How To Spearfish For California Halibut

Few fish are able to hold the allure of spearos more than the halibut. They’re aggressive, strong, and will wear you out but the rewards are worth the effort. Hunting for halibut off the coast of California is a once in a lifetime experience that all should try at least one time. Spearfishing halibut is on a whole other level and is ready for the adventurous anglers. How do you spearfish for halibut in California? What are the rules? What type of gear do I need? These questions and more will be answered in this guide on How To Spearfish For California Halibut.

What Are the Basics of Spearfishing?

Tracing its history back to ancient times, spearfishing is one of the first methods of projectile hunting. Man had been using spears on land for millennia and, most likely, transitioned to spears in the water. Techniques for hunting fish in rivers, lakes, streams, and oceans have been passed down for generations but spearfishing has stood the test of time. Today, spearfishing has entered the 21st century. Anglers can dive under the water to hunt or snorkel along the surface. Typically, they will use a speargun that has a spear attached with string locked and loaded. The spearo, otherwise known as the person doing the spearfishing, will wait patiently, observing fish habits and locations. They will prepare to shoot while hiding behind natural barriers like kelp or rocks. When the fish comes into sight, the spearo will unleash the spear at the fish in hopes to “stone”, or stun, the fish. If done properly, the fish will be caught and you can tie it up on your line to fish again.

Tell Me More About The Fish

Halibut is one of the most popular fish in the world to eat for a reason. The meat is fleshy, delicious, and cooks up beautifully. It’s become one of the go-to protein choices on menus around the world. Fisherman from all over come to the shores of California to snatch themselves a big one but what is it about the fish that drives people wild? Halibut is a flatfish from the flounder family. Their name actually comes from its popularity on Catholic holy days, like Lent. Haly is translated from holy, while butte means flat fish–halybutte is holy flatfish. The Pacific halibut is easily the world’s biggest flatfish. In 2014, a man caught a Pacific halibut that weighed 482 lbs. That is a whole lot of fish to go around. They’re demersal, meaning they live on or near the bottom of the ocean floor. The major concentrations of Pacific halibut are located along the continental shelf in the Bering Sea of Alaska but pockets are found up and down the west coast of North America. These diamond shaped behemoths are known to have big appetites to fit their growing bodies. They dine on cod, pollock, octopus, crab, shrimps, and most anything else they can get their mouths around. Halibut are popular for their large yields of meat and for the strong, aggressive fight they put up when being hunted.

How About the Halibut Spearfishing Regulations?

Monitored and tracked by the California Recreational Fisheries Survey, weekly catch estimates are produced for Pacific Halibut. This means that they’re making sure the population remains stable and sustainable in the fisheries. The season for Pacific halibut range throughout the year–May 1st through June 15th, July 1st through July 15th, August 1st through the 15th, and September 1st through October 31st. If the quotas are reached at any point, the season may be ended early. With a current California fishing license, spearos are also limited to one line with a maximum of two hooks. Spearos are allowed a daily bag and possession limit of one fish with no minimum size limit. California halibut, not to be confused with the Pacific halibut, has a season that’s open year round. You’ll need a minimum catch of 22 inches for these hunts so be sure that you’re scoping out the big boys before making your move.

Where are the Best Locations in California?

California halibut used to be a lot more plentiful than they are today. In the 80s, the fleet of sportfishing boats was able to pull in 3,500 halibut per season. Now, while not as filled as before, good fishing for halibut can be found up and down the coast of California. Here’s a look at the top locations in both the Northern region and Southern regions of California.

Northern California

  • Sausalito – Just across the water from the city of San Francisco, in Richardson Bay, lies some great fishing just off the coast. In waters with depths from 10 to 80 feet, halibut love to swim and eat the plentiful bounties.
  • San Francisco – The Pacific Ocean is home to millions of species of sea life and the Pacific halibut is still one of the most fascinating. Charters leave from the harbors and piers in downtown and travel short distances to the perfect shore destinations. From here, spearos will have their pick of any number of awaiting halibut.
  • Eureka – Further north, in the town of Eureka, lies one of the best-hidden locations for halibut. Directly from the shore, you can find wonderful supplies of mid-sized halibut. This is a great place to test your beginner skills in the open water.

Southern California

  • San Diego – Home to some of the best fishing, let alone spearfishing, in the world, San Diego is a terrific beginner option for hunting halibut. Spearfishing in the clear, warm ocean waters makes for the ideal conditions to bag your first halibut.
  • Newport Beach – There aren’t too many options for the most picturesque shore fishing in the world but Newport Beach is definitely one of them. Beaches lined with million dollar homes and yachts dotting the horizon are meant to distract from the hunting of halibut. Don’t let it take your motivation because the halibut is plentiful and delicious.
  • Big Sur – Driving up and down the coast of California is one of life’s ultimate bucket list items. If you do stop in the phenomenal Big Sur, you can find some monster halibut that have worked their way to the south’s warmer waters.

What Type of Gear Will do I need?

The gear needed to spearfish halibut is a little different than what you’d need to tackle some of the smaller fish. Halibut are fighters and you’ll need to prepare for their environment. Here is a basic list of gear necessary to bag your first halibut. If you’re using a charter, they will typically provide the gear.

  • Speargun – You may use a pole spear or Hawaiian sling but in the waters of California, you’ll likely want a speargun–especially when hunting halibut. They are strong and aggressive, so you’ll want a matching force to combat their power. A shorter speargun is necessary for waters with low visibility so take into account where you’ll be fishing before choosing.
  • Wetsuit – It can get cold in the waters of California. If you’re further north this is even truer. A wetsuit is your skin’s barrier to the water, keeping it warm in the frigid temperatures. This is essential to how long you can stay in the water.
  • Gloves – Not just a wetsuit is necessary for spearfishing, gloves are also a vital tool. Halibut will bite and they will bite hard. A good set of gloves can protect your hands as you battle the fish to shore.
  • Knife – Most spearos bring a spearfishing knife with them on their hunts. It can be one of the most versatile tools in your kit. If you spear a fish and it starts swimming in circles, the line will wrap around your body. A knife can save your life in the water.

You will need more gear but these are the key items. The more experience you gain, the more you’ll know how to use each piece of gear to your specifications. Start with the basics and build your perfect gear supply.

How About the Hunt Itself?

By now, you’ve read the rest of this guide and seen the numerous references to the strength and aggressiveness of halibut. This isn’t meant to scare you, just prepare you for the hunt ahead. They are strong and they are aggressive but that’s part of what makes hunting them so worthwhile. A good rule of thumb is to hunt halibut during their spawning season. Around 5 days before a full moon and up to 2 days after, you’ll find halibut cozying up to the shore. This timeframe is a perfect way to bag your daily allotment throughout the season. Morning high tide is when they’ll be most plentiful. There is also a good time of year to nab them and it’s typically around late Spring. Check the tide schedules in April until June and look for a solid high tide in the morning and get out there. Coves, points, piers, jetties, and sand dollar beds are the best locations to find halibut off the shore in California. You won’t be dealing with any 100 lb. beasts though. You’re more likely to find halibut in the range of 5 to 25 pounds. Much more manageable of a number than what you’d find being pulled off the lines in Alaska. Once out on the water, you’re going to want to prepare your gun for the hunt. Halibut love to bury their bodies in the sand to camouflage–use this to your advantage. If near rocks, be careful of your spear as they may break or chip on the obstacles if you miss. Move very slowly when hunting halibut, they can sense the movement and will get spooked. When you see the fish you’d like to hunt, be sure not to get too excited. You’ll want to aim at the spine of the fish, just behind the neck to ensure a quick kill and to pin it to the seafloor. If you do find yourself in a fight, be patient. The halibut flesh is soft and the spear is prone to ripping out. Once you’ve bagged your fish, you’ll want to slide your fingers through one side of the gills with your thumb holding the other side. This will paralyze the fish and allow it to be brought to the surface where you can admire your catch. Spearfishing in California for halibut is challenging, rewarding, and usually ends up being absolutely delicious. Halibut is one of the Earth’s best sources of meat and protein and can be found just off the shore. Whether you like to fish for sport, sustenance, or pleasure–halibut spearfishing is waiting for you to give it a try. Click here and here to see some halibut spearfishing.


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