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How to Improve Your Catch of Pacific Halibut

Article by Matt Goldsworthy
Reprinted with permission of HASA (Humboldt Area Saltwater Anglers) – Light is one of the most important factors to consider when fishing deep water. Over the years while fishing for Pacific halibut, we have always wondered how dark it was down on the bottom in 300-feet of water. Until rather recently, I had never researched it and basically assumed it was fairly dark. Now that I’ve done a little homework, I have found that the scientific literature is pretty clear on how much light there is on the bottom in 300 feet of water.

Boats in the harbor alight at night with a soft wake from a departing boat
Photo by Matt Goldsworthy

Factors like sunlight, water clarity, the density of suspended particulates (like krill), and others may further limit the amount of light reaching the bottom. Assuming bright sunlight and perfectly clear water, the amount of light decreases ten fold for every 246 feet in depth. In other words, the amount of light on the bottom in 246 feet of water is 10% of what it was at the surface in ideal conditions (and the amount of light reaching the bottom in 492-feet of water is 1% of the amount of light at the surface). Beyond 650 feet of water, such a low level of light penetrates that photosynthesis is no longer possible.

Halibut on boat deck
Photo courtesy of John La Fargue ("SeaGipsy")

So, how dark is it on the bottom in 300 feet of water? It probably ranges from very dark to completely dark. “First light” surely comes a lot later in the day (if at all) for the deep dwelling crowd. However, the eyes of fish are fairly well adapted to seeing in low light conditions and can be 10-100 times more sensitive than our eyes. Deep sea fish are especially well adapted to the dark. The eyes of most deep dwelling species have evolved to detect bioluminescence. Bioluminescence is common because it provides a significant survival advantage in low light levels, whether for predator avoidance, communicating with others, or for finding food. It is theorized that some displays or flashes of bioluminescence are intended to communicate danger to others. Bioluminescent animals are common everywhere and usually exist in high abundance.

Tuna on a luer in the ocean
Photo by Matt Goldsworthy

A number of us have applied these lessons to Pacific halibut fishing locally with good results. It is dark on the bottom and using a light on your fishing line will light up the area around your offering. This not only attracts fish from greater distances, but it also might resemble a feeding situation in nature where prey are displaying panic or warning signs by flashing bioluminescence. Side by side, we have found that rigs with strobe lights out fished other rigs… especially early in the morning. I sometimes wonder if we are catching fish even earlier in the morning now because we are using lights.

During one of my most recent experiments, I put 2 different colored strobe lights on my line to try and double the amount of light and offer two colors of light at once. The sun was rising and we hadn’t been fishing for more than 10-minutes before releasing a nice king salmon that was caught on the bottom in 300-feet of water (under the two strobe lights and rattle- see picture). The rig with two different colored strobe lights clearly outshined our other offerings that day, having drawn some violent bites and a couple limits of halibut. Although we only have one data point, it was clear that a variety of colors seemed to draw more interest.

The NEW ‘Godfather Rigs’ from Redwood Coast Spreader Bars feature a few key advances over their predecessor, including a new strobe light which flashes all colors and combinations of colors at different strobe paces (fast paced strobe flashes transitioning to slow paced strobe flashes and vice versa). These lights are head and shoulders above anything else, and you have to see them to appreciate them. In addition to the advanced strobe light, the new Godfather Rigs also feature rare black monofilament line that is terminated with heavy duty sleeves.

Using a light helps you capitalize off of the dark conditions where halibut lurk, because the dark setting makes the light visible from much further distances than un-lighted offerings. Furthermore, the strobe light mimics natural feeding situations (panicked squid, etc) which a halibut will surely investigate. After a few seasons of heavy use, I am now convinced that lights ‘get the bites’ (especially the early morning). If you combine light, with sound, and scent… like the ‘Yard Sale’ or the NEW ‘Godfather’ Rigs from Redwood Coast Spreader Bars, you will get plenty of attention (bring extra bait)!

Matt Goldsworthy is the owner of Redwood Coast Spreader Bars and other terminal tackle for offshore fishing for rockfish, salmon, halibut and tuna.

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