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Volcano Halibut

by: George Van Zant
The Long Beach breakwater really slows the ocean currents down along the beach. There's hardly any wave action and what little there is occurs mostly at the most southerly beach along the Belmont Shore area. Because of this the Long Beach harbor area is mostly a mud filled bottom except in the gaps where the boats traverse to open ocean. The tidal flows are very strong through these gaps but the rest of the harbor does not receive current that can wash the mud away. Mud bottoms are not conducive to good fishing conditions. But fortunately there exists a true oasis directly in the middle of the harbor. Four oil drilling islands that were constructed in the harbor has created a super fishing habitat for the local halibut anglers.

The islands were constructed by building a rectangle of rocks then filling the area inside with sand dredged from outside. If you meter your depth finder over the area around the island you will find mounds of sand rising 15 to 20 feet from the surface. These volcano like mounds all meter as hard bottom sand and become a home for the California halibut. Even though the harbor currents are weak there is just enough flow to sweep away the mud from these mounds and expose the hard shell and sand bottom that halibut enjoy. If you fish it right, you can't miss bagging a "butt."

When you fish these mounds don't use anchovies. The tom cod and lizard fish will drive you crazy. Try to catch smelt around the piers and docks. If you have a large hoop net, drop it down and chum bread over it and pull it up as the smelt charge the bread. Or use a number 14# hook and a bread ball or a piece of clam to catch them one at a time. The tom cods don't often eat smelt and lizard fish will only grab them occasionally but halibut love to eat them. It's a fact that it's their favorite morsel around the mounds. Also, smelt last much longer than an anchovy in the bait tank. You can fish all day with 30 smelt. Small tom cod to 5 inches are also an excellent bait but very difficult to catch.

Gear used:

Fish Finders:
Raytheon Depth Finder L470

Ande Monofilament
Ande Tournament Monofilament

Eagle Claw Hooks, L226NG Octopus
George Van Zant Ultra Spinning Rod
Lamiglas Pro "E" Series XCF665 Bass Rod

Daiwa SS Tournament SS1300 Spinning Reel
Abu Garcia Ambassadeur C-3 Bass Reel

Use light tackle to fish the mounds. Start with 8 LB line and if the butts are being difficult, I usually go to as light as 4 lb. Fit the hook size to the size of the smelt. Four inch smelt can easily carry a number 1# or 2# hook. Donıt use heavy ocean sproat hooks, thin wire hooks work better with the light lines. Slip egg sinkers can be used but block them with a small split shot rather than adding a swivel to the line. Every knot you add to terminal tackle decreases the strength of the line. Split shot or ear grip sinkers work the best if you donıt nick the line when you squeeze them on. You can add a small piece if plastic inside the gap of the sinker before pinching it to the line to avoid this problem. Skinny fly type rods converted to spinning work excellent. They absorb the sporadic lunges of the fish while acting as a shock absorber for the light line. I use a spinning reel that has a smooth drag, especially when 4 to 6 pound test is needed. Very large halibut reach about 15 pounds around the hills while the average "keeper" will reach 5 to 10 pounds. Light conventional bass reels and rods work better than spinning when I have to fish below 25 feet. I use 10 to 12 pound test line because many of the mound bases are 35 feet or deeper. My favorite terminal tackle with the heavier line is a dropper leader placed above a chrome torpedo sinker. The leader should be about 2 feet long and tied in 2 feet above the sinker. Use a barrel knot or a surgeons knot.

Itıs best to anchor the stern of your boat just slightly forward of the hill. Cast the bait as far as you can and allow it to sink to the bottom. Slowly inch the bait up the hill. When the fish picks up the bait it will feel to you like a bottom hang-up. Set your rod down and wait 2 minutes before setting the hook. If you retrieve to the top of the mound without a pick-up allow the bait to stay there for at least 5 minutes because as you dragged the bait up the hill one or two "butts" surely followed it. Sometimes a long pause will entice them to attack, especially directly on top of the hill. Finally, as you wind it up do so slowly with the rod tip high. Many times they will chase the bait and grab it just before you lift it out of the water. With the rod tip high it allows you to drop quickly so they donıt feel the pressure and it gives you time to release the reel bail so they can swim freely back to the bottom where they will usually swallow the bait. Carry a wide landing net and "net" all fish if possible. California law states that halibut under 22 inches in length must be returned and you must measure them with the mouth closed.

Finding the volcanoes can be simple but obviously you have to use a depth finder. Obtain the latest navigational chart for the harbor, look carefully and you will find the mounds as depth marks much shallower than the surrounding area, then go looking. It requires lots of patience to find the peaks, sometimes hours of metering the area, but stay with it youıll be
rewarded in the end. A word of advice about your depth finder. It doesnıt matter what your make of depth finder, .... itıs extremely important to set the "gain" before you start and donıt touch it during the search. As the volcanoes meter hard bottom they will also show a second echo. Constant adjustment of the gain upwards gives you a false reading by adding an second echo when the bottom really isnıt hard. And finally if you find hard bottom without a mound donıt hesitate fishing it, most of the time some kind of fish will be lurking near by.

Donıt pass up using this procedure in other harbors or estuaries up and down the coast. Navigational charts are very accurate and you can find charts on all pacific coast waterways. Also, many of the harbors are being dredged constantly and as mother nature packs the sand back it creates a constant bottom upheaval which leads to the depressions and hills so lucrative to the halibut fishery.

Added: Fri Oct 10 2008
Last Modified: Thu May 14 2009

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