“Try Superlines for Halibut”
Some halibut anglers, especially those that score well consistently, guard their secrets and stick to traditional methods. Others keep experimenting with new tackle or techniques that may give them an edge over one of the most challenging of local gamefish - the California halibut. The introduction of “Superlines” such as Spectra, fluorocarbon and copolymer’s offer distinct advantages on the halibut grounds whether drift fishing with live bait, bounce-balling on the flats or trolling the surfline. Improved rods, reels, terminal tackle and lures add up to an array of products that innovative anglers can “tinker” with to refine their presentations and increase hook-up ratios.
Superlines are not a cure-all. They have distinct qualities that need to be understood before spooling them on your favorite halibut reel. When I first started using Spectra, a superbraid, while drift fishing for halibut I didn’t adapt to it quickly. Unlike the soft, stretchy cushion provided by monofilament, the thin diameter, low stretch quality of Spectra felt like I was using dental floss or wire to fight a fish with. Every headshake was transmitted as if the halibut were being held out of the water directly from a hand-held line. I expected hooks to pull out, knots to break or the lighter leader to snap because of the “no give” connection. It took getting used to. Now, the advantages of Spectra are better understood and they far outweigh any disadvantages. Even the disadvantages can be compensated for, such as using a more parabolic or “limber” rod to provide some flex and cushion for a low stretch line.
HALIBUT: NORTH AND SOUTH
Captain Julian “Jay” Gustin operates a charter boat service out of Sitka, Alaska. Although they pursue everything from trout to salmon, Gustin has developed a special fondness as well as sure-fire techniques for barn door Pacific halibut. According to Gustin, the use of Spectra has revolutionized halibut fishing up north for very good reasons. Years ago big halibut were taken in shallow water close to Sitka, but fishing pressure has thinned out the number of easy-to-reach barn doors. Now Gustin takes his anglers on weekly journeys to hidden spots where 300-pound fish are a real possibility. However, some challenging sea conditions prevail offshore. Anchoring in water depths of 200-to 300-feet with fast currents and choppy seas are a challenge at times. Using traditional monofilament meant having to use four-pound sinkers or more. Just reeling in to check baits made fishing a drudgery. Not any more. Since they have switched to Spectra they can use lighter tackle, get more “drops” in during peak times, better hook-ups, use lighter terminal gear and have happier anglers. Gustin can be reached at 800-946-3474 if you want to learn more about this fishery.
Compared to Alaska, Southland anglers have relatively tranquil sea conditions to contend with and correspondingly smaller species of California halibut that rarely exceeds 50 pounds in size. The fishing dynamics are similar, however, although on a smaller scale. The thin diameter of Spectra allows local anglers to use smaller, more sensitive rods and reels, as well as being able to fish a greater range of water depth and current while maintaining close contact with the bottom strike-zone.
The technical qualities of Spectra offer distinct advantages over traditional monofilament line when fishing for halibut. Spectra is up to four times smaller in diameter than mono of the same line strength. Spectra has little stretch, no memory, or “recoiling” effect and has excellent abrasion resistance.
Since Spectra is a small diameter line, anglers can spool more line on their reels for added capacity, or drop down in reel size without losing capacity. Lots of anglers have chosen to use lighter tackle spooled with enough Spectra to equal, or surpass what they would normally have with mono on a larger, heavier reel. I routinely load a Shimano Calcutta 400 reel with 500 yards of Power Pro 20-Pound Spectra plus a copolymer topshot when this reel normally reaches capacity with 160 yards of 20-pound monofilament. I could use a smaller reel as well for halibut, but the occasional white seabass or yellowtail that are encountered on the halibut grounds require more line capacity to control their longer runs.
Thin line has many additional advantages. Spectra slices the water with little resistance and allows anglers to get deeper with less sinker weight. Thin line also means longer casts for both lure and bait anglers.
A major difference between Spectra and monofilament line is the stretch factor. Mono will stretch up to 33-percent of its length before breaking. Spectra has little, or no stretch. That means feeling what a live bait is doing on the end of the line and setting the hook is more direct and positive with Spectra. The same holds true for plastic tails when reduced rod movements create the desired result. With swim or crankbaits there will be less interference with cross currents when retrieving lures that may create a belly in mono and keep a lure from tracking straight. When pursuing halibut most anglers add a length, or “topshot” of mono to add some cushion for shock value as well as a flourocarbon leader to make the line less visible.
Low stretch also means low memory. Spectras are limp lines and won’t retain the shape, or “coil” of the spool they’re wound on. They are well suited to spinning reels that have a reputation for creating a line full of coils when using monofilament. Backlashes on conventional reels can also be fewer and easier to work out with spectra. However, the Spectra must be packed on a spool tighter and anglers need to gradually “season” Spectra by making several casts so that it comes off the reel easily over and over. When a backlash does occur it may be helpful to work it out with the point of a nail clipper, or other tool due to the thin line diameter. Other advantages of Spectra include low moisture absorption, resistance to ultraviolet light, superior abrasion resistance and durability.
Spectra is not a perfect solution to line problems. Even some of its advantages can be disadvantages depending on the circumstances. The lack of line stretch means it won’t grip a reel spool as well as mono and the entire bulk of line can slip on the spool if not “anchored” well. Power Pro recommends using at least five to 10 yards of mono on the bottom of your reel before spooling with Spectra to make the line grip, or wrap the Spectra through the hole in the barrel of the spool if it has one. Use no more than 30-pound mono for anchoring Spectra because light line stretches and grips better than heavy line. It is most important to use mono with a spool that is smooth and does not have a protruding pin on the arbor.
With reel spools that have pins a direct tie can be made with Spectra. Dan Hart at Hook, Line and Sinker Tackle Shop in San Diego uses the San Diego knot with 10 wraps and snugs the knot up on one side of the pin. He then wraps the line around the pin and starts packing the Spectra on firmly by line-winding machine. This provides a no-slip base for the entire amount of line on the reel. Since Spectra can cut onto itself, Hart advises a fairly tight wrap with a moderate crisscross pattern to avoid this possibility.
As mentioned, when I first started using Spectra I didn’t like the no-stretch feature. It was like fishing with a rope tied directly to my hand. I could feel every little headshake from a halibut that gave me the impression that I could lose a lot of fish this way. I have since learned to appreciate its hook-setting ability, among others and use lighter drag settings and more sensitive, parabolic rod designs when I’m “finesse” fishing. If you like to rip onto a hookset on a tight drag you may tear hooks out, or break the line no matter what fish you’re after.
Since heavier-test Spectra can be used on reels without losing line capacity, there’s a temptation to increase drag settings higher than a reel, or rod is designed for. Although a good rule of thumb is to set drags at no more than 30-percent of the breaking strength of the line, that rule was meant to be used with comparably sized tackle. Spectra manufacturers recommend setting your drag to match the rating of the weakest component in your tackle system. Check your drag settings with a hand-held scale to make sure you’re not putting too much hook pressure on a soft-mouthed halibut.
Spectra is slippery. That means tying your favorite knot used on mono may slip right out on Spectra. Knot strength has been a major criticism of Spectra, but slight adjustments will solve this problem. Most anglers don’t tie Spectra directly to hooks because it is not even close to being invisible, however, simply doubling the line before tying a uni, palomar, San Diego, or “’turnaround clinch knot” will provide good knot strength. Power Pro advises not to use the common clinch knot. When connecting Spectra to mono, fluorocarbon, or similar lines a uni to uni splice, double surgeons loop, Albright, or Tony Peña knot can be used. Make sure all tag ends are trimmed close to the knot of choice to avoid hang-ups on guides. Adding Pliobond®, or similar liquid adhesive to line connections adds smoothness and durability. Since Spectra is slippery it is difficult to cut with standard nail clippers. Use sharp scissors such as inexpensive Metal Bladed Fiskars® found in most general merchandise stores. This thin, strong line can also cut skin easily so wearing gloves, or finger tape is advised when pulling line to check drag pressure, guiding line on the spool and so on. A good alternative is to wind the softer leader material, usually mono, or copolymer, close to the reel so a bare hand can be used rather than donning the gloves each time.
The apparent high cost of Spectra has been an issue with some anglers. Manufacturing Spectra in both superbraid and fusion forms is a time-consuming, expensive process so it is likely that Spectra will continue to be priced higher than monofilament. However, when Spectra’s durability, longevity (lasts up to four times longer than mono), resistance to ultraviolet light and other factors are evaluated, the cost of Spectra becomes more reasonable. When fishing for coastal halibut you can get away with a 100-yard length of Spectra on top while filling most of the reel spool with less expensive mono. This will put the Spectra to optimum use most of the time while drifting or slow trolling.
The big appeal of fluorocarbon lines is their reputed invisibility in water – a distinct advantage when tempting a line-shy species like halibut to bite. Technical papers have been written both disputing the invisibility qualities of fluorocarbon as well as supporting the claims. Anecdotal information gathered from on-the-water experiences with the material is stacking up in favor of fluorocarbons fish-catching ability.
Introduced in the mid-‘90’s by Seaguar, fluorocarbon is catching on with live and dead bait halibut anglers in a big way. A large part of the reason is the visibility factor. Another advantage is that a lighter leader can be used because fluorocarbon is very abrasion - resistant and tough.
Fluorocarbon is actually a generic term for a plastic resin called polyvinylidene fluoride, or PVDF. It was invented in 1970 by the Japanese company Kureha Chemical and has been used for a wide variety of applications from guitar strings to high tech dust filters. When I asked Dan Hart whether he believes in the stuff he had a quick response. “Take a coil of fluorocarbon and clear mono and drop each in a jar of water. The fluorocarbon will sink faster because of its greater density and you won’t see it as well as the mono. That’s enough science for me so I’m convinced it works,” he explains.
Using a fluorocarbon leader with live bait has been a productive combination for many anglers including myself. As soon as that leader touches water it virtually disappears from sight while the mono being used by fellow anglers is still visible. The one property of fluorocarbon that I don’t care for is that it is stiffer than mono. This can be compensated for by using a lighter eight to 10-pound leader that can still resist abrasion better than heavier mono.
Fluorocarbon has a definite niche in trolling for halibut. Trolling surface lures with fluorocarbon leaders has been viewed by some anglers as a waste of money. Pulling lures fast through turbulent water probably means the fish aren’t going to see any type of line very well. However, since lighter leaders can be used sub-surface lures may swim better and produce more halibut strikes. Fluorocarbons are pricey because the line is expensive to make. Raw PVDF resin costs about four to five times as much as nylon, the primary ingredient for monofilament. Added to the manufacturing process it’s about 10 times more expensive to produce. Price is a good reason why most anglers use it for leaders only.
Another shortcoming is that fluorocarbons stiffness means that it doesn’t keep its strength when tied into knots. There is also quite a bit of variation in the fluorocarbon even though there are relatively few manufacturers. Try a few to see what works best for your type of fishing.
COPOLYMERS’ AND MORE
Copolymer line is a single fiber made from a blend of nylon. It was introduced to the U.S. market in 1983. Copolymers’ have excellent qualities with few drawbacks. Compared to standard monofilament, copolymers have smaller diameters, very low memory, better castability, low stretch, high abrasion resistance and good knot strength. Its soft, pliable quality creates excellent, “snug-tight” knots while it has just enough stretch to serve as a backup shock absorber when a big halibut shakes its head on a relatively short leader. I use the low profile Tony Peña Knot for the Spectra/copolymer leader connection because it “casts” through a levelwind and rod guides without bumping, or snagging these components. A good line system to use for halibut drift fishing is a small conventional reel, such as a Shimano Calcutta 400, loaded with 20-pound Spectra, a 12-foot topshot of 15-pound copolymer P-Line and a three-foot length of ten-pound fluorocarbon leader tied to the swivel below a sliding egg sinker. When bounce balling, substantially heavier line should be used due to added sinker weight. Thirty to 40-pound line is standard for this purpose. Trolling swim plugs can be more effective with 12-to 15-pound Spectra or copolymer line because their smaller diameters will lessen water resistance and allow for deeper presentations.
Copolymer is less expensive than fluorocarbon and therefore lends itself to filling a spool with it. For example, ten-pound P-Line is about 1.7 cents per yard when purchased in 3000-yard bulk spools.
Innovation is the word in fishing lines and anglers have a great, if not bewildering, opportunity to try new products. P-Line has introduced the first fluorocarbon-coated copolymer line called Floroclear that adds the element of invisibility to its other qualities. Floroice is another fluorocarbon variation with a silicon coating to reduce water absorption and resist freezing. Berkley’s Fireline is a superbraid made with Micro Dyneema, the ‘Strongest fiber known” according to Berkley. Spiderwire Fusion bonds dozens of micro-fine Spectra fibers. It isn’t braided but is “fused” to form a third generation line. Mason Tiger Braid is a gel spun polyethylene fiber combined with polyester to yield a low-diameter line with a little more stretch than most superbraids. Raptor is another superbraid. It’s Dyneema fibers are cross-spun around a core of super fibers to create a round, torque-balance line. The line is then thermofused together to give it superior limpness, castability and knot strength.
As you can note, there is much room for experimentation with superlines and this is not a complete list of the available products to try. Even the nylon monofilament line market has become so diverse and specialized it will take some study time to figure out what is best for you. Coupled with your own tricks and techniques, the use of superlines for halibut fishing could make innovative anglers more successful than ever.
All rights reserved
The Roving Angler