It was a beautiful fall day in late November. In between weather fronts, warm with little or no breeze and a small swell. The ocean water temperature was unseasonably warm at 64-66 in the kelp beds off of Point Loma.
My brother-in-law, Tom, and I decided to take our little 12' aluminum skiff out from Shelter Island and try our luck. 2015 being one of the best years for fishing in recent memory, we were optimistic.
We had heard that there were bonito biting at the mouth of San Diego Bay so we started our day there trolling jigs. We got one strike and missed it. I was handling the boat so I blame Tom for that one. We were a little late launching so we missed the early bite, but we had a good tide so we weren't too concerned yet. We decided to be lazy and just troll for a while and see what happened.
We put out a cedar plug and a black-and-purple feather and a silver spoon and drove south along the channel line. The weather was perfect but nothing was biting. We went south a couple miles to the last channel buoy and saw some other boats to the west so we headed toward them. They were a ways off. When we finally arrived in the area the five or six boats that were there all left. We were still waiting for our first fish.
Far off in the distance, maybe four or five miles west of us, we saw another group of boats so we trolled off that way. We did this for a couple hours, stopping occasionally to clear the jigs of kelp. I remarked to Tom as I looked at how far off the coast we were that there was no way I could swim the distance to the beach if the skiff foundered. He laughed and said yeah you could but it wouldn't be fun.
It was getting near 11 a.m. and we still didn't have any fish. I began to worry that the weather would change, as there was another front forecast to arrive the next day. Being five miles west of Point Loma in a 12-foot-long skiff is not comfortable if the big north wind starts to blow. So we reeled in the jigs and decided to head into the kelp beds and try our luck at some of our secret spots.
We hit the kelp about a half mile south of the O.B. Pier and started throwing plastic lures, hoping for a white seabass or maybe a nice calico. Working our way south, we began to catch fish. We caught several short calicoes, some mackerel, and a short Johnny bass. Still nothing for the barbecue. Our wives were not going to be happy if we came home empty-handed, so the pressure was on.
Finally, just off of Adair Street, Tom caught a nice 4.5 lb. calico bass and we were on the board. As usual, he was outfishing me and I was starting to feel it. The day was warming and the wind had fallen off again. The tide was lowering and all the surf spots were starting to show the two-foot swell.
I switched my lure to a glow-in-the-dark lead-head with a speckled root-beer-colored tail and dropped it straight down. We were drifting in and out of kelp and I was fishing with ten-pound test, so I had to be careful not to snag the kelp and break my line.
All of a sudden I was stuck on the bottom. I tried to feel the lure on the end of the line and pull it through the kelp when all of a sudden the bottom started moving. I had a fish, a big fish. I couldn't see it. It was down deep in the kelp so I kept pressure on and let him run. He ran a couple times but I started to get some line back. Tom was excited and shouting advice and encouragement, telling me not to "farm it" and such when we finally saw color.
About eight feet down, a long, narrow shadow turned, saw the boat, and took off again for the deep. I thought it was a big white seabass or barracuda. I held on and let the fish work, in hopes of tiring him out.
The next time he came up we saw what we had. It was a big — in the water they look huge — halibut. The first time we saw him he was on his side; this time he came up within four feet of the boat. Tom lost his mind at this point, completely excited. I was freaking out because I knew I only had ten-pound test, and I was scared I'd break him off and lose the fish.
I told Tom to grab the net to bring the fish onboard and started to freak again. The fish was too big for our net. So I told him he'd have to gaff the fish. Halibut are notoriously hard to gaff because their heads are bony plates, and they can twist their bodies off the gaff if you’re not careful.
Then Tom tells me he's never gaffed a fish before.....what?! I tell him he can do it, to go for the body, set the gaff, and pull it up and onboard in one move. He agrees to try. Meanwhile, the fish is still fighting to get away and I'm beginning to fatigue myself. I pull the fish up and lead it toward Tom. He reaches down and stabs the fish. The fish goes crazy, comes off the gaff, and starts burning off line on a run for the bottom. I'm holding on helpless as the fish heads into the kelp and safety. Amazingly, my line holds.
Another five minutes go by and I fight the fish to the surface again. Tom is too shook to try again, so I bring the fish to the surface. I hand my rod to Tom, grab the gaff, reach over the side, set the gaff, and haul the fish up with everything I've got.
The fish lands in the boat and all hell breaks loose. The fish smashes my tackle box, sends rods and gear flying, and flips my cell phone overboard. I land on my butt in the bottom of the boat getting slimed and Tom is screaming, he's so excited.
We settle down, get the gear stowed, and tie the fish in to start our run back to the dock. When we get home we weigh and measure the Halibut. It comes in at 40 inches long and 28 pounds. My personal best. It was fun sharing it with my friends.