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How to Catch Halibut


About Halibuts

A California Halibut is a flatfish and can range in size up to 50-75 pounds. The typical keeper is from 10-20 pounds. Adult halibut move into shallower water in the late spring and summer to spawn. Young fish swim upright, but during their first year, one eye migrates to the other size of the head and they begin to swim in a horizontal position.

Also, the side with the two eyes (the top) turns dark or sand-colored, while the bottom side turns light. Halibut live right on the sandy bottom. A ruffling of fins and tail kicks up a cloud of sand that settles back on the fish and hides it from both its predators and prey.

Only its two eyes are noticeable above the sand.

California halibut fishing is primarily shallow water fishing. Because of this situation, it is possible to catch halibut from piers, by surf casting on beaches, or from a boat. In all these cases the basic idea is the same: Get your offering down on the sandy bottom and keep it moving.

Halibut feed most actively during moving current, especially on an incoming tide. The 2 or 3 hours before a high tide are often the best. And even slack water at high tide can be productive. Halibut do school, so if one is hooked, chances are there are more in the same location.

Fishing at the right time of year is critical to success. Summertime is when the halibut are in the shallow water. June is not too early in some locations, and July and August are usually good. Weekly fishing reports in newspapers highlight the best time.

How to Catch Halibut – Shore Fishing Techniques

Both pier and surf anglers can and do catch halibut although, admittedly, the vast majority are taken from party and private boats. Two elements are essential for successful shore fishing:

  1. Be there when the fish are there: Halibut moves depending upon the whereabouts of anchovy schools and spawning patterns. They key is to keep up on local action.
  2. Keep your offering moving. Halibut ambush moving forage fish. So your offering must do the same. This requires a constant cast and retrieve pattern. Slow retrieves are usually the most productive.

Trolling for Halibut

There are two primary boat fishing techniques to catch halibut. The first is trolling. Most trollers use equipment similar to that needed for non-downrigger salmon trolling. Trollers work the surf line in 20 foot water or less. A large landing net or gaff is required. You should also have a fish billy.

A sharp blow midway down the body is recommended. When trolling a deep diving lure, attach it to a good snap swivel and troll it out about 50 feet behind the boat. Adjust the boat speed so that the lure touches the bottom now and then. Slow trolling is best. Trollers can cover a good amount of territory.

Drift Fishing

Many anglers prefer boat drift fishing. This technique is used extensively for halibut and striped bass in San Fransisco Bay.

Lures and Bait for Halibut

Common bait and lures used for halibut are:

  • Anchovies, shiners, small perch – live, hooked through the lips for drifting; hooked on a salmon rig when trolling.
  • Hair raisers
  • Pet spoons
  • Kastmasters
  • Rebel Minnow-type-plug about 6 to 7 inches
  • Bagley Bango-B deep diving plug – 6 to 9 inches (blue back, silver belly, bleeding gills); model has been “hot” in San Fransisco Bay
  • Scampi-type twin tail soft plastics – about 5 inches (in rootbeer)

Where to Fish

There are many good fishing locations along the Pacific coast which are described in the “Pacific Ocean Fishing” section. Here are some hot spots:

  • Bodega Bay – the entrance along the rocky breakwater
  • Tomales Bay – near entrance at Lawson’s Landing just south of Dillon’s Beach
  • Marin Coast – Stinson, Muir and Tennessee beaches
  • Golden Gate – just outside the bridge between the Cliff House and Seal Rock area, inshore to Baker Beach
  • San Fransisco and Pacifica shoreline – South Bar, Mussel Rock and the coves inside Lindamar and Devil Slide
  • Half Moon Bay – Pillar Point Harbor
  • Monterey Bay

In San Fransisco Bay, some of the best places to fish for halibut on an incoming tide are listed below.

  • Crissy Field – Fishing is best in June, July and August. Drift parallel to shore in about 10-20 feet of water.
  • Alcatraz Island, Using anchovies, fish the shoal on the west side July through September in 20-45 feet of water. On incoming tides boats drift towards the island.
  • Treasure Island – Fish the flats north and west of the island. Use anchovies or shiners in 20-40 feet of water.
  • Angel Island – There are two hot spots here: Point Know Shoal on the southwest side of the island at 20-50 feet and Raccoon Strait between the island and the Tiburon Peninsula.
  • Farther south, a good area is the flat between Oyster Point and San Fransisco International Airport.

Cleaning and Cooking

Smaller halibut can be filleted. Larger ones are steaked. If you can get a decent-sized steak out of your halibut, then steak it. Even when filleting, first make a vertical cut (the fish is laying flat) along the lateral line down to the spine. This allows you to “lift off” two manageable-sized fillets from each side of the fish.

Halibut is dense, mild, somewhat sweet and low in fat. Popular cooking methods include broiling, barbecuing, poaching, frying and baking. The fillets can be sauteed.

How to Catch Flounder and Sanddabs


About Flounder and Sanddabs

Flounder and sanddabs are two great saltwater species that don’t get the attention they deserve. Both of these junior-sized members of the flatfish family are lots of fun to catch, and rank among the best eating of all Northern California sport fish.

The flounder caught in Northern California, both commercially and by sport anglers, is the starry flounder. It is sometimes sold in fish markets as sole. The pan-sized sanddab, served in most of the finest fish restaurants, is not available at most fish markets.


How to Catch Flounder

Each winter thousands of starry flounder migrate from Pacific Ocean water (at a depth of as much as 900 feet) into bays, lagoons, and to some extent even into the fresh water of coastal runs, where they then spawn. Fishing is usually good from mid-December through March with a peak in February.

The average catch is 1 to 3 pounds and 12 to 18 inches in length. But 6 to 7 pounders about 2 feet long are caught. Starry flounder are dark brown on the top side, white on the bottom side, and have a very distinctive checkerboard orange and black alternating color pattern on both the upper and lower fin lines.

San Fransisco, Richardson, San Pablo, Grizzly, and Honker Bays are all good, as is Elkhorn Slough, at Moss Landing on Monterey Bay. Fish shallow water with sandy or mud bottoms. One key to success is to seek out areas around the bays where fresh water runs in. River inlets, sloughs, creeks or even storm drains are all likely spots. Here are some specifics:

  • South San Fransisco Bay – the west shoreline at Point San Bruno, Folger’s Point, south of San Fransisco Airport along the Millbrae and Burlingame Flats to Coyote Point.
  • Richardson Bay – beneath the Highway 101 bridge where Mill Creek comes in.
  • San Pablo Bay – the mouth of the Napa River between Mare Island and Vallejo, the mouth of Napa Slough, the mouth of Petaluma River, Novato River and Gallinas Creek.
  • Suisun Bay – the South Hampton Flats; the Middle Ground by the Mothball Fleet.

Any freshwater or light saltwater tackle and line will do. Tie or snap on a surf rig. Two #6 baitholder hooks and a 1 to 2 ounce pyramid sinker are about right. Sliding sinker rigs also work. Top baits for starry flounder are pile worms, blood worms, mussel, grass shrimp, mud shrimp and ghost shrimp.

Bring along several different baits and experiment. Best fishing is before, during and after a substantial high tide (5 feet or so). Remember to keep your rig on the bottom – that’s where flatfish feed.


Catching Sanddabs

Some seasoned fish eaters consider sanddab the best tasting of all ocean fish – including salmon, halibut and albacore tuna. These little guys are commonly caught commercially, and served in many fine restaurants.

But not many sport anglers pursue them, perhaps because they’re small, only about 6 to 12 inches long. Although sanddab inhabit water that is from 30 to 1800 feet deep, they are most abundant at depths of 120 to 300 feet. As their name suggests, they live on sandy bottoms.

Some Monterey Bay rockfish anglers, who work the Monterey canyon drop-offs, will “stop off” at about 20 fathoms to catch a mess of sanddabs on their way back to the harbor, if time and weather permits.

Salmon trollers who are getting “skunked” also switch over to sanddabs at times.

Off the coast of Northern California if the depth is correct (120-250 feet) and the bottom suitable, it is extremely difficult to keep sanddabs off the hook. Rock cod rigs work. Surf rigs work.

Use cut pieces of squid, pile worms, grass shrimp or ghost shrimp for bait. In years when ocean waters are warmer than usual, sanddabs are also plentiful in San Fransisco Bay.

Cleaning and Cooking

Starry flounder are usually large enough to fillet. Remember there are 4 fillets on flatfish. Use a sharp, flexible fillet knife.

Starry flounder have a delicate, but distinctive flavor and nice texture. You can use them in any sole recipe. Skinless fillets are suitable for sautéing, poaching or broiling (if on the longer side).

Sanddabs are very easy to clean. The shape of their body is such that you can remove their head and their intestinal cavity in one cut taken diagonally over the head and the top of the pectoral fin. No need to scale or skin them. Just rinse them in cold running water after cutting.

This fish is sweet, nut-like and moist. It’s great charcoal grilled or pan fried. Breaded dabs pan fry quickly in about 2 minutes per side. They can be easily de-boned at the table, just like pan-sized trout or sunfish. Insert a butter knife or fork (or two) beneath the upper fillet and lift it off.

The skeleton is now exposed on top of the bottom fillet. Just lift these bones off in one piece and you have a second de-boned fillet.

How to Catch Lingcod

How to Catch Lingcod Picture

Guess what? Lingcod aren’t a cod. Lingcod are actually greenling which are rockfish. But they’re much larger and tougher than other rockfish. Lings can reach upwards of 5 feet and weight up to 70 pounds.

How to Catch Lingcod- Fishing Techniques

Lingcod can be caught at any time of the year. And many are caught by rock cod fishermen, particularly while fishing in deep water (200-400). In fact, at times a large ling will strike a small rockfish that has just been hooked.

Dedicated lingcod pursuers, however, choose to fish in fall and winter. Three of the best months are December, January, and February. During this period lings are more active and move to shallower water to spawn.

Lingcod fishing, like rock cod fishing, is bottom, drift fishing. It is done over rocks or reefs. Once the rig has lowered to the bottom, it should be jigged up and down. Try to stay off the bottom to prevent snags.

Tackle and Equipment

You’ll need a gaff (lings will tear up a landing net), a fish billy (to subdue this fish which has sharp teeth and fins), and a needle-nose pliers (to take out the hook).

The tackle you’ll need is the same as needed for deep-water rock fishing: a medium-heavy to heavy roller-tipped, 6 to 7 rod, a 6/0 foot rod, a 6/0 or 4/0 ocean reel, a 30-50 pound monofilament line.

Lure and Bait

The most commonly used lure for lingcod is the chrome hex bar with treble hook. The appropriate lures range from 6-15 ounces depending on ocean conditions and lings’ preference. Some fishermen remove the strong treble hook that comes on this lure and replace it with light wire treble hooks. When hung up in the rocks, the light hook bends and gives before the line breaks, thus saving the expensive hex bar.

Another good offering is a lead-head bucktail jig with a pork trailer. About a 5-inch pork rind is good. The pork looks like the tentacles of small octopus, a favorite food of big lings. Many lingcod fishermen prefer bait fishing. The best bait is whole fish. Good choices include sanddabs, rockfish or squid. Some anglers cut the dorsal fin off rockfish when using it as bait. They say it makes the bait more appetizing. It’s best if the bait is alive, or at least freshly caught. 7-10 inches is a good size. Use a two hook rig. The end hook goes through the bait fish’s upper lip (or through both lips) and the other hook goes into the side of the fish near the tail. A secret, sleeper bait is octopus. Sometimes lingcod spit them up after being caught. Or you might find one in a ling’s stomach. In either case, use this gift bait to catch another ling.

Where to Fish

Lingcod seem to congregate on high rock pinnacles and along the irregular edges of reefs that drop off rapidly to deeper water. Key on such structured bottom characteristics with your electronic fish finder. Then position the boat to drift over likely holding spots. The northern California Coast from Monterey to the Oregon border has many lingcod-rich reefs. Off the Golden Gate, the Farallon Island chain, Fanny Shoals and Cordell Beach are the most likely producers of big lings. See the “Pacific Ocean Fishing” for detailed location information.

Lingcod are most often filleted. Larger ones can be steaked. Lingcod fillets or steaks are lean and mild tasting. Lingcod meat (depending on the age of the fish and where it was caught) is often green, but turns white upon cooking. Thick fillets or steaks can be barbecued or broiled. They are also suitable for poaching or frying. Thinner fillets can be sauteed. Lingcod is rather dense so it takes somewhat longer to cook.

How to Catch Kokanee


Kokanee are a land-locked sockeye salmon. They were originally planted in Western reservoirs in the late 1940’s. Today, the kokanee fisheries are quite active in selected Northern California locations. Kokanee reach adulthood in about 4 years, the same as for other salmon.

They spawn in late summer or fall in lake tributaries. Kokanee can reach a length of 16 to 20 inches or more, but the overcrowding of the species (and resulting need to share a limited food resource) generally results in mature kokanee in the 8 to 14 inch range. Even at this modest size they are a desirable catch because they taste great.

Plankton is the main food source of kokanee, so fishing for them requires an offering that provides color and movement to get their attention. They are a school fish, so once one is located, the chances of catching more kokanee are good.

How to Catch Kokanee

The almost universal technique to catch kokanee is trolling. Like other salmon, kokanee prefer cold water (about 50f, in fact). This means that when a lake is stratified the kokanee are down deep. However, in spring and late fall, kokanee can be trolled for near the surface.

The approaches used for kokanee trolling have much more in common with lake trolling for trout. In fact, identical equipment and rigging is used. Lake trolling is described in detail in the Trout (in Lakes) post. Rather than repeating all of this information here are some highlights of the few differences and the key points to success.

  • The most popular lures are nickel/red head, fire/pearl, rainbow and pearl/red head. Small spoons are most popular; Needlefish and Super-duper, size #1. A Wedding Ring lure tipped with corn is also great.
  • In very cold, clear water it is possible to troll near the surface.
  • However, kokanee are down more than 10 feet (the usual situation).
  • A rubber snubber is necessary because kokanee have soft, delicate mouths. The snubber absorbs the shock of the strike.
  • A diving plane or lead core line can be trolled down to about 40 ft. Downriggers are well suited to kokanee trolling at 20 to 40 feet or even deeper.
  • Use the same trolling techniques as used for trout; troll slow, work in an S pattern and vary your speed often.
  • An electronic fish finder can locate the school of kokanee and tell you what depth to troll.
  • Many kokanee anglers add a single kernel of white corn, a small pinch of worm, a salmon egg, or a short piece of red or white yarn to the hook of their lure. Try it if action is slow.

Where to Fish for Kokanee

Lake Tahoe, Donner and Bullards Bar can produce kokanee in the 14 to 20 inch size bracket. mature, smaller fish (8 to 12) are the rule in lakes like Whiskeytown, Pardee, Bucks, Ice House, Camanche, Echo and Stampede.

Cleaning and Cooking Kokanee

Most anglers clean and prepare kokanee the same as they would smaller trout – see the Trout (in streams) post. Kokanee have a very mild, salmon-type meat.

How to Catch Crawfish

(Post last updated: April 13, 2015)
What You Will Learn In This Article:
  • How to Catch Crawfish
  • Tackle and Equipment for Crawfish
  • Where to Fish for Crawfish
  • Cleaning and Cooking Crawfish

Why fish for crawdads, or crayfish, or crawfish anyway? Quite simply, because they’re delicious – like mini lobster! And besides, they’re easy to catch and a snap to prepare. California crawfish can reach about 6 inches long and vary in color from brownish, to reddish or greenish.

Although there is no minimum size limit, most anglers return smaller crawdads (less than 2 to 3 inches) since the amount of edible meat on these is slight.

How to Catch Crawfish

The easiest way to catch a batch of crawfish is to use one or more wire traps. These traps have funnel-shaped openings that allow the crawdad to get in but not out. Crawfish traps are available in many bait and tackle shops. They go for about $15 to $20, but can be purchased on sale for as little as $10.

These traps are baited with a piece of chicken or liver, or a can of dog food (fish flavored is good). Perforate the dog food can with a can opener. Secure the can or other bait in the middle of the trap with a line or string. All you do is lower the trap to the bottom on a rope and wait.

Crawfish are most active at night and prefer rocky areas (provides a good place to hide). Undercut river bank in shady areas are also good. If evening or night fishing is not convenient, try it in the daytime. We’ve seen many crawfish caught when the sun is up.

Another technique popular with kids is to lower a strip of bacon or piece of liver into the water using a string or fishing line. Lower it to the bottom and wait. Once is awhile, slowly raise up the bait and ease a landing net under it, right near the surface. Usually the crawfish will hang on to the bait long enough to be caught in the net. A boat dock or tied-up houseboat is a great place to catch crawfish using this technique.

Caught crawfish can be stored alive for up to a day in a bucket that is covered with a damp towel or gunnysack. This is important because crawfish are cooked alive (like lobster), at least they are alive when cooking starts.


Tackle and Equipment for Crawfish

You’ll need the following to catch crawfish:

A bucket (to keep your catch in)
A crawfish trap or two, or
A pole and line (or rod, reel and line)
Bait (dog food, chicken leg, bacon, and liver)

Where to Fish for Crawfish

The Delta is very good. Many lakes, ponds and streams are also good. See the “Freshwater Fishing” section for more details.

Cleaning and Cooking Crawfish

Crawfish don’t need to be cleaned. Most people cook them whole – the edible meat is in the tail and pinchers. But some people just remove the tails and cook them. If you do this, you can remove the tail by twisting and pulling it off where it meets the body. Then grasp the middle of the three flippers at the end of the tail.

Twisting and pulling it will pull out the black entrail string that runs along the top of the meat under the tail side. If it doesn’t come out, don’t worry. You can easily remove it after cooking when the shell is removed.

The first step in most crawfish recipes is cooking them for about 10 minutes in boiling, salted water. The shell is bright red when crawdads are done. A whole crawfish can then be eaten like small lobster. Or you can clean out the meat (use a nutcracker and nut pick) and sauté it in your favorite Newburg sauce.

A popular recipe is to heat a little butter in a skillset and add fresh pressed garlic, sweet basil, finely chopped fresh parsley, a touch of olive oil and pepper. Now add about a fourth cup of white wine, a bowl of boiled and shelled crawdad claws and tail meat, and sauté for a few minutes.

Serve over rice for a gourmet treat!