Posted by: socalsalty | June 27, 2012

How To Catch A Halibut From The Pier

Reader Joe M. from Manhattan Beach recently wrote in to ask me how to catch a bonito from the pier.  Back in the 90’s, I went to pick up my brother from LAX.  I got there a couple hours early, so I went down to the Manhattan Beach Pier to kill some time.  I saw a nice size school of bonito at the end of the pier.  I didn’t have any gear with me at the time 😦  Now I carry a 2 piece rod and a reel in my trunk…just in case.  Since then, I haven’t seen any bonito close in like that time.  As an alternative to bonito though, especially since now through the rest of the summer they are in close to spawn or to feed (they love the grunion run), I thought I’d share in detail, How To Catch A Halibut From The Pier (or How To Be A Rockstar Catching A Legit Fish At The Pier…while everyone else catches bait 😉 ).

What You’ll Need

  • 2 fishing poles, or 1 fishing pole and a drop line
  • a bait bucket – a 5 gallon bucket is perfect.  Attach a rope to it, so you can fill it with saltwater from the pier
  • size 1 or 1/0 hooks, I prefer a light wire circle hook for this application
  • torpedo sinkers – for this application 1-2 oz should be fine
  • sabiki rig
  • chum

Step 1: Making Bait

sabiki rig

As I mentioned in my SD Update post this weekend, I had the luxury of having a bucketful of live anchovies to use that we acquired from the baitwell of the Daily Double.  If you have access to bait, then skip Step 1, but if not, this is what you need to do.   Chum the area where you are fishing…when I was a kid, I’d harvest mussels from under the pier and then smash them up and toss them over the side where I’m fishing, but you can use cut up fish, squid, even stale bread works (break it into small, bite-size pieces).  If you want to get fancy, you can buy a chum bucket, fill it with cut up fish or whatever and use that, but however you do it, chum will attract bait fish to your area.  Now, use your sabiki rig to catch them.  Just put a little piece of bait on each hook and drop your line into the chummed area.  Little 3-4 inch fish are what you are trying to catch.  If you catch a big mackerel in the process, cut it up for chum/bait (or you can try throwing it, you might catch a really big one).


If you have small children, catching bait can be great fun.  This job used to be Juliana’s.  Put these fish in a bucket filled with saltwater.  Ideally, you want an aerator (cost about $12) in the bucket, so the fish stay alive longer.  A healthy, lively bait is what is going to catch you a halibut.

Step 2: Catching Halibut

Now that you have live bait, you are ready to catch a halibut.  Ideally, the spot you are fishing should be sandy bottom next to structure.  On your other pole, using 12-20lb test mono line, rig up a reverse dropper loop leaving an 18-24″ leader from the

18-24″ from the loop to the hook

loop to your hook.  The idea is to have your live bait on a short leash swimming around the area where your weight is holding bottom.  You want enough weight to hold bottom, but not so much that you are getting it stuck, or it’s so heavy that the fish feels the weight when it’s deciding on whether or not to eat your bait…halibut can be finicky biters.  Cast out your bait, then let it sink until you feel the line hit bottom.  Keep your line semi-taut.  Now slowly bring your line back in.  I like to reel in a crank or two, then pause and let that bait fish swim around that area.  Reel in a little more, pause, and repeat until the line is all the way back to you.  You want to cover as much ground as possible, so work a fan in your area (cast to 10 o’clock, reel in, next cast at 11 o’clock and so on).  The reason I like to use a circle hook is that halibut don’t usually just jump on your bait.  They may bite it, hold it in their mouth, decide “yeah, this works”, and then release it to really bite it.  With a circle hook, you don’t set the hook, you just wait until the fish really takes your bait and runs.  When it does, the hook sets on it’s own.  A big reason why I’ve had more success catching halibut this year (6 keepers so far) is that I now recognize the bite.

Remember, a legal halibut measures 22″ from the tip of the mouth to the fork of the tail.  You don’t need a license to fish from the pier, but you do need one if you fish from the shore.  Hopefully, you can use this strategy to successfully take a California Halibut from the pier (or shore).  If you do, you can refer to my previous post, How To Filet A Halibut.  Tight lines!

This one came with bonus lure attached!



  1. Very nice and attention keeping write up. I’ll be trying this technique out tonight.

    • Good luck Tim! Please send us a pic if it works out

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