It is no secret that I LOVE big butts! I drive Capitan Hilo and Hillbilly crazy drifting for butts in the bay. I am not really sure what the attraction is; the fishing is slow, it is a good day if everyone on the boat catches a single butt, and you DON’T want them to fight when you hook them. You just ease them up alongside the boat and stick the gaff in them and then drop them into the bottom of the boat and get the hell out of the way! I guess it is partially that they are so delicious and that they are such an odd looking fish, but mostly for me it is the connection with the fishing technique that entrances me. I am most concentrated when I am bouncing the bottom for butts and my mind empties of all thoughts aside from feeling the Big Hammer connecting with the bottom and waiting for that sudden thump and rattle of a butt attacking the bait. You learn to feel the difference from a hard bottom and sand or mud and how to feed out the right amount of line depending on the speed of the drift. Once you have fished this method for awhile and have caught a few halibut this way, it is easy to recognize a butt slam. There is an abrupt thump on the line and when you set the hook there is an immediate vibration in the rod as the fish shakes it’s head back and forth trying to expel the hook. The fish usually makes a short, powerful run and then just lays still at that point and allows you to reel him up to the boat if you coax him up slowly and easily. Sometimes they will make a violent run when they see the boat and a light drag is CRITICAL to keep them from pulling the hook or sawing off the line. Since the mouth of a halibut is sideways, getting a good hookset is hit and miss so you don’t want to try to muscle them in like a yellowtail or a ling cod. A definite advantage to using Big Hammers and Mulas is that the business end of the hook is a couple of inches from the eyelet where the line is tied which generally keeps the leader clear of the razor sharp teeth.
Although we have caught a few butts on BadDonkey jigs through the efforts of my misguided fishing compadres, butt fishing is mostly a Big Hammer affair for me. The 6 ounce Mulas work very well for this application fishing in 30 to 50 feet of water with a 1 to 2 mph drift. If the wind or current is stronger, I will use the motor to stall the drift or backtroll to achieve the proper presentation. My favorite colors of Big Hammers for butt fishing are the Green Hitch and Bleeding Mack…er.. Trout. In water this shallow, light penetration is relatively good and color plays a more critical role. I like the green hitch because it has a similar appearance to the crackers and lizardfish that inhabit the shallow waters and there is a touch of purple that provides some contrast when the water is stained or sandy. The Bleeding Mackeral has the dark green back which shows up well in sandy water and the white belly with the blood spot provide contrast. Much of the success of this method I believe is actually due to the hop and drop method I like to use. I pull the bait abruptly off the bottom and lift it 2 or 3 feet to trigger a reaction strike and then allow it to freefall back to the bottom so it hits with a thud and kicks up sand to attract anything in the area. I then wait a second or two and repeat the process. I actually foul hook a fair number of butts this way due to what my friends have termed the “ CSI: San Quintin” phenomenon. I believe that the halibut are attracted to the bait by the rapid rise and fall of the bait and sand plume it kicks up each time it hits the bottom and they rush in to “investigate”. When the bait drops back to the bottom they might lose sight of it or simply lose interest and they swim over the bait . When I abruptly raise the lure on the next pump, I hook them somewhere in the body. Laugh at me as my friends might, I catch butts. I believe that the technique here is definitely critical as I do tend to catch a lot more halibut than my compadres with the Big Hammers. Hillbilly is starting to get the knack but Admiral Sabiki lacks the intestinal fortitude required to fish the Big Hammers in this way and much prefers to use live bait which is very effective as well. I have, however, taken many novice fishermen to the bay and showed them how to fish the Big Hammers for butts and then had the pleasure of sticking a gaff into their first halibut. There have also been trips, though few and far between, when I have put a limit of halibut in the boat drifting and bouncing the Big Hammers.