California Halibut (Paralichthys californicus)

California Halibut (Paralichthys californicus)

The California halibut is a large flatfish and a member of the Bothidae family, or left-eyed flounder. It is the largest and most abundant flatfish within its range, although it is greatly smaller than the more northerly Pacific halibut. It is an important commercial quarry and sportfish, one that is often deliberately sought by anglers and valued for its excellent firm, white flesh.


The body of the California halibut is oblong and compressed. The head is small and the mouth large. Although a member of the left-eyed flounder family, about 40 percent of California halibut have their eyes on the right side. The color is dark brown to black on the eyed side and white on the blind side. The gill rakers are slender and numerous, totaling about 29 on the first arch. Its numerous teeth, its very large mouth, and a high arch in the middle of the “top” side above the pectoral fin make it easily distinguishable from other flatfish.


The largest California halibut recorded was 5 feet long and weighed 72 pounds. The all-tackle rod-and-reel record weighed 59 pounds, 9 ounces. Females grow larger, live longer, and are more numerous than males. In California, these fish average between 8 and 20 pounds; 20-pounders are considered large, and fish exceeding 30 pounds are trophies.

Spawning behavior

Males mature when 2 or 3 years old, but females do not mature until age 4 or 5. A 5-year-old fish may be anywhere from 11 to 17 inches long. Spawning takes place in relatively shallow water from April through July, and spawning fish feed actively.

Food and feeding habits

These halibut feed primarily on anchovies and similar small fish, often well off the bottom and during the day, although they also consume squid, crustaceans, and mollusks.

Other Names

flatty, flattie, fly swatter (small), barn door (large), alabato, Monterey halibut, chicken halibut, southern halibut, California flounder, bastard halibut, portsider; Spanish: lenguado de California.


This species occurs from Magdalena Bay, Baja California, Mexico, to the Quillayute River, British Columbia. A separate population exists in the Gulf of California in Mexico.


Found mostly over sandy bottoms, California halibut appear beyond the surf line and in bays and estuaries. They range from near shore to 600 feet deep but are most commonly caught in 60 to 120 feet of water. They are not known to make extensive migrations.