Urban Halibut Hunt In San Francisco

I started making my way back down to Southern California last week.  I’ve got a trip going out Sunday night…hopefully to get on some seabass.  With that goal in mind, I took the direct route down Interstate 5 (vs. meandering along the coast)…

But that doesn’t mean I didn’t stop to fish.

halibut fishingThursday (July 2) I met up with my good friend, and Team Seeker staffer, Nick Lam.  I’d been tracking Nick’s exploits and planted the seed of coming out to fish with him on my way back to Los Angeles.  Shore fishing halibut around San Francisco Bay has been part of Nick’s fishing repertoire for a while, but this year he’s really upped his game.  The delayed sportboat season due to coronavirus forced him to find other fishing options.  Shore pounding halibut turned out to be one of the better ones.  He said May was the really big month.  He had days of taking home a limit (3 fish 22-inches or longer) during that sizzling bite.  In total, he estimated he’s gotten more than 30 fish this year, with some of his fishing buddies putting up more than double his personal tally!   In stark contrast, I didn’t get a legal halibut all last year…boat or shore.

We made plans to fish the following day.  Our other friend, Allan Pera, met us at the first spot.  I was expecting some hidden spot, but apparently these fish are hiding in plain sight.  It was crazy seeing iconic San Francisco sights like the Golden Gate Bridge and Alcatraz while fishing from the shore.  We spread out and made several casts with 5-inch swimbaits.  Nada.

We made a move.

halibut fishing

To my surprise, the next stop took us even closer to downtown.  We parked and walked to a long public pier.  Take note of some of the items in the picture (left).  Allan is wearing a backpack kill bag.  Nick is carrying a crab net (to use for netting fish from the pier).  Not shown are the 2 gaffs Nick left in his truck to use if we scored off the rocks.  Presumptive?  One might think so, but that’s the level of confidence these guys have that they’re going to find the fish.

My first inclination would have been to walk to the end of the pier, but they started throwing their swimbaits almost immediately.  We spread out and slowly made our way down the pier.  We alternated sides of the pier and leapfrogged positions as we made our way down.  Nothing different about the strategy, same as shore halibut fishing at home.  It’s all about covering ground until we found them.  I saw Allan swing on a fish.  He missed it, but it was an encouraging sign.  A little while later, Nick got bent.  He quickly put it on the deck, but it was a “shaker” (as in, shake it off the hook, it’s short).  Then he got bit again. another short.

The fish are definitely here though.

halibut fishing

At that point, we were about 2/3 of the way down the pier.  I noticed that the bucket brigade at the end of the pier were catching smelt and anchovies on sabiki rigs.  Hmmm.  Nick had brought out two rods, a swimbait, and a drop-shot setup.  He was fishing the swimbait rod.

halibut fishing“Nick, mind if I fish your dropshot setup?”

Go for it buddy.  The swimbaits were about the size of the smelt, but the anchovy seemed more prevalent.  I could see schools of them flashing in the murky green water.  The drop-shot plastic was a smaller, more anchovy-looking plastic.  Match the hatch.

I made a long cast and let it sink to the bottom.  Wind.  Pause.  Twitch it.  Repeat.  About 20-feet from the pier I got bit.  I was bent for a moment, but quickly it came off.  Ugh.  Try again.  As I got in that range closer to the pier…

wind, pause, twitch…I’M BIT!

It felt like a good fish.  It had a little run at the beginning of the fight and took some line.  It did it again about halfway up.  Nick had the crab net in hand at this point.  The fish emerged out of the murk.  Nick splashed the net and it took another little run.  I got it up again.  It was really squirrelly, but Nick calmly talked me through what he wanted me to do until it was in the net.  Success!

Nick measured it, 26-inches.  Not a bad fish.

halibut fishing

We kept at it for another couple of hours.  We tried another pier, and then made our way back to the one where we scored.  It started to get windy though, and at that point, I wasn’t seeing the bait in the water any longer.  After my keeper, the rest of the session produced 3 or 4 more bites between us, but the end product was only a small shaker.  It was over.  We called it a day.

Thanks to Nick and Allan for sharing their fishery with me.  Just goes to show you, it’s always worth wetting a line, even in Downtown San Francisco.  You never know what you might find.

Good luck if you get out there.