What Is The Best Bait For California Halibut

Whether you are an avid halibut fisherman, like myself. Or you’re just learning how to fish for halibut. You may be wondering what is the best bait to catch halibut? Well I’ve done the research, and I have asked around to numerous Charters and tackle shops and this is what I have found. 

The best bait to use to catch California Halibut is live squid. Squid is often considered halibut candy. Although many other types of live bait such as anchovies, herring, sardine, shiner perch and smaller jack smelt work great. 

However, If live bait isn’t an option then trolling frozen bait is a great alternative. In this article I will go over all the different types of bait that you can use to catch California Halibut. 

What Is The Best Live Bait For California Halibut?

The best live baits are Squid, Anchovies, Herring, Shiner Surfperch, Sardines and small Jacksmelt. You can find live baits all along the California coast line, in the bay, around the harbors and along the piers or near structure. If you don’t have the means to get live bait yourself you can purchase live baits typically in the harbors. I personally use J & P Bait located at pier 47 in San Francisco. If you’re not located in the Bay Area my suggestion would be to search live bait near me on google. 

Live Squid

You can find live squid All along the California coast. To find live squid you will need to use a fishfinder. On your fish finder they will not show up as regular fish markings. Depending on what type of fish finder you have, squid will show up as a bunch of little blue bubbles or snowflakes. 

Once you have located the squid you will use a squid jig to jig up your squid. A squid jig consists of different types of beads, typically orange beads with one glowing bead and sharp little cone prongs. When you acquire all the squid that you think you will need, find yourself a sandy bottom using the fish finder. Hook your squid on a live bait rig and send it down to the bottom. Put in the time and you are sure to catch a halibut. 

Live Anchovies

Live anchovies travel in schools and can be found around harbors, piers and in the bay. you typically find anchovies in warmer waters from the San Francisco Bay Area down to San Diego. You can catch live anchovies on small sabiki rigs or throw Nets. But it is best to catch anchovies with throw Nets due to how delicate they are. 

If you do plan to use a throw net keep in mind that the California Department of Fish and Wildlife have regulations on the type of throw nets you can use. So if this concerns you, I’ve attached the regulation for reference: 

28.80. Dip Nets and Hawaiian Type Throw Nets. Dip nets of any size and baited hoop nets not greater than 36 inches in diameter may be used to take herring, Pacific staghorn sculpin, shiner surfperch, surf smelt, topsmelt, anchovies, shrimp and squid. Hawaiian type throw nets may be used north of Point Conception to take such species.”

Tackle for catching Anchovies: 3ft Throw Net (California Legal)

If you would like to read more about Anchovies in California you can read all about them here: Anchovies

Live Pacific Sardines

You can find live sardines near shore along the coast, from the top of the water down to about 80ft.  Sardines travel in very large schools and also with other species of fish. Sardines are much more hearty than anchovies and can be caught on Sabiki rigs. 

Hayabusa Sabiki rigs with size 6 or smaller hooks work best. If you can find the invisible line even better. Check your local bait shop or find them on Amazon here: Hayabusa Sabiki or Hayabusa Sabiki With Invisible Line.

If you would like to know more about Sardines you can read all about them in this article here: Pacific Sardines

Live Pacific Herring

The Herring spawn in the San Francisco Bay Area typically marks the start of Halibut fishing. But the Herring spawn is a very short window from late December to March. Based on an article from the Lost anchovy. Read the in depth article here: How to fish the annual herring spawn.

If you are able to take advantage of this Herring spawn. Then Set up your herring on a live bait rig and get that bait out there. You can fish this from a pier or drift fish around Alameda rock wall or Oyster point. These two locations are usually then prime halibut areas for early season.

Tackle for catching Pacific Herring: Throw Net (California Legal)

Live Shiner Surfperch

You can catch Shiner Surfperch all along the California coast. Typically you find Shiner Surfperch in shallow water such as the bay and mostly near piers. 

Shiner surfperch have a daily bag limit of 20 but this is subject to change. To find out more information about the daily bag limit and other surf perch regulations you can find that information at this link here: California Department of Fish and Wildlife: 28.59. Surfperch.

You can find the tackle to catch Shiner SurfPerch here: 

If you want to learn more about Shiner Surfperch you can read all about them in this article here: Shiner Perch

Live JackSmelt

Jacksmelt can be caught in abundance outside of the Golden Gate, Half Moon Bay, around Jetties and virtually any ocean & bay pier.

Are you looking to catch jacksmelt? Well it’s fairly easy. All you need to do is throw down a Sabiki rig. From my experience jacksmelt are pretty aggressive if you are able to get your sabiki in front of them. Use a small size #10 to #12 hook tipped with shrimp.

Although Jacksmelt are typically used for catching lingcod if the smelt is small enough throwing it down on a live bait rig on a sandy ocean bottom will also hook you up with a halibut if they are in the area. 

You can find the tackle to catch Jacksmelt here: #10 P-Line Sabiki

You can read more about Jacksmelt in California Here: Jacksmelt

The Best Frozen Bait For California Halibut

Second to live bait, your next best bet would be to use frozen tray bait. It’s always a good idea to bring along a couple trays of frozen bait even if you are able to get live bait.

The most popular frozen tray baits are Anchovies & Herring. People have also been known to use frozen squid but this is not as common. If you are fishing north of bodega bay then Salmon belly is a very common bait used to catch halibut. 

How Do You Rig Frozen Bait To Catch California Halibut?

The main way to rig your frozen bait to catch halibut is by trolling using a sliding hook and stinger hook. You troll frozen bait by creating a bend in your bait using that sliding hook. You can adjust the bend of your anchovy or herring to create faster smaller rolls or larger rolls while trolling. This setup is trolled at speeds from 1.5mph to 3mph.

Firstly, there are a few different ways to set up your frozen bait for halibut trolling. The most common way to rig up your frozen bait is on a 3 way swivel. Attached to this swivel you will add your fluorocarbon lead (20lb to 30lb) typically about 3ft or longer. At the end of this lead will be your sliding hook and stinger hook. On the other end of that 3 way swivel will be about 12 inches of line with a torpedo weight or ball weight. But this isn’t the only set up for trolling frozen bait.

Secondly, the other set up for frozen bait is to use a slider with a torpedo weight attached, from there you will have a snap swivel & 3 bead swivel to prevent line twists. Attached to this 3 bead swivel you will have a 3ft or longer fluorocarbon lead (20lb to 30lb test). From there you will have a sliding hook with a stinger hook at the end. 

Moreover, both of these set ups you can add dodgers or flashers and hoochies to help better your catch. I personally like to get creative with my setups by adding hoochies, Swim mullets. Soon I plan to try a large dodger with a frozen squid attached to the end, Letting the dodger add action to the squid. The point is to have fun and try new things, you never know what might catch the halibuts attention. You can find all kinds of different halibut trolling setups on youtube. 


In conclusion, You now that you know what baits work best for catching halibut, get out there and have some fun. Pick up a throw net, find the bait balls and catch some bait. Nothing is more rewarding than catching a nice halibut on the live bait that you just caught. Always remember to bring a couple trays of frozen bait just in case the live bait isn’t available. Get creative with your trolling setups. Try new things and learn what works best for your area. Most importantly, have fun. Nothing is more rewarding than putting in the time and finally landing that big halibut.

You now know what baits to use to best catch a halibut and you may be wondering where to catch halibut in California? You can read all about where and when to catch halibut in California here: What is the best month to catch California halibut.

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