Southern California Halibut Fishing Tips

By Jim Hendricks

Many anglers associate California halibut fishing with drifting or slow-trolling over mud and sand flats. Yet some of the most consistent fishing takes place adjacent to structure such as wrecks, outcroppings, jetties, breakwaters and artificial reefs. In my early years of fishing, we’d hook one or two halibut while fishing rocky areas and wrecks for calico bass or rockfish, and the fish we caught were often hefty 20- to 30-pounders. Then it dawned on me that California halibut like structure as much as bass and rockfish.

Depth seems irrelevant, as I have caught halibut on structure in 20- to 200-foot depths. One constant is the manner in which these fish orient to structure. California halibut look for horizontal surfaces, usually the seabed next to the structure. However, I have also caught halibut off the decks of wrecks as well as on low-relief rock slabs. Check out these other halibut fishing tips that might help you land more fish:

Work the Edges

If you’re fishing for halibut, work the edges of a wreck, sea wall, kelp bed, or shoreline cobble that melds to sand. And don’t discount inside edges and small sand patches in rocky bottom.

I have caught big halibut using my fish finder to locate smooth patches no more than 20 feet wide dotting a reefy area. Be prepared for a bite as soon as you drop a bait or lure on these patches.

Drift-fishing the edges often proves effective, but consider anchoring to fish an edge, repositioning to work the entire area. Electric trolling motors also help you present baits and lures with pinpoint accuracy.

Current Is Key When Halibut Fishing

While working the edges of shoreline spots and kelp beds, a flood tide generates the best current, transporting forage such as baitfish and squid. On wrecks, rock piles and reefs in open water, the up-current side of the structure often produces best.

Find a point such as the tip of a wreck or the end of a jetty with current flowing around it and you’ve found the alpha position for ambush predators such as halibut. This is where you will often catch the biggest ones, the so-called barn doors.

Don’t hesitate to work all sides of a structure spot, as currents at greater depths sometimes differ from those higher in the water column. If you are fishing an upright wreck that retains portions of its deck, work a bait across it. Halibut like to play king of the mountain on structure.