a small jerk as the halibut chews in the bait. When it feels as though the fish has the bait fully in its mouth, a slow wind and slight raise of the rod tip is all that is needed to know if it is on or not. The hooks will set with pressure; there is no need to whip the rod back or wind fast, as a slow steady retrieve will get more halibut calmly to the boat. Pulling hard and winding fast will only induce a harder, more frantic fight, and with that, more fish will spit the hook or tooth-cut the line and be lost in battle. Once caught, a halibut is not done fighting. Take care when handling halibut, they are reaction biters and can do serious damage to human fingers with their teeth.

Santa Anas help

Other than bait and location, tide and current need be considered when targeting halibut. The shape of their body is kite-like and being so means they will struggle more in fast-moving water. Halibut prefer to feed during slack tides within a couple hours before and after the low or high. Therefore, days when there is a smaller swing between high and low tides are best. Low wind can make a difference, especially if fishing from a light vessel like an aluminum boat or kayak. Once you find a sandy-bottom channel with steep edges, drifting slow, no more than one knot, along a line parallel to the channel is best. In San Diego, winter Santa Anas can result in warm calm days on the bay as offshore wind collides with prevailing onshore breezes. A slow tide swing coupled with little or no wind is the optimal weather condition for halibut fishing along bay channels in either of our bays. So, when our local saltwater fishing action flattens out during winter months, seek flatfish!

Fresh water fish plants: 12/15 – Lake Jennings, trout (2,000), 12/16 – Lake Poway, trout (1,500), 12/17 – Santee Lakes, trout (1,500)

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A fat San Diego Bay halibut can relieve off-season saltwater fishing blues.
A fat San Diego Bay halibut can relieve off-season saltwater fishing blues.

Yellowfin tuna and dorado long gone

Generally, mid-December is the time of year inshore and offshore fishing winds down to rockfish and sand bass in San Diego area waters. Though fine eating, targeting and catching rockfish and sand bass is not nearly as exciting as summer and fall ‘glamour fishing’ that can test anglers and their tackle. Except for a few ‘home guard’ stragglers that remain near kelp beds through winter, yellowtail move back south to warmer climes. Though colder water tolerant bluefin tuna have been hanging out around Tanner and Cortez banks through the holiday season the past few years, other pelagics like yellowfin tuna and dorado are long gone. White seabass, bonito, and barracuda have yet to make their springtime appearance off Point Loma and La Jolla, and angler counts at the landings dwindle down to less than a thousand from summertime highs of over six thousand men, women, and children stepping aboard a sportfishing vessel per week.

Down to taco meat

For many who cannot afford the time off or cash required to hop aboard a long-range boat, it’s down to ‘taco meat’ from the sea, or trout from one of the stocked lakes in San Diego County. On the beach, surf fishing is also winding down as sand crabs dig deep or wash away with winter swells. Sand crabs live about two years and die off as the water cools in the fall, so, though there will still be a few around, usually found deep near rocks or pilings, there are not enough to keep corbina and croaker fed and those species move south coastally, or into bays to spawn. Surf perch can be caught year-round, and though they can be a fun distraction, surf perch do not usually raise an angler’s heart rate. One saltwater species found in San Diego during winter months, however, will increase the pulse of the average angler when caught: California halibut.

Right or left eye begins to move to the opposite side of head

That California halibut move into deeper water during colder months doesn’t mean they leave the area. Typically, halibut spawning migrations in Southern California are from February through June as they move into shallows to release eggs. The eggs float freely for about sixteen days, after which they hatch into larvae with a large yolk sac. Larval halibut spend their first month swimming upright in shallows, bays, and estuaries. When larval halibut are about a month of age, their right or left eye begins to move to the opposite side of their head. Halibut are about 1.5 to 2 inches long at six weeks to two months old, and with both eyes on one side of their head, they are ready to settle into sand as flatfish.

Found near mouth of Mission Bay

That halibut move into deeper water in cooler months doesn’t mean they all travel further offshore in the open ocean, many remain in the bays, but move to the deeper channels along drop-offs and steep edges where they can ambush passing prey fish. Commonly, adult halibut feed on finfish; sardines, smelt, anchovies, mackerel, and bottom-dwelling lizardfish make up most of their diet. In the shallower Mission Bay, winter halibut can be found along channels nearer the bay mouth and under bridges, while in San Diego Bay, where the deeper boating channel runs back to J Street Marina, halibut can be found throughout the length of the bay.

Slow drifting bait best

While targeting spawning halibut in the surf or bay shallows, they will readily strike lures from heavier spoons such as Krokodiles to the lighter Lucky Craft and Rapala stick baits. When in deeper water, bait will work better for halibut, as it is hard to properly present a lure as a baitfish swimming laterally. Their bite tends to slow down in cooler water as well, so awaiting a strike while winding a lure can be a lengthy affair. Slow drifting a bait along the bottom is the most productive technique used for halibut in winter months. A heavy enough weight to stay down given wind and/or current, and a long 2’ to 3’ leader with a hook sized to the bait is the basic halibut drift setup.

Move the rod tip toward the fish

Where and when to send a bait to the bottom makes most of the difference in getting halibut to bite, but once bit, there are basic ‘rules’ that gets most fish caught to the boat. Though they can destroy lures with violent strikes, a halibut bite on bait can be so subtle that it is easily missed. Often, there is pressure as though the weight found a snag, and if the angler pulls to free the snag, the halibut will usually let the bait go and not chase after it as do many other species when fishing with bait. When you feel pressure, the best method is to move the rod tip toward the fish while maintaining pressure as the fish slowly takes the bait. Halibut usually strike a bait tail-first and slowly chew it into their mouths. For this reason, a stinger hook is often attached to the main line hook and embedded into the tail of the baitfish.

They'll spit the hook or tooth-cut the line

With or without a stinger hook, patience is commonly required for the best result when halibut bite. Often, the angler will feel a small jerk as the halibut chews in the bait. When it feels as though the fish has the bait fully in its mouth, a slow wind and slight raise of the rod tip is all that is needed to know if it is on or not. The hooks will set with pressure; there is no need to whip the rod back or wind fast, as a slow steady retrieve will get more halibut calmly to the boat. Pulling hard and winding fast will only induce a harder, more frantic fight, and with that, more fish will spit the hook or tooth-cut the line and be lost in battle. Once caught, a halibut is not done fighting. Take care when handling halibut, they are reaction biters and can do serious damage to human fingers with their teeth.

Santa Anas help

Other than bait and location, tide and current need be considered when targeting halibut. The shape of their body is kite-like and being so means they will struggle more in fast-moving water. Halibut prefer to feed during slack tides within a couple hours before and after the low or high. Therefore, days when there is a smaller swing between high and low tides are best. Low wind can make a difference, especially if fishing from a light vessel like an aluminum boat or kayak. Once you find a sandy-bottom channel with steep edges, drifting slow, no more than one knot, along a line parallel to the channel is best. In San Diego, winter Santa Anas can result in warm calm days on the bay as offshore wind collides with prevailing onshore breezes. A slow tide swing coupled with little or no wind is the optimal weather condition for halibut fishing along bay channels in either of our bays. So, when our local saltwater fishing action flattens out during winter months, seek flatfish!

Fresh water fish plants: 12/15 – Lake Jennings, trout (2,000), 12/16 – Lake Poway, trout (1,500), 12/17 – Santee Lakes, trout (1,500)

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