Catching the California Halibut — Fishing Tips and Insider Advice

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What’s flat, swims across the sea bed, and is delicious to boot?

The answer is the California halibut.

california halibut fishing tips
A beautiful California Halibut waiting for a meal. Source: Ed Bierman

This fish is elusive to many, but when you do catch a keeper, make some of the best fish and chips on this side of town. Use these California halibut fishing tips to catch more of them this season, and share the bounty with your friends and family.

Make sure you know most of the California Halibut fish facts before heading out in the water. Knowing their habits helps you optimize your fishing experience with this fish species.

How to Catch a California Halibut

The California halibut can be caught from the shore in Southern California. Just note they’re not going to thrill you much in terms of fighting. Wherever the baitfish are, they’ll follow. Halibut, like sandy bottoms in places, can ambush fish. This means drop-offs, troughs, and near structures.

Surf Fishing Halibut


Halibut Tackle

You won’t need a heavy tackle for this flatfish since they live in the sand and away from things that might cause a break-off once hooked. The halibut doesn’t pull that hard either.

Halibut Rod

This comes down to personal preference, but if you need a halibut rod recommendation, then I prefer a 7 to 8′ 6 medium heavy rods with fast action. This could be either spinning or casting variants.

tail of a california halibut
Look at the size of this tail! Source
Halibut Reel

A good halibut reel is a 4000-size Shimano Stradic, 2500-size Diawa BG, or 3000-size Penn Battle II. It’s nice to have some extra line capacity on the spool in case the big fish hits or if you need to cut some line after getting tangled in seaweed. Just make sure you pick a reel with a smooth drag.

Halibut Line

So, if you are fishing from the shore, you can use a 6 to 8-lb test and a 12 – 15 lb test low stretch line. Maxima and P-line make quality lines. Typically it’s best to use mono, but it comes down to preference.

Halibut Lures

Now it’s time we learn how to fish for halibut. The best halibut lures tend to be 3-inch swimbaits. Big Hammer makes some amazing ones, and if you use a lightweight jighead, between 1/8 and 1/4 oz, you can keep it from digging into the sand during the retrieve.

For clear water, use red and green color patterns. If the water is darker and dirty, switch to a darker swimbait in the browns and greens.

I also find that Lucky Craft lures are deadly, especially around Bolsa Chica beach.

Halibut Rig

If you only use a single hook in your swimbait, you’ll need to wait till the fish swallow the bait. This might take some time. The large ones can swallow it whole, but the smaller ones tend to nibble at bait before taking it. It could help to put a trap hook in the tail to increase your odds of catching.

You can use any rig that keeps your bait near the sandy bottom. That means a Carolina rig or drop shot will do the trick.

Halibut Baits

However, if you prefer bait, some of the best halibut bait include sardines and Pacific mackerel.

These fish drift over the bottom of the water, which makes them prime targets for this flatfish. You can also use lizardfish, anchovies, and squid.

spearfishing california halibut
Sometimes the best way to see the habitat is by diving. Source

Halibut Fishing Tips

  1. Vary your retrieve. Sometimes the slow and steady will do the trick. Other times you’ll want to crank, crank, and twitch to make it look like a wounded baitfish.
  2. Halibut can be found in the shallows, so be careful when you walk around in the surf. You might spook them.


Numbers dwindle due to overfishing. Abiding by the Fish and Wildlife Regulations when fishing for this fish will help keep their numbers from dropping. The recreational fishery for California halibut is open all year, but bagging your catch has its limit.

You can only take home 3 fish from north of Point Sur and 5 fish from the south. Your total fish length should be 22 inches at a minimum.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the best California halibut bait?

Sardines, anchovies, squid, Pacific mackerel, and lizard fish.

What does halibut look like?

The California halibut has an oblong and compressed body with a small head and largemouth. Both eyes are on the left side of the body, which is dark brown or black, while the blind side is white.

How big can halibut get?

Females grow larger and live longer than males and can grow up to be 8 to 20 pounds in weight.

Insider Advice

Halibut (and other flounder fish) are good eats! From the surf, it’s probably the best fish you can take home and enjoy. California halibut may look unusual, but its succulent and flaky meat more than makes up for it.

Bust out your Lucky Craft or swimbaits and hit up the sandy structure, and you’re sure to bring home dinner! But if your sinker does not drag the bottom, you really are not fishing for halibut and may come home empty-handed.

Jon Stenstrom
Founder & Angler
Jon Stenstrom is a fishing enthusiast. He has over 25 years of fishing experience, and 6 years of spearfishing experience, and is currently learning how to boat. Jon has his Open Water PADI Certification and FII Freediver Level 1 Certification. Jon has traveled the world to fish and dive, most notably in the Great Barrier Reef, Baja Mexico, Thailand, and Malaysia. More Articles
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