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California Halibut fish identification, Habitats, Fishing methods, fish characteristics

The California halibut, Paralichthys californicus is an unusual fish in that one eye migrates from one side of the head to the other as it grows from pelagic, bilaterally symmetrical baby fish into an adult fish that lies on its side on the bottom with two eyes on the up-side. Most flatfish are generally either right-eyed or left-eyed, but the California halibut is unusual in having a roughly even number of each type. It is native to the waters of the Pacific Coast of North America from the Quillayute River in Washington to Magdalena Bay in Baja California. It feeds near shore and is free swimming. It typically weighs 6 to 50 pounds (3 to 23 kg). It is much smaller than the larger and more northern-ranging Pacific halibut that can reach 300 pounds (140 kg). A top level predator that hunts by stealth, it is prized by fishermen as great table fare.
California-Halibut The California halibut, Paralichthys californicus, also known as California flounder, Chicken Halibut or Bastard Halibut, is a large-tooth flounder family Bothidae (Left-eyed flounders) occur from Magdalena Bay, Baja California, to the Quillayute River, British Columbia. A separate population occurs in the upper Gulf of California. They are most common south of Morro Bay, California, with their distribution centered off northern Baja California.
Although a member of the left-eyed flounder family, about 40 percent of California halibut have their eyes on the right side. Small eyes are sinistral or dextral, little wider than the broad separated by a rather wide, flat area. Scales small, finely ciliate, even on eyed and blind sides, each scale surrounded by narrow accessory scales; fins wilt ctenoid scales. Though this flounder is commonly known as the Chicken Halibut that name is more commonly used for the young of the true halibut. It. is a rather slender, thick flounder, resembling somewhat the true halibut in shape. From its resemblance to the halibut, it usually goes by the name of Bastard Halibut.
Flounder Anatomy The body of the California halibut is elongate, deep, slender and highly compressed. The head is small and the mouth is large and armed with large, slender, sharp, uneven teeth, rather long, the canines moderate. Numerous teeth are strong and sharp on both sides of head. The maxillary extending to or beyond rear edge of lower eye, and is about as long as the pectoral fin. Snout is moderately sharp; preopercle visible. Dorsal fin low, beginning over front of upper eye just past pectoral, pointed, reaching curve of lateral line; dorsal fins of blind side shorter and rounded behind; caudal fin shorten or concave. Anal spine small, concealed. The front of the lateral line is with high arch over pectoral fin. Lower pharyngeal is narrow, with small slender teeth.

Key characters

Very large mouth with many very sharp teeth. High arch in the middle of the "top" side above the pectoral fin. It is distinguished from the Atlantic members of the same genus by its fewer fin rays and by its more numerous gill rakers.
  • 66-76 dorsal fin rays
  • 49-59 anal fin rays
  • 10-13 pectoral fin rays
  • 100 lateral line scales
  • 7-11 + 18-23 qill rakers
  • 34-36 vertebrae
  • Max length: 152 cm
  • Max. Weight: 33.0 kg
  • Max. Age: 30 years
  • California Halibut Anatomy

    Color: eyed side grayish or greenish-brown, dark brown to black, sometimes mottled with lighter and darker shades; small white spots; and blind side white t o cream. Young fish with bluish - white spots; partial pigmentation on the eyed side. Rare specimens may be either brown or white on both sides or have partial coloration on both sides.

    California halibut appear beyond the surf line and in bays and estuaries mostly over sandy soft bottoms, sand dollar beds, kelp beds, and rocky relief extending offshore from the surf zone to 183 meters, although they are typically more abundant in waters less than 15 fathoms. 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. Adults migrate to shallower waters to spawn. Like other flatfish, the halibut hides under sand or loose gravel and blends into the bottom. Bays and estuaries are nursery grounds for juvenile halibut smaller than 8 inches, because they provide optimal habitat for growth and survival. The final migration of juvenile halibut larger than 8 inches from bays to the open coast has been suggested to be the first significant movement of California halibut.
        California halibut are predatory fish eaters. They 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. At times they are observed jumping clear of the water as they make passes at anchovy schools near the surface.

    Males first mature when 2 or 3 years old and 9 in (23 cm) long, but females are sexually mature at the end of t he 4th year of life (or at 43 cm long). A 5-year-old fish may be anywhere from 11 to 17 inches long. In spring, halibut emigrate from relatively deep offshore waters to shallow coastal waters to spawn at depths of 5 to 18 m. where spawning takes place from February through July, with peak in May, and spawning fish feed actively. After spawning the adults return to water about 40 to 100 m deep.
        The eggs are demersal. Young hatch with eyes on each side of the head. One eye migrates to the other side as the young mature and the fish settle near the sea floor. The larval and postlarval stages of the California halibut are pelagic for several months before the postlarvae settle to the bottom. In southern California, the planktonic larval stages, about 10 mm standard length, are pelagic and live in water 12 to 45 m deep and 1.9 to 5.4 km out from shore. Larger and older larvae live closer to shore, and most are suspected to live in embayments.
        Juveniles begin to settle and assume bottom dwelling habits in June; they remain in shallow water and do not move extensively. Juvenile Halibut begin to emigrate to deeper water when they are about 20 cm total length. Halibut are generally long lived. Both males and females may live as long as 30 years. Females grow larger, live longer, and are more numerous than males. A 22 in. female is about 5 years old and a 22 in. male is about 7 years old. 12 years old California Halibut are about 1 m long.

    Fishing Methods:
    California halibut are pursued by anglers throughout the year, but the best landings usually occur in the spring, in some areas fishing is best in summer and early fall. At that time California halibut move into shallow water over sandy bottoms to spawn. Mostly fishing is from boats in the coastal regions, from shore or by kayak fishermen in very shallow water. Sport fishers typically use light fishing gear and live baits. Drifting and slow trolling is the most successful fishing method using live anchovies, queen fish (brown bait), white croakers, sardine, squid, shiner perch or Pacific mackerel as bait presentation. Artificial plastic lures work well at times however they are not always effective.
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