California Halibut — One of California’s favorite fish

Berkeley Pier halibut

Species: Paralichthys californicus (Ayres, 1859); from the Greek word paralichthys (parallel fish) and californicus (Californian)—a California fish that lies parallel to the bottom.

Alternate Names: Halibut, flounder, hali, flattie (or flatty), chicken halibut, alabato, southern halibut, Monterey halibut, bastard halibut; fly swatter or postage stamp (small halibut); door mats (large halibut); extra large halibut, rarely seen on piers, are called barn doors. Called lenguado de California in Mexico.

Balboa Pier halibut

Identification: California halibut are in the left-eye flounder family, although nearly half of these fish are right-eyed. Halibut are noted for their sharp teeth, a large squarish shaped mouth, and a high arch in the lateral line above the pectoral fin. Their coloring is normally white or yellowish on the blind side and a muddy brown on the colored side. Often there is splotching or even white spots on the colored side, especially in smaller fish.

Size: To 60 inches and 72 pounds; most caught off piers are under 20 inches. The California record fish weighed 58 lb 9 oz and was caught at Santa Rosa Island in 1999.

Avila Pier halibut

Range:  Cabo Falsa, southern Baja California and Gulf of California to Quillayute River, northern Washington.

Habitat: Shallow-water, sandy-shore areas, oceanfront, and in bays.

Ventura Pier halibut

Piers: Most common at oceanfront piers. Best bets: Crystal Pier, Oceanside Pier, Balboa Pier, Redondo Beach Pier, Hermosa Beach Pier, Goleta Pier and Cayucos Pier. A few are caught each year at Monterey Bay piers such as Capitola and Seacliff. An increasing number have been caught at Pacifica and at San Francisco Bay piers such as Pier 7 and the Berkeley Pier since the 90s. The Berkeley Pier probably ranks #1 among piers north of Point Conception and perhaps sees more large halibut than any other pier in the state.

Berkeley Pier halibut

Shoreline: An esteemed shore species from San Diego to San Francisco.

Boats: One of the favorite species for California boat anglers.

Bait and Tackle: Halibut are predatory hunters that will grab almost anything that moves. Still, they prefer other fish—anchovies, sardines, grunion, smelt, small brownbait (queenfish and white croaker), small perch (shinerperch and walleyes), Spanish and Pacific mackerel, Pacific butterfish (pompano), lizardfish and squid. If the fish will fit in their mouth they’ll go after it. Thus, by far, the best bait for California halibut is live bait, one of those fish mentioned previously. Whichever bait is used, the key is to keep it lively and keep it near the bottom. A sliding live bait leader works fine, especially with a small slip-on sinker added to get the bait near the bottom. Another approach is to tie a snap-swivel to the end of the line with a hollow-center egg sinker directly above the swivel. Then attach a three to four foot leader with size 2 to 4 hooks to the snap. High/low leaders can also be used but are far less effective unless the angler keeps his line in motion. Some regulars “drag” or “troll” for halibut; they put a long-shanked hook into a headless anchovy and then walk slowly along the edge of the pier pulling the line behind them. If the pier is crowded, they will cast out and retrieve slowly.  In either case, be alert for the soft mouthing of the halibut. Halibut will hit cut bait, including anchovies, mackerel, sardine and even squid; just be sure to keep the bait in motion. Halibut can also be caught on artificials. Lures like Scroungers and Big Hammers should be cast out, allowed to settle to the bottom, and then given a slow to moderate retrieve. Halibut will often follow the lure almost to the surface before striking, so be prepared.



Fort Point Pier halibut

Food Value: Excellent! One of the best tasting fish in our waters. White, lean meat with a very low fat content. One of the best frying fish although considered good using almost any method of cooking.

Newport Pier halibut

Comments: Probably the most sought after fish for anglers on southern California piers. Unfortunately, most of the fish caught are illegal size and far too many people do not know, or do not care, how to handle them properly. The best way is to quickly reel in or handline in the fish without a net (if possible) and then practice C&R (catch-and-release) or CPR (catch-photograph-release) with as little handling of the fish as necessary. If you’re going to net the fish try to find a net with fine mesh. If you use the typical wide-mesh net the net will often tear up the tail of the halibut leading to infection (tail rot) and eventual death. If you have a fine-mesh net, then the best way to handle the halibut is to net it, bring it up, unhook it, place it back in the net, and lower it back down. It sounds like a lot of work but it’s worth it to preserve these fish and they can live to an age of at least 30 years.

Berkeley Pier halibut

          Do be careful of the sharp teeth of these fish! One guidebook jokingly tells the way to differentiate between small halibut and sole or sanddab: “stick your finger in its mouth. If your finger starts bleeding in a relatively short period of time (don’t keep it there for hours), you probably have a halibut.” DON’T DO THIS!

Hermosa Pier halibut

Paradise Park Pier halibut

Point Pinole Pier halibut

Crystal Pier halibut

Oyster Point Pier halibut

Cayucos Pier halibut

Avila Pier halibut (may be a Pacific halibut)

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