Last modified: August 25, 2018

Fish Flatfish

California Halibut

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.

Halibut taken by KJ at the Balboa Pier

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.

 

Halibut caught at the Ventura Pier

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.

Halibut from the Capitola Wharf

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.

Two large halibut taken from the Santa Monica Pier

 

Halibut caught by “Luis” in 1997 — measured at 40 inches

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

 A  nice catch of halibut from the Paradise Beach Pier

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

Halibut taken from the Berkeley Pier by Songslinger and CalRat

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.

Halibut taken from the Newport Pier by Humberto Morno

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

A halibut caught by Mel from the Paradise Beach Pier

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

A trio of halibut taken by “Stan the Man” at the Candlestick Point Pier

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 Krocodiles, 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 taken by “Uncle Ted” from the Berkeley Pier

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.

Daniel’s first halibut from the Redondo Beach Pier

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.

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!

Right-eyed (top) and left-eyed (bottom) California halibut from the Balboa Pier

Unofficial list of  “Large” 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. 30 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

47 Lbs. — Capitola Wharf, May 19, 1934

Source: Santa Cruz Sentinel, May 20, 1934

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. — Capitola Wharf, June 28, 1930

Source: Santa Cruz Evening News, June 30m 1930

45 Lbs. — Seacliff Pier (Aptos), Jack Elliott, July 1, 1946

Source: Santa Cruz Sentinel, July 2, 1946

44 Lbs. — Monterey Wharf No. 2, Neil Dow, September 1, 1939

Source: Santa Cruz Sentinel, September 1, 1939

44 Lbs. — Huntington Beach Pier, Seymore Wilson, June 1933

Source: Santa Ana Register, June 5, 1933

44 Lbs. — Newport Pier, R. O. Stull, July 29, 1931

Source: Santa Ana Register, July 29, 1931

43 Lbs. — Capitola Wharf, Wilbur Boyea, May 14, 1934

Source: Santa Cruz Sentinel, May 16, 1934

42 Lbs. — Cayucos Pier, Ruby Clark, July 17, 1968

Source: Fresno Bee, July 18, 1968

41 lbs. — Santa Monica Pier, Hoyt Holdridge, March 1957

Source: San Bernardino County Sun, March 5, 1957

41 Lbs. — Seacliff Pier, May 17, 1953

Source: Santa Cruz Sentinel, May 20, 1953

41 Lbs. — Hermosa Beach Pier, Mike Mattos, June 1936

Source: Los Angeles Times, June 21, 1936

40+ Lbs. (Two)—Santa Cruz Municipal Wharf, August 1942

Source: Santa Cruz Sentinel, August 6, 1942

40 Lbs. — Redondo Sportfishing Pier, August 2010

Source: Redondo Sportfishing

≈ 40 Lbs. — Oceanside Pier, September 2004

Source: Oceanside Pier Bait Shop

40 Lbs. — Laguna Beach Pier, Barney Anthonsen, July 4, 1975

Source: Pasadena Star-News, July 16. 1975

40 Lbs. — Seacliff Pier (Aptos), August 1942

Source: Santa Cruz Sentinel, August 6, 1942

40 Lbs. — Santa Cruz Municipal Wharf, Henry Kalb, July 22, 1942

Source: Santa Cruz Sentinel, July 23, 1942

40 Lbs. — Santa Cruz Municipal Wharf, Leavitt McQuesten, July 20, 1942

Source: Santa Cruz Sentinel, July 22, 1942

40 Lbs. — Santa Cruz Pleasure Pier, E. J. Owens, August 5, 1932

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