Big Fluke using Halibut secrets

April 18, 2017 Facebook Twitter LinkedIn Google+ Fishing Tips

I am originally a Joisey Boy who spent his youth and many of his so-called “adult” years fishing the Jersey coast and north and south and way east of it.

For a lot of those years I was a hardcore pinhooker. So hardcore that I actually had a business called “Fred’s Fresh Fish” starting at fourteen that involved catching and then delivering fresh caught fillets or cut, cleaned whole whatever was running to a long list of affluent north Jersey houses on a once, twice, or as many as four times a week basis. I charged premium prices and developed a really big following that eventually required that I had a couple of other skiff owning pinhookers working for me. It paid for a big chunk of my college expenses and kept me in what was top gear for its day.

One of the most popular fish were fluke and flounder, with fluke being the most important of all. Those were the days of lots of fluke, no size or bag limits and few would believe the numbers of them that I caught on rod and reel – casting with one rod and dead sticking another. It wasn’t unusual to get two or three hundred a day when conditions were right, especially in spots like the bug light and the grounds just outside them early, before most fishermen even realized that there were any fluke around.

That was just to establish that what comes from someone who knew his fluke fishing pretty well (and hates to read about what has happened to them). I also know my California halibut, which are the spittin’ image, only they get a lot bigger. They have to be 23″ to keep and they get well over sixty pounds. We catch some very big ones with what follows, but we also catch a lot of 5 – 15 pounders that remind me so much of big fluke, it’s a joke!
Myself and a couple of charter captain buddies (one of whom used to rod and reel commercial fish them) have developed some very effective ways of catching them that I just know will work like a charm on big fluke. You will find them and a lot more secrets of west coast pros that will help east coast fishermen catch a lot more fish in my two new e-books, Secrets of the West Coast Private Boat Pros. Those of you who like to read and learn about new techniques should grab these two books while we are offering introductory specials to members of a handful of websites.

I have put nearly everything about these halibut techniques here except for the pictures because I don’t know how to lay them into a post in the middle of text, but you don’t have to buy the book to start using this particular information and I’ll include a couple of drawings at the endii.

Okay, I’m just going to lay these out with a bit of explanation for you to take a look at and think about. There will be enough here for you to get started on your own and if you want to know more, well, you know what to do, right?

My favorite bait back in the old days was fluke bellies, the bigger the better. There is no more using them unless you want to slice up and use your dinner for bait, but if I were still flukin’ back there, I’d be fishing long strip baits of something. I’ve got just the right substitute for those fluke bellies and I hope that some of you try them.

The squids that you guys use back there actually come from here, or at least many of them do, so we are talking the same bait. The rigs that you will be seeing with the strip baits on them will all accomodate whole squids. But we don’t use the whole squids very often. Instead, go to an Asian fish market and get yourself some baby giant squids, the bigger the better. Cleaning them and slicing the mantles open, then laying them flat and cutting big, pretty strip baits out of them is a snap. Since I don’t imagine that most of you are interested in short fluke, I’d do what we do and make the strips about 12″ long with some longer and some a bit shorter.

I like to slice the tails lengthwise to give a tentacle sort of look just past where my back hook will go. You don’t need to get all anal about this – one or two slits will do fine. Now dry and then brine the strips in salt or salted water and ice (Kosher or rock salt only if you don’t use sea water and even if you do) with a good shot of baking soda in it. The salt will toughen the baits and the baking soda will kill any bacteria and preserve the bright white colors.

Now you have a fat, primo squid bait that will stand up to a lot of bites and that looks as good as those deadly fluke bellies of the past, or maybe look even better.

Even with these big baits we catch a lot of shorts (that would be keepers if they were fluke) and in order to reduce mortality on released fish, we use nothing but circle hooks on our rigs. No, we don’t lose fish on them. The circles circle jawbones and just won’t let go until they are backed out with a pair of pliers. I highly recommend them for both catching and keeping or releasing healthy fish. Just don’t set the hook and you’ll be amazed at how they catch.

I’m not sure that I can inject copy between pictures here, so I am going to put the captions here and the pictures will follow, hopefully in order…

A double circle hook, non-sliding fillet rig. Rig to match a strip length or two and they will fit those fillets.

A stiff wire (single strand – lighter than shown here. The wire is drawn big so you can see how to rig it.) Again, make them to fit a couple of standard squid stip lengths that you cut. We use a long shank hook here.

Bounce balling, an absolutely deadly way of slow trolling or even drifting and just murdering halibut and, I’m sure, big fluke. Use whatever size ball that you can lift and thump the hell out of the bottom with. This is THE top way of commercial rod and reeling halibut.

As deadly, and actually deadlier is this crazy looking method – using a dock bumper teaser that we call “The Toad” that has been “booby trapped”. We usually use the smaller, 13″ bumpers for these teasers. You have to experiment with the amount of weight and air you put on and in the Toad to make it run deep, but once you get it down and digging bottom, it excites the hell out of big fluke and they pile all over that hollow squid with the strip bait on it! This one is great for trolling in rivers and bays, on shallower flats and channel edges and along beaches. Some of our guys run the Toads off of wire and the hook bait on mono. They run best off an UpRigger, with the Toad rod running off the lower straps and the booby trap bait running out of the upper holder.

I am offering these up knowing that a lot of you are going to laugh at them, but I’m hoping that a few of your give this stuff a try and send me pictures of the doormats (and bass and weakies – forget the blues – that you will also catch) “Doin’ the Toad” and fishing those fat squid strips. To you guys, I say good luck!


The following excerpts are from Secrets of the West Coast Private Boat Pros and these FREE excerpts are from an extensive chapter on halibut fishing that was written by a top local charter captain, Tim Marking, one of eight charterboat captains and four other top anglers that give up secrets and techniques in these books that are not only priceless, but that apply to fishing anywhere.


The 6 and 8 lb balls should be the standard round cannon ball which can be bought at any good tackle shop or catalog. The 13 pound model is actually a flat, pancake style for deep water trolling offshore and for makos and threshers, both of which can be found well inside the fifty fathom curve.

Here is a Salt Slicer. This one is made by Leadmasters in Southern California. Note the large stabilizer fin. Another brand of the same type of weight made on the east coast comes with a shiny metallic label on it. Remove and get rid of it: it makes a great target for thresher shark attacks!

The fin on a Salt Slicer functions as a keel that stabilizes and keeps the pancake body running true. It can actually be adjusted so that you can run two Slicers pretty much alongside one another without tangling them unless you are silly enough to make sharp turns, something that should not be done even with only one ball or slicer out.

The first thing that I do with a new downrigger is to remove the cable that it comes with and replace it with eighty or hundred and thirty pound Dacron or two hundred pound Spectra. The Dacron is far less expensive than cable, has a smaller diameter than the cable, and doesn’t kink, shred or corrode and is remarkably easy to splice and repair if it gets damaged. The Spectra offers the same advantages, except the lower cost one. Be careful when you handle either cable or the Dacron or Spectra; all small diameter, non-stretch materials can operate like wire cheese cutters and serious injuries can result. The Spectra is by far the most dangerous of the three, which is why I personally opt for the Dacron. Regardless of the “cable” type you use, wearing gloves whenever you handle it is mandatory for safety reasons.

Rig the Slicer and your cannon balls this way to make it easier and safer for you or your crew to handle the cable or line it attaches to. Bare cable can hurt and sometimes slice you like a razor blade. That doesn’t happen with this way of rigging.

You can troll faster with Slicers than you can cannon balls. I will be explaining the different times and places to use each ball as we go along. For release clips I recommend the Cannon Offshore adjustable models. They allow you to adjust the clip tension depending on speed, line size and lure weight.

Here is the release clip that I like. It has a variable tension control that helps you set the release tension right where you want it to be and it stays there.

I learned this trick from of all places, fishing for lake trout in Montana. First, find a flat sandy bottom area that you would usually drift over. The best such areas lie alongside rocky bottom section or sandy areas close to kelp beds, channel edges, stretches of productive beach.etc. Instead of drifting, lower your downrigger balls all the way until they hit the sandy bottom. Eight pounders are good for this application, but sometimes six pound or even smaller ones will do.

What you are going to do here is actually drag and thump the balls along the bottom and stir up the sand with them. You will need to have the boat driver moving the boat slowly forward by going in and out of gear. The halibut will be attracted to the disturbed sand and the thumping of your ball and will come to check it out. The motion of the boat rocking on the water will make the ball jump up and forward, effectively doing a sort of automatic “bounce ball”, a deadly way to catch halibut.

Fred drew up this illustration of what I am talking about here. The variables will be the distance between the ball and the piece of leader that drops the release clip back behind the ball and the length of the line/leader to the bait. Both measurements will depend on the type of lure or bait being trolled.

You can attach either a floating rapala or use live or dead bait for this. If you opt for the Rapala, make sure that it is the floating and not the diving variety. The floating ones will run above the bottom; the divers will spend all their time digging into the sand or mud cloud behind the ball, will “trash up” fast and won’t work nearly as well as the surface swimmer. Replace the treble hooks on the swimmers with either single J hooks or circle hooks (they work fine on lures). As far as sizes are concerned the new hooks should weigh about what the trebles did. The belly hook should be pointed down and the rear hook should face up.

Rebel and some others offer very good floater/swimmer swimming plugs that do a number on big halibut, white seabass and sometimes yellowtails, (BASS, BLUES, WEAKIES FOR YOU EAST COAST GUYS), so don’t be shy about picking some up and trying them on the downrigger. Remember to switch those treble hooks out for single models.

Halibut/fluke PART TWO

For me, the best bait is usually a squid strip with an shortened octopus skirt over it. The good sized strip baits cut from baby giant squid that Fred described earlier and drew for us are super for this technique. Be sure to drape a brightly colored, shortened lure skirt over the head. My favorite color for this is hot pink. These baits either go right by halibut laying in the sand, or hungry halibut are attracted from a distance to them and the commotion caused by the downrigger ball and WHAM, you’re on! (Please use the circle hook rigs and bigger baits described earlier to cut down on catching and injuring shorts.)

I like to run my bounce ball off a downrigger as shown here. I run the rod with the bait on it in the upper arm of an UpRigger. This is a big lever drag and bent butt rod (we were shark, not halibut trolling here). Naturally, we’d use a lighter rod for the halibuts, but you can see that we get excellent separation between the downrigger cable and the line, even with the bent butt. That separation is much greater with my usual seven foot halibut rod.

Drop back varies, depending on what you are using for bait or lures as well as current conditions, trolling speed and depth. I use about 3 to 6 feet of drop back behind the ball for this trick. If you run the bait too far behind the ball the halibut will come in behind it and won’t see your bait way back there behind it. Don’t worry about hanging up your ball on the bottom. Losing some downrigger balls is as much a part of fishing as losing a lure or weight and hook once in a while.

You should not really hang anything along most of the sandy bottoms of the west coast where halibut live. Of course, there are exceptions to this.

The skipper has to keep a watchful eye on the sonar when fishing close to and even on the bottom like this. Another angler should be positioned at the downrigger, ready to make quick up or down adjustments based on what the boat driver is seeing on the sonar and is telling him to do. (Fred, myself and the others love Penn electric downriggers for this.) It makes zero sense to mindlessly drag the ball into a jumble of rock or an isolated clump of kelp that shows up on the meter in plenty of time to raise the ball above that kind of potential snag.

Don’t worry about raising the ball to slide it and your lure or bait over a potential snag and taking it away from a fish that might be stalking it in the process. “Close counts”, just like it does in horseshoes and hand grenades when it comes to this style of fishing and avoiding snags; in fact a following fish will probably get turned on and hit if a bait suddenly rises up and appears to be trying to escape from it.

It is important to drop the ball right back down to the sand on the other side of the potential snag. Halibut and other gamefish love to position themselves right next to rocks, isolated kelps and other obstructions in order to ambush bait coming out of, around or over it. It isn’t unusual to get bit just as the ball touches back down on the other side, which is a heckuva lot better than getting hung up and maybe losing a ball and some cable.

Be sure to allow for the amount of dropback you have running when you do this. I shorten up my leaders when I do this kind of fishing in rocky areas because that allows me to get the bait nice and close to the edge of the structure that I am trolling and lifting the ball above. When I drop the ball with a short leader I know that my bait is going to wind up in any fish’s crosshairs that has set up an ambush alongside the rocks, kelp, or whatever.

In these situations I run the release clip only about two feet above the ball and I make it only about four-to-five feet long. You might think that having the bait that close to the ball would spook the fish, but just the opposite seems to be the case. We get bit like crazy when we do it this way and I think that ball thumping down in the sand alongside the structure, kicking up some of the bottom while it does it actually attracts fish, instead of turning them off. We sure catch plenty of fish doing it, so that’s the way we do it.

Here is one last tip on this kind of fishing. I prefer dead baits to live when fishing over and next to rocky structure and kelp, the reason being that the live stuff often tries to dive down into the rocks when you drag them over it. Naturally, the dead ones don’t do that and so I try them first and they usually do fine.


Take what we have been discussing here and look at this artists rendering. They say a picture is worth a thousand words and they sure are right about my new Interphase Scout side, forward and down scanning sonar!

The first time I saw one of these machines in action was aboard AJ Brandon and Fred’s twenty-eight Grady Patricia Anne. I joined them for some early morning halibut fishing and then a run offshore to hunt for some patties with yellowtail under them. When I saw what the new Interphase unit they’d bought and AJ had installed did as far as allowing us to fish the sandy areas around rocky reefs much like those in the drawing, I was amazed and I told them then and there that I had to have one of those machines!

Imagine being able to see the structure before it’s under you! That makes the job of raising and lowering the downrigger ball at just the right times a piece of cake. And not only did that thing show us what was coming up; it showed us what was right below us at the same time. I watched in utter amazement as the two of them casually raised the cannonball at just the right time to clear rocky reefs and then dropped that ball precisely on the opposite side, right where the halibuts love to lie and ambush bait that strays from the rocks. That resulted in not just two very nice halibut in an hour and a half, we caught a pile of calico and sand bass (all released, by-the-way), including some really big reef dwellers that were hanging right on the edge of the sand and the rocks, just like the halibut.

I saw yet another advantage when were crossing a big, open, sandy flat and AJ said, “Check that bait ball out, Tim. I’ll bet they’re grunion getting ready to spawn tonight and I’ll give you double or nothing that there’s some halibut under them.” I’m sure glad I didn’t take that bet, because we got a nice thirty pounder, our best fish of the day under that bait. Then Fred said, “that’s a halibut apiece and that’s our limit for crew trips, so let’s fillet the fish up, get them on ice and go see if we can find some yellowtail under the kelp patties.”

This little but effective technique is a trick that I have used for years with great results. Anyone who fishes for halibut will like this one because it’s easy and it catches fish. I came up with this idea one day after wearing out my arms ball bouncing for hours. It came to me as an easier way to do the same thing as ball bouncing but with 2 rods instead of one.

To start you will need the standard rod and reel that you like to use fishing live bait for halibut. Second, you will need a lighter weight rod and reel combo for jigging. The idea is as simple as the spread I will explain to you. If you are fishing alone or with others on your boat this is a great way to figure out the pattern for the day. What I mean by this is on some days the fish want something live, sometimes fresh dead, and other times a fast moving jig is the trick.

To start we will talk about the terminal rig that goes on the bait rod. I prefer to use a swivel with a sliding egg sinker with a red bead in between the sinker and a barrel swivel. The reason for the bead is that it will protect the knot you have tied onto the swivel. The sliding sinker will slide and hit the bead every now and then, which makes a “clicking” sound as it works along the bottom. Tie a section of fluorocarbon leader about 3 to 4 feet long to the lower end of the swivel.

The use of fluorocarbon is not because halibut are line shy; it is because of its abrasion resistance. Sure, it might help being that it is almost invisible under water but most halibut are caught in 20 feet or more most of the year and it is quite dark down there. Anyone who has gone diving can attest to the fact that light diminishes the further you go down. The other reason for the longer leader is it allows the bait to swim more freely and naturally and as you need to you can cut and retie without having to remove the entire leader. One piece of fluorocarbon should last through many hook-ups. Use just enough weight to keep your sinker in contact with the bottom according to ooooooooooooooooooooooooooodrift and wind speed.

I recommend the double circle hook technique that is described in this book. It is awesome for all fish and won’t hurt the ones you release. Big baits are always a plus with this set up. You want big halibuts right?

Now let line out let out until you have a 45 degree angle or more from the boat. Too far is better that too close for this spread. Now that you have your bait rod all set up place the reel in gear (only if you are using circle hook rigs) and put it in a rod holder near you.

Now for the explanation of the other rod. Using a light weight rod for this application is best. I prefer using spectra for the main line because you will be able to feel the bottom and the fish better. The no stretch of the spectra is perfect for this and it cuts through the water better while drifting.

For this application I prefer using a large Fishtrap jig with at least a 1 ounce jig head. You will need to purchase jig heads weighing from one to three or more ounces, assorted color plastics and some fresh frozen squid. A little tip and personal secret I will share with you that most do not know or use is to buy all of your jig heads in the color red. This color jig head should be used with all color of plastics. The reason for this is that it will give the jig the appearance of being a wounded fish.

As a good rule of thumb start with darker colors on darker days and brighter colors on brighter days. If there is more than one angler have one start with a bright and the other with a dark colored jig, regardless of the light condition. (Fred will be the first to tell you that that “dark early and light colors later” thing is a bunch of bullshit many times – let the fish tell you what they want!) This will help to shorten the time while you figure out the pattern for the day.

Now tie on a piece of 20 lb. fluorocarbon leader using a surgeon’s knot. Take your now defrosted squid and cut it into strips about 3 to 4 inches using a sharp knife in order to get nice, neat strips. Add one of the strips to the jig hook by hooking it once in the “nose” and you are ready to go. (Don’t forget to sharpen those jig hooks as they are probably not sharp enough out of the box.) Drop the jig directly into the water alongside the boat and let it fall to the bottom.

You want to be able to feel the jig head hitting the bottom as you lift the rod tip up and down. If that isn’t happening quickly and cleanly, increase the weight of the jig. Once you have figured out the right size, try not to give too much slack in the line as the jig falls because that is when most of the bites come. Using the heavier jig heads will make this easier.

The heavy jig heads hitting the bottom will be heard by fish for a surprising distance and they will see the sand puffing up around the jig just like ball bouncing. Ahhhhhh – it makes sense now, right? The angler holds the rod and jigs the Fishtrap just like the ball when bounce balling. The bait on the bait rod swimming just behind it will pick up the fish not interested in your jig just like the bait in ball bouncing.

As you and the other anglers on your boat are searching an area, try mixing different baits from live to dead. Be sure to use big baits because they mean big fish and a lot less shorts. Mix the size of the jig heads between anglers because the fish might like a heavier size due to the fact it falls faster or slower with lighter weight. Don’t be afraid to change your plastic colors all day until you find the right one for the conditions and if the bite slows down, try another color.

This technique that I have explained here is a great search method for the lone fisherman. It also should be used on very windy days when the drift is faster than most halibut fisherman would think to drift.

I promise you that when you think you are drifting too fast, it will prove to be the go-to method for lots of you. I’m talking 2 to 4 knots of drift or more. When the drift speeds up you just have to use the circle hook rig on the bait pole with heavier weight to keep it in contact with the bottom and add a heavier jig head to keep in touch with the bottom too.


This stuff will slay big fluke for those of you who try it and you are going to pick up a lot of other species while you do it. Should make for some real fun back there, but you have to try it to find out how good all of this is. I hope that you do.

Captain Fred Archer