Fishing between the pilings for halibut

SC McCarty

Well-Known Member
Ken has frequently mentioned that one of the best places to fish for halibut is between the pilings.
  • Does this mean dropping bait straight down, or casting back under the pier?
  • Hooking a large, fresh fish close to the pier would seem to risk having it wrap around pilings. How do you discourage them from doing this?
  • Halibut have a reputation for taking a test nibble before making a solid bite. At the risk of asking you to put years of experience in words:
    • How do you tell that a nibble is a halibut?
    • What do you do when you feel the nibble (give slack/take in slack)?
    • Is there anything different about this when you are fishing close to or under the pier?
I know that I have asked a lot here. Partial answers will be appreciated from any who don't want to write an essay.


Brock Norris

Well-Known Member
Steve all good questions . usually just dropping between pilings not casting under pier . Hard to tell if the nibbles are halibut until you check bait and see there long rakes toward the end of bait anchovies sardines mackerel etc.Some times halibut will tap tap and go away or lay on bait for as long as fifteen minutes be patient drag not to tight or if fishing conventional reels keep in free spool and let line out when needed.And yes pilings can get in way when fighting a good fish I've found after hook set pointing the rod down toward water creates a better angle of line and fish better chance of fish swimming out from pilings raising the rod up tends to send fish back to pilings . Ok my opinions and experience others may have opinions its all good good luck and with enough time and effort skill luck will favor you . Ok kinda long but hopefully helps Brock

Ken Jones

Staff member
SC, for me it means casting back under the pier. I try to get it right midway between the pilings (depending upon the current) and as close to the middle of the pier widthwise as possibe (most piers are about 20 feet wide). I almost always keep the rod in my hand if fishing for the halibut and as for the bite it's really something you sort of have to develop a feel for (and I agree with Brock's comments). As for the pilings and wrapping your line, that's always a danger but one reason to hold the rod and try to keep the fish as far away from the pilings once hooked. Probably the hardest is when you are on a pier where the pilings are covered with kelp, that can be a real challenge. And, by the way, I expect to lose a sinker or two on most of my visits due to where I put the bait.
If I’m fishing the pier, I’m usually fishing for halibut. Actually, I’m most always fishing for halibut. So, back to the pier, I’ll start out making bait, smelt is usually pretty easy with a Sabiki tipped with small pieces of squid, but I use an umbrella net. Save your old bread, hotdog buns whatever doesn’t get used up before getting too old or molding and store it in the freezer until it’s time to go fish.

I lower my net about 4 to 6 feet and let it sit there. During that time, I’ll fill my bait bucket. I use a 7 gal. bucket and a bubbler and stone. Hauling that up to the pier is tough so I have a 2 gal bucket for hauling up the water. This also makes it easy to change out the water throughout the day.

I get the bread wet, squish it in my hands/fingers and slowly drop small blobs over the net and pay attention to the current, then toss it so it will drift into or over the net. It doesn’t take long for the smelt to catch on that there’s food and the feeding frenzy will begin. Here is where dropping small amounts matters. If you drop too much it will drift away along with the feeding frenzy. You want to keep them near/over your net or where your Sabiki is. So time the dropping of the bread, the feeding frenzy, and pull the net for a quick dozen smelt and your fishing for the halibut. Once soaking a bait you can continue to make bait.

OK, back to the thread question…. Fishing the pilings for the Halibut. I fish the smelt with a Carolina Rig and a 3 to 4 ft. length between the hook and a ¾ Oz. egg sinker(wind and conditions dependent). I will cast out as far as the ¾ Oz. and bait will get me, let it sink and wait about 2 min. slowly reel in the slack and then lift your rod pulling the sinker and bait about 10 ft. (depending on your rod length) and wait again 2 min. Repeat this until your bait is directly below you and lean the rod on the pier rail and reel up until the weight is about 6 inches off of the bottom. Wait until you can’t stand it and repeat, fanning your location and covering as much area as you can. Yes casting under the pier is good too. Remember, the pier is structure attracting bait and providing cover for the bait and predators.

What does a halibut ‘Hit” feel like???? Sometimes you think you are snagged, zero movement, just stuck until you pull enough to piss her off and off she runs. Other times, as you are in your 2 min hold between pulls you will get a tap and the line starts slowly pulling away. As Ken said, hold your rod to feel what’s happening and when they pull the line, open the bail and let them go. Give it a 5 count, click over the bail wind up and set the hook. When you’re dangling down off the rail, leave the clicker on and little to no drag until that wonderful ZZZZZ goes off.

OK, the fine print secrets for me… I use Owner MUTU Lite 2/0, 15 Lb. P-line with a Carolina Keeper (best invention ever, no knots in your line) and anal hook the smelt. Anal hooking them keeps them swimming away from the weight in a ‘panic mode’ which the vibrations will attract the halibut as an easy meal.

Good Luck Let us know how you do! Tight Lines Erik


Well-Known Member
drop a swim bait to the bottom and hop it around. watch and feel your lure/line hit the bottom, move the rod to hop it a few feet or as you reel towards yourself. you can catch halibut, stripers, lingcod, bigger rockfish this way. either its a tap tap, snaggy hold, or a sudden grab. whatever is not normal is suspect.

SC McCarty

Well-Known Member
Thanks to all for your varied replies. I am sorry for the delay in posting this. I thought I had replied a week ago, but perhaps I got distracted and did not press the post reply button.



Active Member
Great information, Billzerkeley! I do recognize the "locations" in your posts. What's the bait situation like lately? I was out there a couple of weeks ago when bait sized smelt were pretty scarce. Took a couple of hours just to scratch up 5 decent "candy bars".