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2017 AOTY/DOTY Entry

Article written and submitted by -- Allen Bushnell   aka: scallen

The dedicated kayak angler will be the first to tell you that there is nothing like catching a BIG fish from their small boat. In the Monterey Bay area the premiere game fish available to kayak anglers has got to be the California Halibut. They get big, take experience and technique to catch, and despite their pattern of spawning in shallow water are somewhat elusive.

The dedicated kayak angler will be the first to tell you that there is nothing like catching a BIG fish from their small boat. In the Monterey Bay area the premiere game fish available to kayak anglers has got to be the California Halibut. They get big, take experience and technique to catch, and despite their pattern of spawning in shallow water are somewhat elusive. In my home fishing grounds around Santa Cruz, the halibut season stretches from April through October, with the best months being June, July, and August for the warmer waters within the Bay, and September for the HOGS off our North Coast. Halibut can be caught using a variety of lures or bait, but for this article, I'll stick to my favorite method for catching and retaining big halibut on the fishing kayak.

I use a variety of rods and reels for the halibut, from a mooching-type parabolic paired with a high-speed Penn 975cs holding 15 pound test, to the CalStar 196 with a fast tip and my Penn 500 spooled with 20 pound. The lighter line makes the fight more sporting, but the CalStar is more of a "sure thing." The fast tip puts less stress on the line when the flattie decides to rocket towards the bottom again, and the hefty butt gives me much more leverage to gently yet firmly convince the fish to come up again. I always use a loose drag for these fish.

For terminal tackle, I prefer a sliding egg sinker to a salmon bead, above a quality barrel snap swivel. My leader is usually a 20 lb. fluorocarbon up to four feet long. I tie a stinger set-up with a fixed or sliding snelled single 1/0 hook and a hard tied #2 treble at the terminus. I use the wire-type hooks because they penetrate well, and can sometimes be bent off the submarine rocks or seaweed when they snag.

Usually, I will tie up a good number of leaders beforehand and use the double surgeon's loop to attach the leader to the snap swivel after figuring out how long I want the leader to be for the day. The rule of thumb is: The better the clarity of water, the longer the leader. In murky waters I have used leaders as short as 18 inches, and have heard of anglers going as short as 6 inches. If you are missing strikes, try shortening your leader and you may be surprised.

Above all, I prefer to fish halibut with live bait. Anchovies and sardines are the most common bait available locally, though I have used kingfish and smelt with success. Live squid are killer but very hard to come by. Dead squid would be my second choice. I use as little weight as possible to stay near the bottom without scoping out the line too much. Movement is critical to cover territory for halibut, if the wind or current do not provide a drift, I will paddle very slowly to cover ground, trying at the same time to keep my lines as close to vertical as possible, even if it means changing to a heavier weight.

I have the best catch rate when I fish with my reel in free spool, my rod in my hand, and my thumb on the spool. I try to hover the bait over the bottom at about a foot or two as I fish. When a halibut hits, I immediately give free spool and let the fish take line. I'm often asked, "How long do you let the flattie take line?" My answer is "as long as you can stand it!" When I've made my decision, I will point the rod at the water, engage the reel, and wind as fast as I can while slowly swinging the rod back to load it up. Then the fight is on.

I try to always bring fish up on the left side of my kayak. I make sure during the fight that my gaff is ready and my diver's stringer is within reach and open. Once the fish is at the surface and tired out, I'll hold my rod in my right hand above the reel, careful not to pinch the line, stretch the rod as far as possible to my right, and gaff the fish with my left. If I miss the gaff or the fish otherwise decides to take another dive, I point the rod at the water and let him take line, then repeat the landing process. I use a "bat gaff" with a straight angled hook, which lets me twist and hold the fish to the deck of my kayak while I grab the tied-off diver's stringer and hook the fish up. Using the stringer to flip the fish over if necessary, I put the wood to him with the "bat" portion of the bat gaff.

On a side note: When bringing in bigger fish, they often end up on my lap. Due to a previous near-tragic experience, I've learned to position the halibut's mouth AWAY from my crotch, as they often come aboard snapping those big toothy jaws. The fishing kayak has minimal deck space, so the equipment we carry has to be well thought out and reachable without turning or twisting around while trying to maintain balance in the small boat.

All that's left at this point is to secure the fish on top of or inside the kayak for transport. Be very sure the fish is tied down, as flatties have a tendency to go ballistic long after you thought they were dead.

By Allen Bushnell

anything