Creature Feature: Fantail Sole

fish illustrationThe fantail sole is a fairly rare inhabitant of sandy and muddy environments from Monterey Bay southward off California. The species inhabits 15 to 260 ft. depths and often buries itself in bottom sediments, as do many flatfishes.

Distinguishing Characteristics

  • Member of the left-eyed flounder family, but can be right-eyed
  • Uniform brown above
  • Often with two dark spots, one near the pectoral fin, the other farther back on the lateral line
  • Young fish have more spotting and mottling
  • High arch in the lateral line over the pectoral fin
  • Mouth small (does not reach rear of lower eye)
  • Pectoral fin longer than head
  • Tail fin rounded

Life History & Other Notes
Fantail sole feed almost exclusively on crabs, but they will eat other small crustaceans, as well as worms and mollusks. They spawn through the year, with the most activity occurring in the latter half of the year from August through December. Young fantail sole swim in the water column until they change into their adult form and settle offshore on the bottom at depths of 66 to 135 ft. When first hatched the young swim upright; however, they soon start to turn on their left (or sometimes right) side and one eye migrates to the left (or sometimes right) side of their bodies.

Try using squid or clams to entice these fish to bite. Be sure to use hooks that will fit into their small mouths.

Fantail Sole Quick Facts

Scientific Name: Xystreurys liolepis

Range & Habitat: Monterey Bay south on sandy or muddy bottoms

Length: To 21 in.

Diet & Suggested Bait: Feeds on crabs and other crustaceans, also worms and mollusks. Squid and clams make good bait. Use small hooks.

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