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Great May for halibut on bay—Tom Stienstra

Posted by Ken Jones (Skipper - Posts: 11990)
on May-26-08 12:22pm

Other fish down, but a great May for halibut on bay
Tom Stienstra, San Francisco Chronicle
Sunday, May 25, 2008

In the history of bay fishing, there has never been a May like this one. And for anglers, it comes just in time.

At the turn of the month, halibut roared en masse into the bay. It seemed an anomalous gift of fate, that is, something to fish for in the light of the salmon closure, the decline of the striped bass and the delay of the rockfish season. But in the weeks that followed, the halibut have just kept coming.

What we have now is the makings of a landmark season. Anglers on boats have been averaging about two legal halibut per rod (lower when the wind is up), plus about five shakers for every keeper over the 22-inch minimum size limit. At Loch Lomond Harbor in San Rafael, 40-pounders were weighed in on back-to-back days, the first time that's ever happened.

In addition, catches at several piers have been the best ever, at Paradise Cay on the Tiburon Peninsula and at the Marin Rod & Gun Club at the western foot of the San Rafael-Richmond Bridge, and to a lesser extent (and only on high tides) at Berkeley Pier.

"This is the best start to a fishing season on San Francisco Bay in 25 years," said Keith Fraser at Loch Lomond Live Bait. "We had great sturgeon fishing in 1983 and 2006, but in those cases it started late, and we've had a few great years for striped bass, but they never started this fast either."

"You'd be hard pressed to find a spot in the bay where there aren't any halibut," said Gordy Hough, the 30-year skipper of the Morning Star, which berths out of Loch Lomond. "The fishery is obviously very healthy."

The first signs that something special was at hand came in April. In most years, Hough said that while anchored and fishing for sturgeon in San Pablo Bay, he might see one or two halibut caught by accident in April. This year, they caught seven in a handful of trips. The consensus is that halibut have been drawn in from the ocean because of the high amount of food in the bay, anchovies, shiner perch and jacksmelt, and little competition from other large predator fish, such as striped bass.

Timing can be critical. Stay away from the big minus low tides, like the minus 1.9 that arrived during the first week of May. The reason minus tides hurt halibut fishing is that the water gets muddy and it is difficult to get the right drift.

The ideal tide for halibut is where there is a 3-to-4.5-foot difference between two tides. A good example is Saturday. A low tide of 0.0 feet at 3 a.m. is followed by a high tide of 4.0 feet at 10:03 a.m. After that, a low tide of 1.8 feet arrives at 2:45 p.m. This means that in the morning, you will have four feet of moving water, and in the early afternoon you will have about two feet of moving water. So the prime fishing period for halibut next Saturday will be from 8 a.m. to noon.

The best spots for this tide are Paradise Cay off Tiburon, just south of Red Rock near Richmond, and the cove on the southwest side of Angel Island. At the high tide and first two hours of outgoing tide, that is when the Berkeley Flats and Alameda Rock Wall come to life. At times, the west side of Treasure Island and South Hampton Shoal can be good. As summer arrives, Crissy Field and Seal Rock along San Francisco can be excellent.

In addition, new areas are discovered every week. Last weekend, for instance, there was a report of a guy who was fed up with all the boats at Paradise. So he bailed for the deep cove off San Quentin State Prison and threw his bait out offshore in 15 feet of water. Nobody would ever fish here for halibut, believe me. Yet in a few hours, he and a pal caught six halibut topped by a 20-pounder. Crazy.

There have also been some outrageous stories from piers. At Paradise Park Pier, Ed Chin of Mill Valley hooked four halibut in two hours, and landed three topped by a 12-pounder. Field scout Mike Kozak has been "trolling from a pier" (see sidebar) and has had a sensational streak of catches this month at the Marin Rod & Gun Club Pier.

If you've never fished for halibut, it takes a degree to figure out when to set the hook.

"The halibut makes little short bites," Fraser said. "So I lower the rod tip at first and stay tuned in. Then when he really takes it, you know it, and I set the hook, not hard like with a sturgeon, and the fight is on."

Another trick is to add a stinger hook (see sidebar) to help with the short bites.

Halibut are among the tastiest and most coveted fish in the sea, producing beautiful fillets of boneless white meat. They taste mild, even sweet, a favorite with lime, and are among the best when prepared as ceviche, or barbecued on mesquite, with lime and cilantro added for sumptuous fish tacos.

One word of caution for the summer: My advice is for each angler to take no more than one or two halibut a week, and release the rest. Then you have a chance for the halibut fishing to be as good in August and September as it is now. With so many fish being taken right now, the three-fish limit set by Fish and Game will do nothing to protect the adult population. In short, the bay could get fished out by July - and then you'll have to wait a year for all the shorts to grow up to legal size.

But the current fishing is a landmark phenomenon. If you have driven over the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge on a weekend, you can see 100 boats at Paradise Cay south of the western foot of the bridge at San Rafael, and another 30 or 40 just south of Red Rock on the south side near Richmond. It's this way at many spots.

Right now is the golden age for halibut in San Francisco Bay.

"The Great Outdoors With Tom Stienstra" airs Sundays at 10 a.m. on KMAX-31 Sacramento.

How to rig for halibut

-- Live bait: Start with a three-way swivel. Tie your fishing line to one of the swivels. From another swivel, tie 12 to 16 inches of line and tie on a sinker, 4 to 12 ounces (depending on the depth and speed of current), 6 to 8 ounces usually is fine. From the third swivel, tie three feet of leader to a 1/0 or 2/0 short-shanked live-bait hook. Hook a live shiner perch horizontally through what looks like nose holes; for anchovies for bait, hook them vertically through the snout.

-- Insider's trick: One trick is to leave three inches of excess line from the knot on your hook, and tie on a No. 6 treble hook. This is what is called a "stinger." Because halibut are notorious short strikers, it can hook the short strikers.

-- Trolling on foot: Field scout Michael Kozak has developed a system in which he uses a plastic swim bait on a jig and then walks along a pier at trolling speed. Joel Cinque of Sonoma uses a similar system from piers with live bait;he simulates motor mooching. Both are catching nearly as many halibut as those on boats.

-- "Gulping": Start by placing a sliding egg sinker (oval shaped sinker with hole in center) on your line, and then tie on a barrel swivel. From the other end of swivel, tie on 36 to 40 inches of leader to a live bait hook. For bait, use a four-inch Berkley Gulp Minnows (a swim bait), and hook the minnow through the nose. "Walk it along the bottom," says halibut expert John Beath, who helped develop this technique. "Raise it three or four feet off the bottom to give the fish a chance to see it."

-- Neon light: The set-up consists of an Ultra-Violet emitting spreader bar, a double-glow hoochie skirt rigged Glow Torch and circle hook, set off by a UV scent tube. A short animated movie is available at halibut.net/circle-hook-halibut-rig.htm. $28.95. (206) 999-3474
If you want to go

Rules: Halibut minimum size is 22 inches, limit of three per person. You must have a state fishing license ($38.85) and a Bay Enhancement Stamp ($6.05). A one-day license is available for $12.60.

Live shiners: Shiner perch are $16 a dozen. (415) 456-0321.

Party boats: $80, including bait, for most party boats. Small six-pack boats go for $120 a rod.

Contact: Emeryville Sportfishing Center, (800) 575-9944; Berkeley Marina Sport Center, (510) 849-3333; Fish Hookers, Richmond, (916) 777-6498; Fury, Point San Pablo, (800) 499-6465; Bass Tub, San Francisco, (415) 456-9055; Capt. Dave, Oyster Point, (650) 364-4851.


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Link: Tom Stienstra


Current thread:
Great May for halibut on bay—Tom Stienstra   Ken Jones - May-26-08 12:22pm
"-barbecued on mesquite, with lime and cilantro-"   red fish - May-26-08 1:06pm
Re:   riorust - May-26-08 3:16pm
Paradise slow on Monday   piemel - May-27-08 12:31am


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