Monday, April 14, 2008

Sans Salmon, Berkeley Beckons Anglers as Halibut Season Starts

By Anneli Rufus
Mon, Apr 14, 2008 at 11:57 AM

Sure, salmon season has been canceled this year. But as Mom always told you, there are other fish in the sea: namely halibut, whose California recreational-angling season begins on May 1. Where to catch this world's largest of all flatfish, which can live up to forty years, grow up to eight feet long, and weigh as much as 600 pounds? Look no farther than the end of the Berkeley pier, which is quite possibly the state's top halibut-hooking spot, according to sites such as FishSniffer.com.

It's called the Berkeley Flats, the floor of the bay at the pier's western tip. "Fishing for halibut means bouncing a weight along the bottom, where halibut stay. The Berkeley Flats is a prime location," advises BoatingSF.com.

"Live ‘chovies are the best bait of all for the halibut," declares PierFishing.com, which notes that these can sometimes be bought at the Berkeley Marina's shop and adds that live grass shrimp and frozen anchovies are plausible but far inferior choices.

Squeamish about baiting hooks? Spenger's — right near the famous Flats — serves more fresh wild halibut than any other East Bay restaurant. Executive chef Devon Boisen is planning a season's worth of dishes — with wine pairings — featuring this low-sodium, Omega-3-rich creature that humans were already catching, cooking, and eating in medieval times.

"I would have to say though, that one of my favorite things in the world is being able to get the first fish of any season and call dibs on it," Boisen says. "Standing over a beastly halibut with the biggest, sharpest knife and claiming the first steak just underneath the collar is sweet visceral heaven. Then do nothing else but season the steak with salt and pepper and grill it. Maybe a fresh lemon wedge squeezed over the top and voilà. It doesn't get much better than that."

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