Experienced anglers usually don¹t fish over the mud bottoms of Long Beach harbor except to catch White Croaker (Tom Cod) for live bait. These fishes along with Lizard fish are the only ones that can be found in abundance in the mud. Most fishermen avoid these areas. However construction of four oil drilling islands changed the bottom in certain ways to create an interesting fishery.
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. Apparently the ocean currents sweep the silt and mud away and leave the hard shell and sand bottom that halibut enjoy. If you fish it right you can¹t miss bagging a “butt.”
When you fish these mounds don¹t 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 don¹t often eat smelt and Lizard fish will only grab them occasionally but Halibut love to eat them, it¹s 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.
Use light tackle to fish the mounds. Most of the experts start with 8lb line and if the butts are being difficult they will go to as light as 4lb. Fit the hook size to the size of the smelt. Four inch smelt can easily carry a number 1# or 2# hook. Don¹t 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, because every knot you add to terminal tackle decreases the the strength of the line. Split shot or ear grip sinkers work the best if you don¹t 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. Very large halibut reach about 15 pounds around the hills while the average ³keeper² will reach 5 to 10 pounds.
It¹s 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 ³butts² 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 don¹t 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 ³net² all fish if possible. California law states that halibut under 22 inches in length must be returned and you must measure 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 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 you¹ll be rewarded in the end. A word of advice about your depth finder. It doesn¹t matter whether you use the video or the chart type finder …. it¹s extremely important to set the ³gain² before you start and don¹t 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 isn¹t hard. And finally if you find hard bottom without a mound don¹t hesitate fishing it, most of the time some kind of fish will be lurking near by.
Don¹t 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.