As the halibut return to the Bay in full force, anglers of the Bay Area take to the shores in search for the big flat fish.  San Francisco Bay is known for its spring time halibut season – every year the California halibut searches out the shallow waters of bays and inlets to meet up with other halis to spawn.  After a few months these fish return back to the big waters of the Pacific Ocean until mating season starts again.  During this time big halibut, reaching up to forty pounds, can be found near shore in relatively shallow waters. This gives shore bound anglers a good chance to hook up on a legal CA halibut.

P1080826This year looks to be promising for the San Francisco Bay halibut fishery. Halibut were not being caught in substantial numbers until early May last year, but this year they  seem to have moved in a month early, with reports of fish being caught in early April. More halis have been caught up to this point this year in comparison to this point last year. What this means for anglers is that the flats of the Bay will be on fire well into the season.

P1080829P1080786Located directly across from the Berkeley pier is the Emeryville Marina, a clean quiet place on the shores of San Francisco Bay.

If you drive to the end of the road at the marina you will run into a parking lot next to the marina break wall.  This wall surrounds about half of the marina and is topped with a walking deck and side rail that resembles any pier in the surrounding Bay.  This is a break wall not a pier, meaning that there are no pilings that support the deck, it is fixed to a continuous concrete wall about 100 yards long.

At the mouth of the deck is a kayak launch site and a fish cleaning station. There are only two benches, one in the middle and one at the end of the deck. As a note, fishing is only permitted on the Bay side, not the marina side of the deck.

The bottom consists of mostly mud with some seaweed along the more rocky shoreline. There is some structure along the length of the wall that supports rock crabs, sculpin and other Bay locals.  The water is generally shallow, ranging from 2-10 feet along the length of the deck at any given time of the tide cycle.  A couple hundred feet out on the fishing side is a deeper water channel that is used by the boats of the marina to make passage in and out.  As you move further to the end of the deck, the water gains slight depth, but not very drastically.

If you look north at low tide about a quarter mile out, you can see a massive sand/mud bar that will be exposed when the tide is at a low 2 ft. As the tide comes in this bar is covered up by the incoming water. This is important because when this mud bar is being washed by the incoming tide it turns the water to a murky mess until the water rises and settles again.  This can be something to note if one is fishing with a lure as visibility can drop very quickly. When the water settles and is calm this can be a great time to throw your favorite swimbait or rattle trap.

On the inside of the marina the shallow water is host to a nursery/sanctuary for small bait fish like smelt. You can often see terns, pelicans, herons, white tail kites, and even river otters feeding on these small fish. These bait fish bring in other predators too, like halibut and striped bass.

P1080823The fish species caught at this spot include all of the Bay Area locals: bat rays, leopard sharks, halibut, striped bass, jack smelt, surf perch, and sculpin. And yes, that is a white sea bass in the picture.

If you are targeting halibut or striped bass, the classic swimbait is a good go-to. I like to use a 1/2 ounce to 1 ounce jig head and a 3-5 inch soft plastic swimbait with a white body and chartreuse tail. Many other combinations can be productive as well.

Blue mackerel and anchovy patterns are great too, as darker more natural patterns seem to bring in fish. Similarly, you can never go wrong with an all white presentation. Cast your lure out and let it hit the bottom – retrieve slow and steady, or bounce it off the bottom and be ready to set the hook.

Live bait is always a good option as well when fishing for halibut or stripers. To secure a perfect bait-sized smelt, drop down a few small hooks with shrimp under a bobber and you’re bound to get one. Once you get that bait-sized smelt, I use a 1/0 circle hook to hook the smelt in the lip, throw it out, and wait for the hit.

Whichever way you decide to fish the break wall, try to get there when the water is not too low, preferably above two feet.  The top of the high tide and the first part of the outgoing have been very good in the past few weeks, although all times of the tide cycle can produce fish.

 

I hope this information was helpful – good luck snagging that keeper hali or striper. Let me know what you caught in the comments below.

– B.M.