Creature Feature: California Halibut

halibutCalifornia halibut may be found statewide in sandy and sand-mud environments. They have been found at depths of up to 300 ft., but are most abundant in waters less than 60 ft. deep. At times they are especially abundant in San Francisco Bay, and in the fast-running channels within Morro Bay and Mission Bay. They may also be caught in the pounding surf along open, exposed beaches, or in areas with a mix of sand and rock bottom.

Distinguishing Characteristics

  • Brown to nearly black on the eyed side, and white on the blind side.
  • May be left-eyed (~60 percent) or right-eyed (~40 percent).
  • Very large mouth with numerous teeth.
  • Lateral line with high arch above the pectoral fin, on dark side.

Life History & Other Notes
California halibut feed almost exclusively on anchovies and similar small fishes. At times, halibut may be observed jumping clear of the water as they make passes at anchovy schooling near the surface.

California halibut are pursued by anglers and spearfishers year-round. Fishing is generally best in the spring; however, in central and northern California, fishing is especially good in summer and early fall when the halibut move into shallow water to spawn. California halibut spawn from April through July.

Drifting for halibut is the most successful fishing method, using live anchovies, squid, white croakers, perch, or Pacific chub mackerel for bait. Artificial lures may also work well.

 California Halibut Quick Facts:

Scientific Name: Paralichthys californicus

Other Common Names: flattie, chicken halibut, barn door (larger fish)

Range & Habitat: Statewide in shallow, sandy areas

Length & Weight: To 5 ft. and 72 lb.

Life Span: To 30+ years

Diet & Suggested Bait/Lures: Eats anchovies or other small fishes. Try drift fishing with anchovies, squid, queenfish, white croaker, or shiner perch for bait, or try artificial lures.

Excerpt from the California Finfish and Shellfish Identification Book.

Single copies of the book are available to California residents free of charge by emailing a request to