Bounce Balling for Halibut

Using a bounce ball rig to catch halibut is becoming increasingly popular with saltwater anglers on the west coast.

The two primary varieties of flatfish targeted by saltwater fishing enthusiasts on the west coast of North America are the California halibut and the Pacific halibut; each species is prized as prime table fare by both recreational and commercial anglers. The smaller California halibut can range in size between just a few pounds up to well over 50. On the other hand, the huge northern Pacific halibut can reach a length of over 8 feet and weigh in access of 500 pounds. As you might imagine, the tackle and techniques for catching these flatties can vary greatly depending upon the size and species of halibut that you plan to fish for. Over the past few decades, however, savvy southcoast halibut anglers have begun using a technique called bounce balling to increase their catch of these tasty fish.

Simply put, bounce balling is basically slow trolling at the deepest point in the water column over flat sand or mud bottoms, which is one of the most predictable terrains in which to find a hungry halibut. The heavy ball weight on the rig helps to keep it in consistent intermittent contact with the bottom so that the bait, whether it be natural or artificial, stays within the projected strike zone.

Using a premium grade braided line is highly recommended for this type of fishing; it is stronger and thinner than monofilament of the same pound test, and also allows you to feel every bump and nibble as you troll.

To construct your own bounce ball rig, begin with a heavy duty 3-way swivel and tie the terminal end of your fishing line onto the top eyelet. To the bottom eyelet, tie on about 15 inches of 25 pound test monofilament with a clip swivel to attach a 16 to 32 ounce ball weight just prior to dropping the rig overboard. That pound test will be strong enough to handle the drag, but will be light enough to break off should you become hopelessly tangled in some type of structure. To the middle eye of the swivel, tie on a 4 to 5 foot piece of 30 to 60 pound test mono leader with a 6 to 8 inch flash dodger, either chromed or covered with prism tape, tied to the end. Top it all off with an 18 inch length of 30 to 40 pound test fluorocarbon leader at the terminal end that has been rigged with a 4 to 5 inch plastic hoochie squid skirt and a 3/0 to 5/0 octopus hook, and you are ready to go.

There’s no need to get fancy as far as primary tackle goes when you are bounce balling; a solid conventional level wind reel and a stout rod with a lot of backbone will generally get the job done in most situations.

While you can certainly catch fish on the drift while bounce balling, it is better to slowly troll at a consistent speed between 1 to 3 knots, which is most easily achieved when the wind and current are down. If the current increases, it may be necessary to troll a bit faster in order to impart the right action to your terminal rig.

When deploying your rig over the rail put the weight in the water first, followed by your leader, flasher and bait. Never drop your rig to the bottom; lower it slowly so that it fans out in the current and remains tangle free. As soon as you feel the weight touch down, allow it to continue back a bit before engaging the drag on your reel. The idea is to pull the rig at a sufficient speed to have the ball intermittently hit the sandy or muddy bottom and attract the attention of a halibut just before the flasher and baited hook flies by and provokes a reaction strike.

If you plan to use a rod holder, flick on your reel’s clicker in order to alert you to a strike. However, many veteran bounce ball anglers prefer to simply engage the drag and hold on to the rod while fishing. This may be a bit more tiring, but it definitely offers the advantage of being able to work the rod tip and then set the hook immediately after a bite has been detected.

When properly modified for the region in which it is intended to be used, bounce ball fishing can be just as effective along the eastern seaboard and in the Gulf of Mexico for catching flounder and fluke as it is for taking west coast halibut. But one thing is certain; when it comes to fishing, it never hurts to have an extra trick up your sleeve.