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There’s a dwindling number of sand lovers on West Beach as the tangerine-hued sunshine dims during a recent weekday afternoon, and even the sailboats look languid, the last few skippers leisurely slipping into the harbor for the night. But on the shore, there’s a steady stream of gentle but focused activity, as Mike Edwards and his 12-year-old son, Ben, smoothly cast their lines into the lapping surf, hoping to land a halibut.
Edwards, who grew up and lives in the house two doors down from me in Goleta, spends most of his days looking at a computer screen as IT director for UC Santa Barbara’s College of Engineering. For years, his primary diversion was riding his mountain bike up Old San Marcos Road, which he still does at an alarming rate, not to mention occasional rides all the way to Solvang.
But he recently reconnected with surf fishing, a hobby introduced to him by his late father four decades ago. “When I was about 30, I got him back into it,” said Edwards, in between casts. That was about 20 years ago. “It took me a pandemic to get me back out here again,” he admitted.
Now Ben is learning the ropes, explaining. “The mornings can be really good because there aren’t a lot of people.” The sport, by design, is socially distant, as fish don’t like tons of people either.
Gear-wise, all you need is a spinning rod (anything around seven feet will do), a line with a six-pound test, and some cheap lures. “That’s the joy of doing this kind of fishing,” said Edwards. “There’s low overhead.”
You can also do it anywhere the sand meets the water, although this stretch of West Beach as well as Sandspit are particularly good for halibut. The day we met up, Edwards had just caught a corvina on the east side of the wharf. Goleta Beach can be great for white sea bass, although the water conditions there are much more variable.
Kids under 16 don’t need a fishing license, but there are risks. Ben once stepped on a bat ray, and had the stringer not gone straight into his shoe, the pain may have kept him out of the water for a while. Remember to shuffle your feet when in sandy water, no matter what you are up to. “If you look down the beach, you’ll see silvery fish just getting airborne,” Edwards explained of the good omen. This was not his day, but like fishermen everywhere, he’s always got the memories, assuring me, “I’ve caught some big halibut over the years.”