Petrale sole on the menu, but get ready for halibut

Monterey Bay

Myron Larson from Capitola Boat and Bait with a 2020 early-season halibut.

by Allen Bushnell

Monterey Bay anglers are finding flatfish to be firmly on the menu as we as we move towards the season openers for rockfish and salmon in April. Winter weather and sea conditions are giving way to the oncoming spring. The giant north swells of winter have passed, and while big swells are always a possibility they are not a strong probability as in December or January. Chris Arcoleo from Monterey’s Chris’ Fishing Trips says gentler ocean conditions are conducive for catching the prized petrale sole. Arcoleo adds that these sole habituate flat sandy areas in deeper waters, around 300 feet or so.

A nice day with low swells and light wind means a good chance for anglers to bring home a petrale sole or two. “These petrale average around three to four pounds, and give you four fine filets each,” says Arcoleo. His flagship Check Mate report from last week include an average of 300 sand dabs for each trip, up to 10 petrale sole, five rock sole and 37 Dungeness crab. Stagnaro Charters is finding similar success in the waters near Santa Cruz. On Monday, Ken Stagnaro reported, “Good fishing on the Legacy this weekend! On Sunday 2/28, we caught 250 sanddabs and 5 petrale sole for 17 anglers. Saturday’s trip caught 200 ‘dabs and three petrale sole for 15 anglers.”

Another aspect of our springtime fishing is the return of halibut to shallower water. The big flatties go out to the deep during winter, following the feed. They return towards the coastline for spring and summertime spawning. Typically by the month of May, we have halibut on the inside, in 30-70 feet of water. The past few years we’ve noticed more halibut coming shallow earlier in the year. One corollary indicator is the halibut bite in San Francisco Bay. Usually, about a month or so before the Monterey Bay halibut bite turns on, anglers begin to catch the big flatfish near Oyster Point and the Alameda area in San Francisco Bay.

Well, the bite is on at Oyster Point right now, with numerous fish reported caught over the weekend, mostly by bounce-ball trollers using hoochies or frozen anchovies. We will be catching them here very soon. It might be well worth it to give a good try for halibut right now, maybe trolling the 45 to 75 foot depths as the fish filter in. Many of the early arrival halibut are small males. Anglers, please remember to treat these undersized fish gently and with respect. If at all possible, release them without removing from the water at all. Soft rubber mesh type nets are recommended if you need to net at all. The regular twine or poly wide-mesh nets will injure halibut, often splitting the tailfin rays. Many of these injured fish develop infections and soon die. So, if the fish you bring up is of a questionable length whatsoever, just use your pliers to release it without taking the fish out of the water at all. There will be plenty more halibut to catch, especially if we release the shorts without injuring them. Remember where you find one, you’ll find many, as these fish tend to congregate.

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