Valued as tasty table fare, the California halibut is in great demand off the shores of the West Coast. When the waters begin to warm in the spring, halibut move up to the shallows where they stay until the fall. While this species is smaller than its larger cousin, the Pacific halibut, the sporty fish provides great action for kayak anglers. For a better look at the dos and don’ts of landing these tasty fish from a kayak, we reached out to YakGear brand ambassador Greg Mouton for his perspective.
Originally from Mississippi, Mouton spent years in active military service before settling in at Eureka, which is situated along Humboldt Bay in northern California. The bay serves as home waters for Mouton, who regularly patrols the bay in his kayak, bouncing his baits along the sandy bottom.
“During the summertime, when the baitfish come into the bay, similar to San Francisco Bay, you’ll get a run of halibut,” Mouton said. “The run this year has been extremely good. The run actually started out before we had bait in the bay, so without much baitfish in the area, they are chomping our anchovies.”
Mouton runs a light rig of a Seeker Tactic rod with a Seigler reel filled with 30-pound. braid.
“We’ll go over to the docks where the fishing boats unload for the processing plants,” Mouton said. “You’ll usually have a ton of bait there because there’s always fish going into the water. We’ll try to catch our bait there. If I can’t get bait, I always have a tray of frozen anchovies with me just in case.”
For his live bait presentation, Mouton uses a sliding sinker rig that suspends his bait just above the floor. This triggers an aggressive bite from halibut camouflaged in the sand.
“I’ll have two feet of 20-pound fluorocarbon leader with a No. 2 bait hook,” Mouton said. “I’ll use a 2-ounce lead weight on the sliding rig so that when the fish hits it, he’ll hold it for a few seconds. If they feel tension, they will spit it back out. You want to let them run with it for a bit and you can feel them running with it. We have to be patient before lightly setting the hook.”
Halibut aren’t necessarily finicky about hitting the bait, so finding them is the key to filling his three-fish daily limit.
“I paddle up against the current and put my line out and drift back about a mile across the flats in about 16 feet of water,” Mouton said. “You’re dragging it across the sand hoping to get close to one.”
Tides play a pivotal role in the feeding activity of halibut. When the water begins to move, you can bet Mouton is on the water.
“I try to be on the water fishing around low tide, usually two hours before and two hours after,” Mouton explained. “With the low tide, this gives me a smaller area to cover to find those fish.”
When drifting for halibut, Mouton uses a RAILBLAZA Rod Holder II and considers it one of his most critical pieces of equipment.
“I keep two of them on the kayak,” Mouton said. “One to hold my rod when I am landing a fish and the other I use for trolling. I love the design with the clip-down piece on the bottom to lock in my rod and keep it from turning and angled correctly.”
“I prefer using RAILBLAZA gear because it’s quick to switch gear from my pedal drive to my paddling kayak,” he added. “I have some knee injuries so, if my knee is bugging me, I can switch everything over quickly.”
Fishing for halibut from a kayak can bring advantages as opposed to fishing from a boat.
“The kayak acts as the drag,” Mouton explained. “You aren’t going to lose a fish as easily. If it takes a run, you can tighten the drag and let it pull the kayak instead of spooling the reel.”
Putting food on the table isn’t the only reason Mouton fishes from a kayak. As a disabled combat veteran who suffers from PTSD, the angler considers his time on the water to be cathartic.
“For me, getting on the water — just focusing on what’s around me, getting a good workout, has been the best therapy I have found,” he said. “I share that with various first responders too. I call it salt therapy. I even have a tattoo on my arm that says, ‘salt therapy’ because it is so important to me.”
Kayak fishing for halibut provides a great way for anglers to not only reap the benefits of the ocean, but to get out on the water and share a day with friends and family. When the waters of Humboldt Bay cool this autumn, the halibut will become harder to find. But, there is the solace in knowing next spring, these feisty fish will return, and you can bet that Mouton will be there when the halibut run begins.