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January 19, 2012

Great Sight-Cast Fisheries

Five pulse-pounding sight-cast spots guaranteed to rock your world, plus some reader favorites

Eyeballing Flatties

Sight-fishing for halibut in the clear island waters off Southern California

When the water becomes gin-clear around Southern California’s offshore islands, sight-fishing for halibut can be surprisingly effective, according to Capt. Mark Wisch of Huntington Beach, California, who has detailed the technique in his book, In the Gray, a private-boaters guide to fishing island waters (

Spying California halibut even in clear water starts with looking in the right places. “The bulk of the halibut live on sand next to rocks or kelp,” Wisch explains. “If there is any discernible current, the fish tend to be on the up-current edge of the sand.”

Water depth needs to be 25 feet or less so you can see the bottom and any halibut, some of which can reach 30 pounds or more. It helps to let your eyes “go soft,” so you are absorbing more than staring, says Wisch. It also helps to perch in a flybridge or tuna tower, and wear polarized sunglasses to peer through the surface glare.

When scanning, all you might see is the faint irregular pattern of the sand. Even though partially buried in the sand and well camouflaged, a halibut’s oval shape can be discerned as it waits to ambush unwary prey.

Halibut also actively pursue forage. “If there are schools of bait, look under the bait for halibut shadowing them,” says Wisch.

Six-inch-long sardines or ­mackerel jack (known locally as Spanish mackerel) are among the best baits for halibut. Using 20-pound-test, the terminal setup starts with a 2-footlong surgeon’s loop, split so the ends are 18 and 30 inches. Tie a No. 2 treble hook to the short end, and a 6- to 8-ounce torpedo sinker to the long end. The heavier weight helps ensure the bait gets to the bottom quickly.

Because the bait can fold inside the halibut’s mouth, a treble hook results in fewer lost fish, as does hooking the bait with one of the trebles just under the skin on the back, even with the end of the gill covers, says Wisch.

The bait needs to be close to the fish to elicit a strike, though halibut will occasionally chase it a few feet. Once you see the fish inhale the bait, give it a slow count to five, wind down and set the hook. Then play big fish with a drag setting that allows the powerful flatfish an occasional burst of speed. — Jim Hendricks

The Skinny

Location: Islands off Southern California
Prime time: Spring, early summer and late fall
Tackle: Light conventional reel or saltwater bait caster with a matching 7-foot medium-light action rod


Capt. Mark Wisch
Huntington Beach, California

Capt. Dave Hansen
Dana Point, California
Editor’s Note:
Before fishing any island shoreline, check for fishing closures that might be in place for 2012 as part of the California Marine Life Protection Act implementation plan for the South Coast region. For latest update, check back to

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