Halibut Fishing: A Comprehensive Guide on How to Catch a Halibut

Halibut fishing can be done throughout the whole year, however, it is best to do it in the summertime especially on the coast of California.

The Halibut is a type of fish that travel on the depths and spawns in the shallow part of the water each summer season. As the temperature of the water and the weather rises, the Halibuts are on the go and you’ll have the best chance to hook it up.

This phenomenon starts from summer and extends until fall, thus you’ll have lots of opportunities to target this fish. In this article, we will discuss what is a Halibut and the fishing tips and rigs on how to catch it. Check this out now!

What is a Halibut?

Halibut is a type of fish in the Hippoglossus genus of the right-eye flounders. The name Halibut came from Haly (Holy) and Butte (Flatfish) and it was very popular since the early holy days of the Catholic.

This fish is a demersal fish and it is considered as a food. It is considered as the world’s largest flatfish and they feed into various feeds that it can fit in their mouths.

The colors of the Halibut could be off-white, gray, or black; and its scales are very small which is almost invisible to the naked eye.

Regulations of Halibut in the State of California

If you wish to fish for Halibuts in your area, it is important to know first the local rules and regulations. Whenever you decide to go Halibut fishing, always check the Department of Fish and Wildlife for they differ each state.

In the California, it is open all year round, however, Halibut fishing has a size limit of up to 22” only. Moreover, the methods you can use for Halibut fishing is no more than one line with an attachment of only two hooks.

In landing the fish, one can only use a gaff, net, or a harpoon to assist or any other legal means to catch it.

Tips on How to Find a Halibut

Finding the Halibut

Halibuts that are spawning and pre-spawning are always in the depths of the water which measures from 25 feet to 80 feet.

You can fish the Halibut at a very close distance at the shore and sometimes you will not even need an expensive boat anymore. Recreational boats such as kayaks are one the best boats to catch Halibut, especially in the shallows.

Halibuts hide under the sandy beds within the 25 feet to 80 feet under water until it ambushes its target prey. The good locations to find the Halibut are those that are free of rock and other sea structures.

If for example, you catch plenty of rockfish and still got no chance of finding a Halibut, then better move to a new fishing location.

Meanwhile, before you decide to troll and drift on sandy location; make sure first to check the direction of the swell where you choose to fish. Swell can affect the coastlines and it can also be relevant to your fishing experience.

As an example, if you fish in Santa Cruz or Monterey, California; the swell direction most common among fishermen is a North West or North swell.

If there’s a South swell in these areas, then, the groundfishing experience won’t be positive. You must remember that too much swell can affect how the Halibut bites that day. Thus, always make sure to fish on calmer days.

Use Live Baits like Baitfish and Squid

Fresh bait is necessary for the successful catching of a Halibut. Halibuts are picky eaters thus a live bait can make the difference in your fishing experience.

Yes, it takes an effort to fish for live bait the night before you go out Halibut fishing. However, your efforts are all worth it at the end because this will make you catch a Halibut as the day ends.

It can be challenging to get a live squid nowadays, nonetheless, you can opt for live baitfish just like mackerel, sardines, or a smelt with a Sabiki Rig.

Another tip is to always see to it that the baits are alive and disregard the dead ones. Although, you can save some of them in case that you run out of baits in the end.

Furthermore, you can also opt for frozen squids that are now available at tackle shops or marina. You can use fresh squids and if you have plenty of squids left untouched, you can freeze it and use it on your next trip.

Let the Halibuts teach you about what kind of baits to use in your fishing expeditions. Sometimes, they bite more on Spanish mackerel versus Greenback Mackerel. It can be very difficult at first, but you’ll always get used to it in the end.

Tray Bait for Halibut Fishing

You can opt for tray bait when catching Halibut such as herring, mackerel, and anchovies. Tray baits may be costly over the typical baits, however, the quality is all worth it.

Some of the tray baits available nowadays are cured, straight, and vacuum-sealed to make it stay on the hook for longer periods. Tray baits are straight so it can drift quickly without twisting. It is also hassle-free and it enables lesser tangles on the line.

Trolling Techniques in Halibut Fishing

The Bounce Ball Rig

The first method to try to troll for halibut is through ‘Ball Bouncing’. You can do it yourself (DIY) and prepare this beforehand at your home or you can buy it at the local stores near you. Basically, it is composed of the following materials:

  • 3-Way Swivel
  • 1.5 pounds to 2 pounds of Cannonball Sinker
  • Size 0 Flasher or Dodger
  • Hoochies
  • Plastic Beads which must slide inside the hoochies
  • Octopus Hook
  • 25 pounds to 30 pounds of Fluoro Leader (for hoochie)
  • 30 pounds to 50 pounds of Mono Leader (for cannonball sinker)

How to Assemble the Bounce Ball Rig

Assembling the bounce ball rig is easy and any fishermen can do it. First, attach the main line into one part of the 3-way swivel. Next, fasten a 2-3 foot of leader to another arm of the swivel and at the end, attach it with a cannonball sinker.

The next steps include attaching another 18 to 24 inches of leaders to the 3-way swivel’s last arm. As you are doing this, prepare your Hoochie and tie it on the end.

If the hoochie doesn’t have an opening at the top, you can cut a hole on it just a little bit. Then, put the plastic bead inside from the skirt.

Finally, slide the leader line through the Hoochie. Attach two pieces of Octopus hooks and tie them with a Snell Knot 2 to 3 inches away from each other.

Fishing Through the Ball Bounce Rig

You can now use the ball bounce rig once you have assembled it. Make sure that the hook size matches the bait that you’ll use for trolling. You can opt to have a 50 to 60 pounds of monofilament line or steel leader to connect the cannonball sinker. Meanwhile, you can choose to have a mono/ fluoro from leader to flasher and hoochie, which is from 25 pounds to 45 pounds test.

When trolling for Halibuts, speed is one of the essential factors to consider. Put into consideration as well the intensity of the wind plus the swell because this will affect the speed of the trolling in various situations.

When trolling, the slow pace is better for Halibut. Have the weight of the cannonball lift at the bottom of the ocean and slam back down in the sand for 3 to 5 times each minute. With this, you can cover the wide ground area in early spawn before swarms of halibut can find their way in the shallow part of the water.

How to Drift the Bait on Halibut Fishing

The 3-Way rig is commonly used drift rig for Halibut and for various kinds of species too. Using this rig, you can be able to tray bait and drift live bait efficiently and effectively.

It consists of a stringer treble attached to the end of the leader instead of a hoochie and a flasher plus an octopus hook. Indeed, the drift rig is a simplified version of the bounce ball rig. It also contains a 3-way swivel, stringer treble hook, 25 pounds to 30 pounds of Fluoro leader, and a drift ball which weighs about 2 to 8 ounces depending on the depths, the current, and the wind.

When fishing through a drift rig, make sure that you always keep your weight on the bottom all of the time. If you make contact with the bottom, your bait will be always in the strike zone. And as you drift over the sand, you need not worry about snagging or breaking off. Finally, if you have problems with placing your rig always at the bottom, you can simply readjust and replace the weight of your rig with a heavier one.

Caroline Rig Live Bait

This type of rig is bulkier than Sliding Sinker rig and this is one of the best ways to use for Halibut fishing or for any bottom fishes.

To make a live bait, all that you will need are the torpedo weight of about 4 to 8 ounces, power swivel, sinker slide, octopus hook, and 20 pounds to 30 pounds of Fluoro leader that measures 18 to 36 inches.

How to Assemble the Live Bait Rig

To assemble the live bait rig, first, make sure to put the sinker slide unto the main line. Next, tie the power swivel and clip the torpedo weight on the sinker slide.

The next step is to tie your 2 to 3 feet of leader from the swivel and make sure to put an Octopus hook in the end.

Finally, put your live bait on the bottom lip and come out between the nostrils through the top lip. With this, the bait will be healthy and the mouth will always be kept closed.

Additional Tips on Halibut Fishing

When fishing, always see to it that you maintain contact always at the bottom. The weight must always touch the sea floor and slide slowly all along.

With this, you are assured that you will always stay within the strike zone of the Halibut.

Fishing for Halibut is not easy and simple, thus, one must always have some patience.

You’ll find yourself to be out in few hours searching for the fish each time you go out in the water. Take this time to commune with nature and meditate.

Next, make sure that you set up a hook immediately. Instead of doing this, you can wait for your rod to load up and reel into it. With this, you will not affect the bait on the mouth of the Halibut.

Another tip is to not pump your rod. When you fight some of the big fishes in the water, it will require to reel down or to lift it up.

Halibuts sometimes make a violent head shake which will throw slack in your line whenever you continue fighting the fish. What can you do is to crank them in steadily. With this, you can be able to keep the line tension properly until you finish the process of fishing for Halibut.

Finally, as soon as you have landed your fish or has already been gaffed, un-gaff it first and put it in a cooler. You can also club the fish even if it is still on the gaff.

Remember, Halibuts are strong and it can flop overboard whenever your rails are low. You can lose some fishes over the rails if you are not very careful.


In sum, Halibut fishing is fun and anyone can do it with proper tools, skills, and knowledge. There are various factors to consider to fish a Halibut.

First, make sure that you use a proper trolling concept which is the bounce-balling.

Bounce-balling is the combination of boat speed plus the amount of line that you have, which will result in bouncing of the ball from three to five times per minute. We have discussed above that you can do your own ball of you can purchase it from local stores near you.

The lures and the baits are also important in Halibut fishing since this type of fish is a picky eater. You can opt for Hoochies, live baits, bait trays, and others.

Lastly, it takes patience to have a successful Halibut fishing in the waters of California. Make sure that your mind and body are ready so you can make the best out of your fishing expedition for the week.

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