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Halibut Fishing Swimbait Style

By Rob BelloniJune 29, 2000

 Goleta Beach 1996, 4 olive big hammerFishing for halibut with plastics is one of my absolute favorite types of ocean fishing.  If the fish are active and you're in shallow water it can be just as exciting as fishing calicos or sandies. 

I know there are lots of techniques for catching halibut and I've tried most of them.  Bounce-balling, drifting bait, rat-trapping, these methods all produce but I'm only going to talk here about fishing plastics in shallow water (5-40 ft.) since that's mostly how I fish 'em.

Before you even go out halibut fishing you need to think about your strategy.  I mostly float tube for these guys so the swell plays an important part in any decision I make when I target halibut.  I find that in general a big swell will push the fish in to deeper water.  If it's rolling pretty good you may be better off drifting sardines in 60+ feet.  If the weather looks nice though, and especially if it's springtime, I try to fish an incoming tide in the afternoon.  I think that in shallow water the fish will really activate as local water temps rise.  Some of the hottest bites I've been in have been in the last two hours of daylight. 

I generally fish on the lee sides of major points.  Some examples would be Goleta Beach, El Capitan, Ledbetter, The oil island by La Conchita, and the Santa Barbara harbor.  These areas will get the local water warming in the spring, as well as attracting bait fish like smelt, grunion, anchovies or small mackerel.  Some specific things to look for are kelp clumps, eel grass beds, and rocky structure bordered by sand.  Often the fish will sit in the aisles between kelp fronds or grass beds.  Fish your plastics right along side this stuff.

As far as the plastics go I stick with the 4" baits in shallow water, occasionally moving to a 5" if it gets deep.  Trip after trip there is one color that always seems to get bit.  Olive.  Both Fish Trap and Big Hammer make 4" olive baits as well as olive with a red stripe.  I split time between the two but I think the Big Hammers have a little better action. 

Other colors that have worked well for me are silver/gray, lime green, and rainbow trout Fish Traps, as well as the halloween, blue/clear, and rainbow trout Big Hammers.  I like the clear sparkle bellies in clear water and the darker colors when it's off color.  One exception is the silver/gray Fish Trap which I have had excellent luck on in murky water.
Rob and his Dad at El Capitan
Let's talk about the tackle and the retrieve.  A good inshore halibut rod should have a soft tip with a strong backbone.  7 to 8' rods are a good choice for float tubing.  A rod longer than 8' can make it hard to get the fish close enough to you to net it.  A 200 sized baitcasting reel is plenty big for inshore.  I use a Shimano Curado 200.  The latest model is the G series - fantastic reel!  I fish 14 or 16lb Triple Fish Camo Escent because it's cheap and I like it. 

When I'm retrieving the plastics for halibut I pretty much stick to one retrieve.  It goes something like this.  Cast out and wait until you feel the bait hit the bottom.  Pick up the slack using the reel and hop the bait off the bottom.  Stop and wait until you hit bottom again.  From there I'll go three cranks, stop, hit bottom, three cranks, stop, hit bottom.  Don't swing the rod all over the place.  Just use the reel to impart the action.  I call it the harbor retrieve because it's how we used to catch sand bass in the Santa Barbara Harbor.  When you're bit keep winding steady until you feel the fish on the rod.  This is where that extra 10 inches is nice.  Once the tip is loaded up swing on it and you're in there.

Don't forget, the size limit on halibut is 22" so mark your rods with a strip of masking tape or have a ruler handy, and hey try not to step on, squeeze with a towel, kick out of the boat, or otherwise brutalize the shorts.  I hate it when I see barnies doing this.  If we toss back those 20 inchers maybe there'll be a few more 30 pounders.

Good tackle to try:
Okuma C3-40x 7'10" (heavy or medium)
Curado 200G reel
Triple Fish Line
Big Hammer Swimbaits
Hammerhead Jigheads

Copyright © Robert Belloni 1997-2012. All Rights Reserved.
This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without express written consent.
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