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Nestled in the shadow of one of the most famous cities in the world, San Francisco Bay has so much to offer. This is especially true for anglers of all shapes and sizes. The Bay Area offers many exciting fishing opportunities to locals and visitors. Halibut fishing in San Francisco Bay is one of them.
While some picture Halibut as a lethargic “Doormat” that does nothing but lie around all day, real anglers know it’s far from the truth. Flatty, Barndoor; you can come up with a dozen other nicknames for the fish, but Halibut remain real predators that can keep any angler satisfied.
In San Fransisco Bay, anglers catch Halibut right in their own backyard. In fact, there are two species of Halibut available in California. But more on that in just a bit. In this article, we’ll talk about the best techniques to land Halibut, the most productive spots, and seasonality. So, without further ado…
California vs Pacific Halibut
As we mentioned above, there are two varieties of Halibut on the menu. These waters are home to California Halibut and Pacific Halibut. In general, you can find both right in San Francisco, but the Bay Area is all about California Halibut.
It’s actually not that hard to tell them apart. The California ones are smaller, leaner, and slightly more delicate; they’re also members of the left-eyed family. These fish are visual predators, unlike their Pacific siblings who hunt by scent.
While California Halibut are smaller, don’t expect to hook into a Flounder-like Doormat. They can actually grow up to 60 pounds in weight and up to five feet in length. Impressive, right?
There is a daily bag and possession limit. You can keep three fish with a minimum total length of 22 inches.
When to catch Halibut in San Francisco Bay?
Typically, the local season begins in April and runs all the way to October. Nearshore waters are the best playgrounds for anglers chasing great numbers anytime in spring and fall. In early spring, large schools of herring come into the bay to spawn. Naturally, Halibut follow their bait and then lay down for the spring season.
That being said, Halibut fishing in San Francisco Bay really is a year-round pleasure.
Don’t get us wrong, winter and summer Halibut fishing isn’t that slow either. The only thing here is that you need to know where to find Halibut! When the weather is fair in winter, you can find a nice catch in depths over 100 feet, while open waters are perfect for a summer Halibut trip.
There are, of course, unusual situations, when it’s extra windy over the ocean and the temperatures are colder than usual. In that case, more Halibut choose to stay in the bay. That’s when extreme tides can easily put these predators into a feeding mood. Local anglers follow something called “Halibut tides,” going out to the bay on days with minimal tidal swings.
How to catch Halibut?
There are two most commonly used methods when catching Halibut – trolling and drifting. Some locals prefer trolling when going for quantity; others go for drift fishing when they’re in the mood for dynamic action. Whichever one you and your captain decide to go for, you’ll normally use a baited line in a slow-moving boat.
In this section, we’ll cover the drifting and trolling techniques, as well as the importance of tides. In addition, we’ll go over what bait, gear, and tackle you might need to get these ferocious fighters to bite.
As we mentioned earlier, drift fishing is a bit more entertaining than trolling when it comes to Halibut fishing in San Francisco Bay. So, what does a typical Halibut drifting charter look like?
As a flatfish, Halibut usually hang out on the bottom of the seabed, waiting for prey. With that in mind, captains try to keep their bait in contact with the seabed while drifting. The boat’s movement is controlled by several factors, including the winds and currents.
If all goes well, at some point, you’ll feel a typical Halibut bite, known for being pretty subtle. An experienced captain will be able to tell it apart without a problem and won’t mistake it for a bait or sinker movement.
Then, all you really need to do is reel the fish in. Halibut stay calm right before they emerge on the surface; that’s when the fight begins.
Trolling for Halibut is pretty similar: your captain will move the boat down the current. The difference here is that the direction and speed are controlled by the captain, rather than winds and currents.
There’s hardly any finesse to Halibut trolling; you’ll mostly need to control the bottom and get the fish to bite. This technique allows you to cover more area than drifting and present more bait. Although it surely isn’t as exciting as drifting, it can be more productive.
Bounce Ball Trolling
As a slow-trolling technique, bounce balling is when you attach a heavy ball near the bait to make sure it stays on the seabed. When it touches the bottom, it might catch Halibut’s attention, and then it’s game on.
This trolling method is especially productive early in the season when live bait isn’t as available.
Tides and Swell
While learning the tides and swells is essential for a successful saltwater fishing trip, it’s especially important when targeting Halibut in San Francisco Bay. When the bay water is clear, you may have more luck presenting your bait. Local captains pay attention to large swells, since it may discourage the action on the bottom.
The majority of San Francisco Halibut captains study tides and wind forecasts on a regular basis. In general, you might have more chances to land the fish a couple of hours before high tide. The best idea is to always follow your captain’s advice and tailor your trip accordingly, especially when it comes to “Halibut tides.” Anticipating good tides is key to successful Halibut fishing in San Francisco Bay.
Gear and Tackle
In general, Halibut in San Francisco Bay range from 6 to 25 pounds, although you can come across the occasional trophy. That said, a sensitive enough standard fishing pole should do the work. Consider a 6.5 or 8’ spinning/casting rod with fast action, paired with a medium-size reel. Keep in mind that the drag needs to be smooth.
Some anglers tend to use two outfits to be ready for different conditions in the bay. These often include a light spinning rod for a sinker of two ounces and an all-action rod for larger sinkers.
Line-wise, you can go for a 50–60 lb braided or a 15–30 lb monofilament line. To match Halibut’s sharp teeth, anglers normally use a 3-foot 20 lb fluorocarbon leader.
Finally, you’ll also need to use a sinker. Some captains use round sinkers up to 8 ounces to cover more conditions and depths of the bay.
It goes without saying that live bait outperforms frozen and artificial bait when it comes to fishing for Halibut. However, using artificial bait can yield great results, especially when anglers go for bounce ball trolling earlier in the season.
Live anchovies are a Halibut favorite. When these baitfish come past Halibut, these hungry predators almost explore out of the sand to grab their food. Naturally, you want to use anchovies over the productive bottom.
However, you can also catch Halibut on small smelt, mudsuckers, and shiner perch.
Where to go Halibut fishing in San Francisco Bay?
Sometimes, Halibut are spread across the bay, and it’s not easy to find them at all. However, if you stick to their usual habitat, you have a higher chance of coming across a hungry Doormat.
The key things that make up a great spot to catch Halibut are reefs, rocks, mud, and sand. The thing is, these fish need a place to blend in and ambush their prey at the nearest opportunity. Alternatively, you can look for areas with a higher congregation of bait fish, such as ledges and eddies, as well as beaches and surf lines.
There are so many spots in San Francisco Bay for Halibut fishing, that we might need a separate article to name them all. Here is a quick list that you might want to consider:
- Alameda Rock Wall. This spot is perfect for an early-season Halibut fishing trip. Here, the action stays solid well into July. The Alameda Rock Wall is also a good spot for kayak anglers.
- Alcatraz Island. A lot of anglers pick up their bait at Pier 47 and hit the Alcatraz Island area for a little bit of drift fishing or bounce-balling. The back side of the island is among the most productive spots.
- Angel Island. The south side of Angel Island offers good opportunities for bounce-balling and drift fishing. If the bite is slow, a lot of anglers will jump from this area to Berkley Flats and Paradise Island.
- Berkeley flats. This is one of the prime spots for Halibut fishing in San Francisco Bay. Berkeley flats are easily accessible from Pier 47, as well as Berkeley, Emeryville, and Richmond ramps.
- Oyster Point. Early season Halibut anglers enjoy working the bottom around Oyster Point, as the fish come to the area to spawn. There’s a public pier and good fishing spots for kayakers.
- Paradise Pier area. The Paradise Pier area is where you can see a lot of charter and party boats looking to catch Halibut. Kayakers also enjoy the area, since the waters are typically calmer.
As we said earlier, the list could go on for quite a while. Candlestick Point, Seal Rocks, Stinson Beach, and Baker Beach are also on the menu. The perimeter connecting the Racoos Straits to the South Hampton Shoals, Treasure Island, and the Berkley Flats is a popular Halibut fishing location. In fact, you can catch Halibut right outside the Golden Gate Bridge!
Frequently Asked Questions
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Do I need a license to go Halibut fishing in San Francisco Bay?
- Every angler aged 16 and older needs to have a California fishing license when fishing for Halibut in San Francisco Bay.
Are Halibut good to eat?
- Halibut make an excellent table fare. Some just put them on a grill at home, while others enjoy them cured with kelp and served raw at a restaurant. As well as that, according to the California Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment, California Halibut are safe for children to eat once a week.
Are San Francisco Halibut fishing trips kids-friendly?
- The short answer is, yes of course. However, Halibut range from 6 to 25 pounds, so kids might need extra assistance if they reel in the fish by themselves.
Halibut Fishing in San Francisco Bay – Almost Like You’re in Alaska
While California Halibut are just another species you can target in the Bay Area, they have so many outstanding qualities. They’re delicious, fun to catch, and challenging to find. And that’s not all. It’s hard to disagree that these fish are pretty unique. But don’t just take our word for it. Hit the waters yourself and see what Halibut fishing in San Francisco Bay is all about!
What’s your favorite part about fishing for Halibut in San Francisco Bay? Do you prefer them over Pacific Halibut? Let us know in the comments below!
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