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California Halibut Fishing Tips

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

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.


Famously known as the fish with eyes on one side, the California halibut is undeniably a recognizable fish. Also known as alabato, Monterey halibut, California flounder, bastard halibut, and portsider, this fish is considered to be a prize by anglers.

What does halibut look like?

It looks like someone took a fish and flattened it with a rolling pin. The crazy part is that when they are young they start out looking like a normal fish then morph into how we commonly recognize them as.

Halibut Family

The California halibut belongs to the Bothidae family and is also called a left-eyed flounder. It is considered to be one of the most common types of flatfishes, even though it is smaller than the Pacific variety of halibut.

Considered to be a prized quarry sportfish, the California halibut is often sought by anglers for its delicious and firm white meat. However, the numbers and size of these fish have dwindled over the years because of overfishing.

California Halibut Facts

Scientific Name Paralichthys californicus
Common Name(s)Californian halibut, flatty, bastard halibut, portsider, fly swatter (small), chicken halibut, barn door (large), alabato, Monterey halibut, southern halibut.
CharacteristicsHas both eyes on one side of the body and the body is oblong and compressed.
Depth RangeUp to 183 meters
Natural HistoryIt can be found from Magdalena Bay, Mexico, and Baja, California to the Quillayute River in British Columbia.
Limits22in and 3 fish per bag. Check your local regulations.

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.

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 rod 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 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.

Lucky Craft SFPT115MR-CIF-702ZSD
  • Lucky Craft SFPT115MR-CIF-702ZSD
  • The product weight is 0.05
  • This product is manufactured in Japan

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 includes 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.

Halibut Habitat

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

Halibut like sandy bottoms in places they can ambush fish. This means drop-offs, troughs, and near structure.

Wherever the baitfish are, they’ll follow.

Where to Catch Halibut

Move slowly during the hunt so as not to spook the fish and aim at the spine just behind the neck when you have a clear shot. This way you can get a clean kill and pin it to the seafloor at the same time. Once the fish is bagged, slide your fingers through one side of the gills to paralyze the fish if it is still alive.

Halibut Fishing Tips

  1. Vary your retrieve. Sometimes the slow and steady will do the trick. Other times you’ll want to crank, crank, 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.

California Halibut Seasons

Where to catch halibut? California halibut can be found abundantly all along the west coast on any day of the year you decide to catch this fish. If you are in Southern California, fish for this flatfish between April and July. You can also target it near Catalina Island during the winter. The species is open for anglers all year round between the Mexico border and Santa Barbara County.

In Northern California, halibut fishing remains strong all the way through September and this includes both offshore spots and main fishing grounds.

Spearfishing for California Halibut

The hardest part about spearfishing halibut is finding them. Shooting them is easy.

Polespearing Halibut


The best time to hunt for it is during spawning season a couple of days before a full moon, during high tide in the morning when the halibut is right up near the shore. Look for the halibut near coves, piers, jetties, and sand dollar beds.

When you are out on the water prepare your speargun before diving in. Halibuts usually burrow in the sand, and you can use that to your benefit. If you find one near the rocks, shoot the spear carefully or you may clip it.

How to Clean California Halibut

  1. Layout the halibut on a flat work surface and search for the lateral line that runs down the center and follows the spine.
  2. Take a large and sharp filleting knife and slide down the spine along the line right behind the pectoral fin and down to the tail.
  3. Make 3 cuts that mark the end of the fillets you will get – across the tail, from the pectoral fin to the vent and from the fin to behind the head.
  4. Starting from the tail, run the knife along the spine in gentle and long strokes to get a fillet off the bone. Make sure it touches the ribs as you cut you can get clean cuts. When you get one fillet off the bone, the second one will be easier to get off
  5. When both fillets are off, repeat the process on the other side of the fish to get two more fillets off.

How to Cook California Halibut

  • Season the fillet with salt and pepper and set aside.
  • Heat a sauté pan on the stove over medium heat for 4 minutes or till it is warm.
  • Add butter, olive oil, lemon juice, lemon zest and chili flakes to the hot pan.
  • Once the butter melts, add the fillets in the pan and cook for 4 minutes on both sides or till the meat turns flaky.
  • Serve on a serving plate and drizzle remaining juices on top.


Q: What is the best California halibut bait?

A: Sardines, anchovies, squid, Pacific mackerel and lizardfish.

Q: What does halibut look like?

A: 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.

Q: How big can halibut get?

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

Insider Advice

Halibut is 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!

The Anglers Behind This Article:

Jon Stenstrom

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