California Halibut


Halibut from the Ventura Pier

Order Pleuronectiformes — Lefteye Flounders — Family Bothidae

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.

KJ and California Halibut caught at the Balboa Pier in 2003

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.

Left-eyed and right-eyed halibut from the Balboa Pier

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.

Halibut caught by Luis at the Santa Monica Pier

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.

“Snookie” and two halibut taken from the Balboa Pier in 2003

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 since the ’90s have been caught at Pacifica and at San Francisco Bay piers such as Pier 7 in San Francisco and the Berkeley Pier. 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.

Snookie, the “Queen of the Balboa Pier” and her mother Sunny, the original “Queen of the Pier” (Newport and Balboa Pier) — Halibut taken at the Balboa Pier in 1999.

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 sometimes 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 use a Carolina rigging. Take an egg sinker (that has a hole through the middle of it) and run your line through the sinker. Next, tie a snap-swivel to the end of your line (after adding a couple of red beads above the snap-swivel to help attract fish and protect the knot from abrasion). 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 generally 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. A variety of lures can also be used to take them, everything from soft plastics like Big Hammers and Scroungers, to shiny spoons like Krocadiles, and even crankbaits. Probably the most popular lure recently has been the Lucky Craft lures, expensive but good. In most cases though lures are less effective from a pier high off the water than when used by those fishing close to the water, i.e., in the surf. Halibut will often follow the lure almost to the surface before striking, so be prepared.

Halibut caught at the Berkeley Pier by Songslinger and James (calrat)

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.

Two fillets from each side.

Comments: Probably the most sought after fish for anglers on southern California piers. Unfortunately, most of the fish caught in the southland 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. 

Halibut with “tail rot”

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!

Halibut have teeth! Picture from Mike Spence (Santa)

A Plethora of Halibut Pictures

Robert (redfish) and a halibut from the Avila Pier

Julie, James, Kyoo and halibut from the Berkeley Pier

Gary Evans and a halibut from the Balboa Pier

Mel and three halibut (one’s hidden) from the Paradise Park Pier

Alabama, Chopper, and halibut from the Berkeley Pier

“Stan the Man” Low and halibut from the Candlestick Pier

Ted’s “Big One” from the Berkeley Pier

KJ and a small, illegal-size halibut caught at the Seal Beach Pier in 2015

Daniel’s fist keeper from the Redondo Beach Pier

Halibut from the Capitola Wharf

Mel and a halibut from the Paradise Park Pier

Mike Katz and a halibut from Stearns Wharf in Santa Barbara

Halibut from the Venice Pier

Halibut taken from the Fort Point Pier in 2010

Halibut caught by Herberto at the Newport Pier

Halibut caught at Pier 14 in San Francisco in 2009

A nice catch of halibut from the Paradise Park Pier

38-inch halibut taken at the Fort Point Pier

Halibut from the Ocean Beach Pier

Toejamb and a halibut from the Hermosa Beach Pier

“Stan the Man” Low and a halibut from the Point Pinole Pier

Halibut from the Malibu Pier

Halibut from the Capitola Wharf

California Halibut from Stearns Wharf in Santa Barbara, 2016

Halibut from the Cayucos Pier

40-inch halibut from the Fort Point Pier

KJ and a California Halibut caught at the Paradise Cove Pier in 2009

Halibut from the Oceanside Pier

The “light” side of the halibut — Songslinger and calrat at Berkeley Pier

Halibut from the Capitola Wharf

Songslinger and a halibut from the Gaviota Pier in 2003

Rock Hopper and his first Berkeley halibut

Rockin’ Robin and a Halibut from the Point Pinole Pier

Berkeley Pier, 2008 —It can be crowded when the halibut are running

Halibut taken at the Santa Cruz Wharf in 9997

Story from Western Outdoor News regarding a halibut from the Santa Monica Pier

Some large California halibut caught from piers

62 ¼ lbs. — Long Wharf (Santa Monica), August 17, 1917 —Source: Port of Los Angeles, A Phenomenon of the Railroad Era, Ernest Marquez, 1975

58 Lbs. 11 Oz — Santa Monica Pier, Darrell Barry, March 10, 2001—Source: Several including Santa Monica Pier Bait Shop, PFIC and Western Outdoor News, March 23, 2001

57 Lbs. 3 Oz. — Port Hueneme Pier, Joseph C, Groth, Sr., February 28, 1965—Source: Pasadena Independent, March 4, 1965

54 Lbs. — Huntington Beach Pier, W. S. Keith & H. C. Carmichael, May 4, 1939—Source: Santa Ana Register, May 5, 1939

≈ 50 Lbs. — Santa Cruz Wharf, Unknown angler, January 4, 1940—Source: Santa Cruz Sentinel, January 5, 1940

49 ½ Lbs. — Seacliff Pier, Unknown angler, July 2, 1948—Source: Santa Cruz Sentinel, July 4, 1949

48 Lbs. — Long Wharf (Santa Monica), Charles A. Sheldrick, June 26, 1902—Source: Los Angeles Times, June 27, 1902

45 ¾ lbs. — Balboa Pier, Harry Campbell, May 20, 1927—Source: Santa Ana Register, May 21, 1927

45 ½ Lbs. — Redondo Beach Pier, Virginia Lively, June 24, 1975—Source: Long Beach Independent, July 2, 1975

45 Lbs. — Seacliff Pier (Aptos), Jack Elliott, July 1, 1946—Source: Santa Cruz sentinel, July 2, 1946

44 Lbs. — Newport Pier, R. O. Stull, July 29, 1931— Source: Santa Ana Register, July 29, 1931

44 Lbs. — Huntington Beach Pier, Seymore Wilson, June 1933—Source: Santa Ana Register, June 5, 1933

43 Lbs. — Capitola Wharf, Wilbur Boyea, May 14, 1934—Source: Santa Cruz Sentinel, May 16, 1934

41 lbs. — Santa Monica Pier, Hoyt Holdridge, March 1957—Source: San Bernardino County Sun, March 5, 1957

40 Lbs. — Seacliff Pier (Aptos), August 1942—Source: Santa Cruz Sentinel, August 6, 1942

40 Lbs. — Redondo Sportfishing Pier, August 2010—Source: Redondo Sportfishing

40 Lbs. — Monstad Pier (Redondo Beach), Dick Weddington, May 2, 1930—Source: Los Angeles Times, May 2, 1930

40 Lbs. — Santa Cruz Municipal Wharf, July 22, 1942—Source: Santa Cruz Sentinel, July 23, 1942

40 Lbs. — Santa Cruz Pleasure Pier, E. J. Owens, August 5, 1932—Source: Santa Cruz Evening News, August 5, 1932

≈ 40 Lbs. — Oceanside Pier, September 2004—Source: Oceanside Pier Bait Shop

39 Lbs. — Santa Cruz Municipal Wharf, July 1949—Source: Santa Cruz Sentinel, July 31, 1949

38 Lbs. — Santa Cruz Municipal Wharf, May 1953—Source: Santa Cruz Sentinel, May 6, 1953

38 Lbs. — Ocean Beach Pier, August 1998—Source: Ocean Beach Pier Bait Shop

38 Lbs. — Newport Pier, May 2001—Source: PFIC

37 Lbs. — Santa Cruz Municipal Wharf — Clarence Hegewood, July 22, 1942—Source: Santa Cruz Sentinel, July 23, 1942

37 Lbs. — Venice Pier, L. McIntyre, July 1927—Source: Los Angeles Time, July 31, 1927

37 Lbs. — Redondo Wharf, W. T. Maddex, August 26, 1908—Source: Los Angeles Herald, August 26, 1908

36 Lbs. — Monstad Pier (Redondo), Billy House, May 10, 1949— Source: Los Angeles Times, May 11, 1949

35 Lbs. — Ocean Park Pier, F. A. Buchanan, May 1908—Source: Los Angeles Herald, May 31, 1908

35 Lbs. — Newport Pier, August 1940—Source: Santa Ana Register, August 2, 1940

35 Lbs. — Paradise Cove Pier (Malibu), William Cambier, January 1967—Source: Valley News, January 26, 1967

33 /12 Lbs. — Redondo Wharf No. 3, August 24, 1910—Source: Santa Ana Register, August 25, 1910

33 Lbs. — Point Mugu Fish Camp Pier, W. J. Stuart, August 1935—Source: Oxnard Daily Courier, August 3, 1935

32 Lbs. — Santa Cruz Municipal Wharf, June 23, 1948—Source: Santa Cruz Sentinel, June 24, 1948

30 Lbs. — Balboa Pier, Maybelle Davis, May 1934—Source: Santa Ana Register, May 21, 1934

30 Lbs. — Huntington Beach Pier, Earl Nelson, October 2, 1908—Source: Santa Ana Register, October 3, 1908

30 Lbs. — Port Hueneme Pier, January 2000—Source: PFIC

30 Lbs. — Redondo Pier No. 3, J. K. Richardson, February 17, 1916—Source: Los Angeles Times, February 17, 1916

30 Lbs. — Malibu Pier, Bill Segal, February 25, 1963—Source: Van Nuys Valley News, February 26, 1963


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One Response to California Halibut

  1. ING says:

    I’ve always supposed that flounder is not alternative name of halibut. It is different specie with different shape (more round) and smaller size.

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