Fall Fishing Frenzy - Grey Ghost and Coastal Nirvana
Updated: Nov 17, 2022
Hey folks. I've decided to start a surf fishing blog to share some of my adventures. Along the way, I'll be dishing out some tips to help you on your own sessions. Today we'll be going on a journey all over Southern California's coastline. Halibut is the name of the game, but there may be a spooky surprise. Let's get started!
It was around noon. The surf forecast was pretty mellow (around 1' to 2'), and I was really itching to get out there. I hadn't fished all week, so my anticipation had been building for days. While making the hour-long drive to one of my favorite stretches of coastline, I started to come up with a gameplan. What spots should I focus on and for how long? What tides should I fish these spots at? So, it began. I got to Spot 1, which I deemed to be a quick check to see if there was any activity at all. My presentation of choice was a weedless 4.8" swimbait. Tide was still too high for my main spot, so Spot 1 would have to suffice for half an hour. Basically, it was a good way to kill time till primetime. Thankfully, it proved to be a little more promising than that. On my third cast, I landed a halibut. It was barely legal at 22", but it was a good start!
The halibut came in without much of a fuss, but I wasn't complaining. After about half an hour and no more bites, I began driving to Spot 2. Taking a peek at the ocean from the Pacific Coast Highway, the water looked calm.
At this point, my adrenaline was pumping; the legal halibut was already a nice start to the session. While feeling the brisk breeze down the PCH, I couldn't help but flashback to what happened last time I was at Spot 2: I hooked into a massive halibut that absolutely owned me. Though the bite is never too hot at Spot 2, it's proven to have a real solid top end. In short, there are some dang big fish.
I parked and began the half mile walk to Spot 2. Conditions were favorable. Tide was outgoing and well past high tide, but I don't mind that when targeting halibut. Wind was manageable, and when I got to Spot 2 it looked like the main hole was essentially unchanged since last time I was there. It was go time. Working the stretch with my green swimbait, I caught a short halibut in about ten minutes. Water was clear and inviting. However, the fish weren't biting. Nonetheless, the entire stretch looked extremely fishy to me, so instead of leaving I decided to change up my presentation. Upsizing my swimbait from a green 4.8" to a grey 5.8", I hoped to catch the eye of one the aforementioned beasts that roams this zone. That was the idea at least.
While working the hole with my new presentation, a surfer and his girlfriend showed up. They decided to hang out on the beach right next to me. I normally don't like to deal with surfers when fishing, but it's always nice to have someone available to snap a photo when you catch a nice fish. I took a moment to say hello to the couple, then continued casting. Before the surfer had enough time to get into the water, I felt something at the end of my line. It was subtle: a small tap. I set the hook hard and immediately felt its weight. My first thought was that it's a 30" halibut. This fish bit in about 3' deep water and felt like dead weight the first few seconds. Big halibut often behave this way until they realize they're hooked. Then, the fish suddenly went on a blistering run. I hate to admit it, but I started uncontrollably shouting expletives that alarmed the surfer and his gal. The first run was long, about half a minute. That's how a white seabass fights, not a halibut. I hadn't yet gotten a visual of the fish, but I was pretty certain I knew what it was at this point. Besides, my brother and I landed some sublegal ghosts (nickname for white seabass) here a few weeks prior, so I wasn't entirely shocked.
After a few minutes, the fish was exhausted and came in like a big ball of seaweed. The surfer dude was surprisingly accommodating and just as excited to see the fish as I was. A wave helped to gently push the seabass onto the sand. I could immediately tell it was legal size; 31" of ghost goodness! My new surfer buddy snapped a photo, and I proceeded to release the beautiful creature to the abyss from whence it came. Thankfully it was full of energy and swam off easily.
I took a few minutes to really appreciate and process the catch. Every seabass from the surf is a gift, and I think that taking in these magical moments is more important than immediately casting again for another one. It was my fourth legal seabass of the year, and my eighth legal seabass in the last two years. This one is possibly my favorite because the main window for white seabass is June to August, and this was well into fall. I tried for about an hour more to see if a school was around, but no more bites.
On my way home down the PCH, I did a quick stop at Spot 3, resulting in a cookie cutter calico bass. Nothing special there, but I definitely rode the high of an awesome session the rest of the way home. Not even the standstill traffic on the I-10 seemed to irk me. Conditions were favorable at all three spots, and while the bite wasn't hot, there's always the possibility of a trophy catch when conditions and structure align. I considered ending the article here, but I don't think I'd be doing the fall season justice without describing my next two sessions. A personal best fish unexpectedly roaming the shallows? Yes, please.
A few days later, I got the itch to fish.
Checking the surf forecast, south swells were bombarding my local waters. To find fishable calm water, I decided to drive two hours north. My destination was the spot where I met Vince from Vince Goes Fishing on YouTube. We had a heck of a halibut day last August there. Unfortunately, when I got there this time, conditions were nowhere near as favorable. Water was basically brown.
I wasn't quite ready to give up. Driving two hours just to turn back is not something I was ready to consider. I thought about driving even farther north but ultimately decided to take a chance and walk until the water visibility improved. A mile down was a small pocket with pretty dang clear water. In addition, a bird was actively feeding on what looked like smelt. Game on. I tossed my swimbait into the pocket and got bit on my first cast, but the hook didn't set. On my second cast I got a good thump, producing this 25" halibut.
She came in pretty easy with just one decent run. With halibut fishing, if you have a couple of bites like this in quick succession, there's a good chance there's more on the way. In total, I fished that hole for ten minutes resulting in ten bites (three short halibut and the 25"). It was absolutely wide open, and the hole was stacked with halibut. Unfortunately, disaster struck. My braid line wrapped all around my reel. Not sure how it happened, but my reel was finished. There was no salvaging it. I don't know if it's because I was just so excited and not paying attention, but for some reason these technical mishaps tend to occur during the best bites.
Anyway, I had no choice but to abandon the bite and walk back to my car. At my car, I picked up my trusty backup reel. It might not be the sexy option, but my Penn Spinfisher has gotten the job done over and over. Time to make the mile walk back. Sluggishly, in my heavy wading boots, I got back to the hole. The once beautiful blue hole had turned to milk chocolate in the forty minutes I was gone. Tide was outgoing. I figured that was the main culprit. Considering how many halibut were in the hole earlier, I had to try again. Over the next hour and a half, I scraped two sublegal halibut as well as this 22.5" model.
The fish were definitely not feeding with the same intensity as earlier, but it was overall a pretty fun session. If you find your spot has murky water on any given day, it can be worth walking till you find a clear patch. This applies most directly to Santa Barbara County which is prone to stained water. That was all for that session.
Time for the third and final session of this article. This one holds a special place in my heart. A few days after my excursion up north, my brother called and wanted to fish. He told me he wanted to check out a spot we hadn't been to in a bit. Surf forecast was relatively calm, and he fishes at most once a week these days, so I felt compelled to join him. I picked him up and we did the usual BS'ing we do before fishing. A bunch of nonsense about absolutely nothing is what gets us in the mood; don't ask me why. An hour into the drive we got sight of the ocean, and there were whitecaps everywhere. The wind forecast was totally wrong, which is quite rare. Wind had to have been around 15 knots. As I said earlier, my brother doesn't fish all that often, and we live an hour away, so he told me we had to commit to the session. Fine. Anyone that knows my brother Kaspar knows that he's a bait and wait guy, so he's more easily able to fish through tough conditions. I fish for halibut with a light swimbait, so I knew I was personally in for a tough day. We got to the spot, and the wind was generating some real turbulent water in the surf zone. What I ended up having to do was wade deeper than usual and cast almost directly on top of the halibut. That seemed the best way to minimize the impact of the wind, real close quarters fishing. This session reinforced that halibut are NOT afraid of people. You can sometimes walk within feet of a halibut, and it will not budge. I ended up catching six halibut that afternoon, including one legal (24").
My best fish of the afternoon was totally unexpected. As I mentioned, I decided to wade out more than I usually do because of the wind. While wading, I noticed there was a tiny pool of water right in front of me about four feet deeper than the rock I was standing on. From the rock, I jigged my swimbait up and down for a few seconds till this monster rockfish came up from the shadows and grabbed it. This rockfish is a borderline personal best, and I never would have thought it would have been lurking in a tiny pool right in front of me. That was all for the day.
These were three great sessions in a row, super fun. I'll never forget the third session because of how extreme it was to fish in that wind. I'm not sure if the gusts messed with my brain chemistry or what, but it was so incredibly immersive out there. Hard to get that feeling anywhere else.
This is my first article, so feel free to leave feedback or ask questions. I'll be writing more of these. Thanks guys!