By Larry Ellis
Pilot staff writer
Halibut season opens
If 10 anglers were to discuss what the tastiest fish in the sea was, they would all be hard-pressed not to name halibut as one of the top three. If anyone argued against it, that person probably never tasted one.
I'll put it to you this way. I've been deckhand on many party boats in southern California. The fish that was most often ripped off when a person wasn't looking was always a California halibut. You would never see anyone kiping a bonito, barracuda, rockfish or a lingcod. But you had to guard your halibut with your life.
The season that opened May 1 was for Pacific halibut, but the point is, both species are highly esteemed food fish and the taste is similar.
That's why a guy will pay $200 to go fishing for a fish that may only weigh 30 pounds. I got lucky last year and caught a 45-pound butt, which is really the ideal eating size.
Here's how the halibut season works. From Humbug Mountain to the California border, you may fish for halibut seven days a week through the last day of the season October 31.
South of Humbug Mountain, you may also retain lingcod and rockfish when a halibut is on board.
Different rules apply north of Humbug Mountain, where most people will be fishing for the big flatties.
Between Humbug Mountain and Cape Falcon there are two halibut fisheries. Inside the 40-fathom curve is considered the nearshore fishery, which also opened May 1 and is open seven days a week.
The real serious fishermen, many of whom will be from Brookings, will be fishing the all-depth fishery which lies outside the 40-fathom curve. The spring all-depth fishery actually opens Thursday, May 8 and runs for three consecutive days, every Thursday, Friday and Saturday.
The dates of the all-depth fishery are May 8-10, 15-17, 22-24, 29-31 and June 12-14. One weekend was closed because of the extreme minus tides.
The quota for the spring all-depth fishery is 159,577 pounds. If additional pounds remain after June 14, the next series of dates for the all-depth fishery will be June 26-28, July 10-12 and July 24-26, or until the quota is exhausted.
North of Humbug Mountain, you cannot retain a rockfish or a lingcod during an all-depth fishery date when a halibut is on board. You may, however, retain a black cod, which is also called a sablefish.
So where do you fish for Pacific halibut near Brookings? That's a good question. The reason why the halibut regulations are so lax around these parts is because there are not as many Pacific halibut in this vicinity as there are north of Humbug Mountain.
But there are always a few caught, and the ones that are landed are usually pretty good size fish.
The International Pacific Halibut Commission (IPHC) conducts annual stock assessment surveys where they pay commercial vessels to fish for halibut every year. The vessels fish in designated areas called stations and the locations of these stations always remain the same. The closest station to Brookings is station 1002.
If you were to look out to sea a little over 3 miles from the Thomas Creek Bridge, you would be viewing an area where station 1002 is located. The coordinates of station 1002 are 42-degrees, 10 minutes north latitude and 124-degrees, 27-minutes west longitude, give or take a few seconds.
Back in 2003, 148 pounds of halibut were caught at this station, and in the year 2004, 67 pounds were caught. Since those two years there hasn't been much caught, but it just goes to show you that halibut can be caught in our local area.
Station 1002 is in approximately 300 feet of water, but if you look on a chart, you will find all kinds of little whoop-dee-doos and areas in the vicinity that could hold more hallies.
What makes this area unique is that it contains both sand and mud. The areas where the sand and mud converge are usually good areas to drop your gear. But one of the most important types of cover that holds halibut is gravel.
I was talking to one of the real hard-core halibut fishermen a few weeks ago who told me how people used to find gravel before the advent of fish finders.
"An old friend of mine who used to fish for halibut in the '30s, used to take a large rock, dip it in lard and tie a line to it," explained Dave Camp from Cachalot Charters in Westport, Washington. "He would send it down to the bottom. Where they found gravel, that's where they'd fish."
Last year, a halibut over 100 pounds was caught just outside of Gold Beach near the whistle buoy by a guy using one of those huge twin-tail plastics.
Rockfish and lingcod
Last week, the bottom fishing was superb. Rockfish of all species were brought to the fillet tables with heavy emphasis on black rockfish. Some exotics were also caught such as China cod and quillbacks. Blue rockfish and blue blotched rockfish were also part of the angler's bag. Limits were generally the rule.
A good supply of lingcod were also filleted at the cleaning station; however, there were some days when you couldn't buy a bite. It seemed as if they would bite one day and have a case of lockjaw the next.
The spotlight was on cabezon this week, and big ones. There were a lot of 12-pound plus cabbies filleted. The reason for the large cabezon is because they are in prespawn mode, when the large females are more aggressive, bulking up for the spawn.
Remember that the roe of a cabezon is poisonous.
I had a talk with Dr. Milton Love, author of the books "The Rockfishes of the Northeast Pacific" and "Probably More than You Want to Know about the Fishes of the Pacific Coast" one day. He confirmed that the roe of the cabezon is definitely poisonous.
Apparently, two married ichthyologists decided to experiment together to find out if that tale was fact or fiction. It didn't kill them but both became violently ill for several days (ain't love grand).
A meeting will be held by ODFW this coming Monday at the Chetco Grange at 7 p.m. to discuss the current rockfish status. Among many topics, options will be discussed such as whether or not to temporarily move the fishery inside to shallower water.
It is absolutely important that the public attends this meeting since the Port of Brookings Harbor is one of the most used ports for rockfish.
If you attend this meeting, please bring up the fact that we need to be able to fish for Pacific sanddabs, due to the fact that the ocean salmon season has forced anglers to look at other venues of fishing. If rockfishing is shut down outside 100 feet, we may not be able to target the sanddabs, which are always found deeper than 140 feet. I spoke with Don Bodenmiller last week about this topic and he is willing to talk about it. I mean, if they force us not to fish for salmon, we are naturally going to target surfperch and sanddabs to help put meat in the freezer.