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Halibut vs Flounder: Everything You Need to Know

Halibut vs Flounder: Everything You Need to Know

Being an angler means you must always be prepared for the fish you want to catch, so knowing the differences between fish species is instrumental when getting ready for your next fishing trip.

Telling halibut vs flounder apart can be tricky if you’re new to saltwater fishing because both belong to the Flatfish family. Flounder is an all-encompassing term used for members of the Flatfish family, which makes halibut a flounder.

However, most people refer to summer or winter flounder when they use the term, as they live in the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. On the other hand, halibut isn’t as common because it lives further north than other flounder species.

In this halibut vs. flounder comparison, you’ll learn to differentiate between these popular Flatfish species so that you can know which fishing equipment you’ll need on your next fishing trip.

Bottom Line Up Front

I can attest that catching halibut and flounder is fun, but due to their size, reeling in a halibut is a challenge, even for a seasoned angler. Still, catching a halibut may be the highlight of your angling career, and the experience is well worth the trouble.

I recommend fishing for flounder if you’re relatively new to inshore fishing because they’re much easier to find, and you don’t need a fishing rod or the equipment necessary to reel in a big fish.

Main Differences Between Halibut vs. Flounder

The main differences between halibut and flounder are:

  • Halibuts weigh over 100 lbs, whereas most flounders weigh around 30 lbs or less.
  • Flounders have rounded bodies, whereas halibuts have diamond-shaped bodies due to their pointed dorsal and anal fins.
  • Halibuts have both eyes on the right side, whereas flounders can have eyes on either side of the head.
  • Halibuts usually live in the northern regions of the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans, whereas other flounder species can be found in oceans and seas around the globe.

Key Traits

Halibut Flounder
Body shape Elongated, diamond-shaped body Short and rounded body 
Average size  Up to 400lbs  Between 5lbs and 30lbs 
Eye positioning  Right side Left or right side
Size of Scales  Small Large and thick 
Natural habitat Alaska, northern regions of the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans Mediterranean Sea, Atlantic Ocean, Baltic Sea, Pacific Ocean, etc.
Angling method  Surf fishing, jigging, anchoring, drift fishing Surf fishing, Jigging, Flippin’  
Fishing season  All year long, the high season varies by location  All year long 

The Key Distinctions Between Flounder and Halibut

Halibut

I’ll never forget catching my first halibut during my visit to Alaska. After all, it’s hard to forget pulling a six-foot-long fish out of the sea.

During that trip, I also learned that the term Halibut comes from Middle English and means holly Flatfish because it was a popular meat substitute among Catholics during religious holidays when eating meat isn’t allowed.

These giants live in the Arctic Ocean, the North Atlantic Ocean, and the northern regions of the Pacific Ocean. Depending on their habitat, they can be called:

  • Greenland halibut
  • Pacific halibut
  • Atlantic halibut

The most notable difference between these close relatives is that Greenland halibut can swim vertically, while Pacific and Atlantic halibut mostly swim horizontally along the ocean floor.

Although it shares the name with other Halibut species, California halibut is a sand flounder. Remember that the Atlantic halibut has been an endangered species since 1996, so consider heading to Alaska or the West Coast if you’d like to angle for the world’s largest Flatfish.

Key Facts

  • A fully grown halibut can weigh over 500 lbs.
  • Halibut meat is rich in omega-3 fatty acids.
  • Halibut is overfished in the Atlantic Ocean.
  • Most halibut are bottom feeders.
  • Halibut’s eyes are almost always on the right side of its head.
  • Halibuts have forked and pointed tails.
  • Female halibut are larger than male halibut.
  • Most halibut live around 25 years.

Natural Habitat

The largest Flatfish in the world inhabits ocean floors, and they usually live at depths between 20 ft and 120 ft. Besides Alaska and the Pacific Northwest, Pacific halibut can also be found off the coasts of Russia and Japan.

The Atlantic halibut inhabits the waters around Greenland, Iceland, and some regions of Eastern Europe. The largest Atlantic halibut population in the US can be found off the coast of Massachusetts, near Cape Cod.

Shape and Size

The largest halibut ever caught was a Pacific halibut, weighing 459 lbs. However, their size depends on gender, as most male halibuts weigh around 25 to 30 lbs, although they can sometimes grow up to 100 lbs.

Females are considerably larger than males, as they can weigh over 400 lbs. All halibuts have elongated, diamond-shaped bodies, cone-shaped teeth, and forked tails.

Their color is brown, gray, or olive, but they can change color to match the environment and avoid predators when they leave the ocean floor to search for food.

The Best Ways to Fish Halibut

As noted earlier, halibut live deep below the surface, but you can still catch them from shore. Hence, if you’re not planning a fishing trip, you can use a surf rod like the Penn Battalion to angle for halibut.

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Still, it’s best to fish for halibut inshore because they often dwell near valleys and rock formations. In most cases, you’ll have to let the lure sink to the bottom, as halibut rarely leave the ocean floor. Harring, salmon, and chum bags are popular halibut baits, but which lure you’ll use depends on your preference.

Ideally, you should use an 80- to 100-pound braided line when fishing for halibut.

Flounder

In my experience, the easiest way to differentiate between halibut and flounder is to look at the fish’s size. Flounders are considerably smaller than halibuts, so if you’re looking at a Flatfish with a rounded body weighing between 5 and 30 lbs, chances are you caught a flounder.

The most common types of flounder are:

  • The Fluke or summer flounder
  • The American Lemon Sole or winter flounder
  • The Golf flounder
  • The European flounder
  • The Japanese flounder
  • The Yellowtail flounder
  • The Southern flounder

As indicated by their names, these flounder types live in different parts of the world, so if you angle on the East or West Coast, you’ll likely catch summer or winter flounder.

Like halibut and all other Flatfish, flounders are bottom feeders, and you must let the lure sink to the bottom to catch them.

Key Facts

  • Flounders have flat and rounded bodies with round fins and tails.
  • Most flounders are white on the right and brown or olive on the left.
  • Their eyes are usually located on the left side of the head.
  • The best water temperature to catch flounder is between 56 and 68 F.
  • Male flounders are around ten inches long, while female flounders can be up to 23 inches long.
  • Flounders have sharp, cone-shaped teeth.
  • Flounder meat is highly nutritious.
  • Flounder migrate closer to shores during high tide.

Natural Habitat

Flounders inhabit the bottoms of most of the world’s oceans and seas. Some species, like comb or leopard flounder, live in the tropical waters of the Indian Ocean, while others live in the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans and the Mediterranean Sea.

In the United States, Fluke and winter flounder are abundant near the North Carolina and Massachusetts coasts, while Starry and California flounders are common on the West Coast.

Shape and Size

Male and female flounders are much smaller than halibut, as their length rarely exceeds 20 inches. Their size depends on the species, so, for instance, a Fluke can be slightly larger and heavier than the Southern flounder.

The largest Fluke ever caught was 38.25 inches long and weighed 24.3 lbs. However, most male flounders weigh under 15 lbs and are usually smaller than females.

Flounders can have eyes on the left or right side, depending on which side the fish swims on the ocean floor, but the eyes of most flounder migrate to the left side.

Their color varies from species to species, and some flounders can have dark brown spots. Like halibut, flounder can change color.

The Best Ways to Fish Flounder

There’s more than one method you can use to catch flounder. I prefer jigging because it keeps the lure active, causing the fish to chase and catch it. Jigging works whether you’re offshore or inshore, as it allows you to catch flounder at a rod’s length from the boat.

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Some anglers use the flippin’ casting technique, while others let the bait drift on the ocean floor. So, which methods or baits you’ll use come down to your experience level, familiarity with the location, and personal preferences.

Either way, you won’t need a heavy line or a reel with a high drag capacity to reel in a flounder.

Flounder vs Halibut: Pros and Cons

Halibut

Pros

  • Halibut is delicious and a great source of micronutrients.
  • Catching a halibut is a trophy for most anglers.
  • Fishing for halibut polishes your angling skills.

Cons

  • The Atlantic halibut is endangered, and you shouldn’t fish for it.
  • Halibut meat contains low levels of mercury.

Flounder

Pros

  • Flounders are lightweight and easy to reel in.
  • Flounders are widespread, so you don’t have to travel to a specific location to catch them.
  • Flounders are an excellent source of iron, zinc, and vitamins.

Cons

  • Catching a flounder takes skill and finesse.
  • Flounder meat has a lot of bones.

The Best Alternatives to Halibut and Flounder

Going straight for halibut the first time you try offshore fishing is less than ideal because they’re large and powerful, and you might struggle to keep the fish on the hook.

Although smaller, flounder can also be tricky to catch because they live at the bottom of the ocean and are colloquially labeled the masters of disguise due to their ability to change color.

Striped bass or dogfish might be easier to catch if you recently graduated from surf fishing to inshore fishing. Cod can also be an excellent alternative to flounder and halibut, but catching a cod can be difficult.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the Best Season to Fish for Flounder?

You can fish for flounder throughout the year, but the best months to catch this Flatfish are between August and October if you’re on the East Coast or December and January if you’re in the Gulf of Mexico region.

Is Fishing for Halibut in the Atlantic Ocean Forbidden?

The Atlantic halibut is an endangered species, and the size of its population is monitored. Fishing for halibut in the Atlantic Ocean is allowed, but at moderate levels. Countries like Norway or Iceland don’t allow anglers to catch halibut.

Which Bait Does Flounder Like?

Sardines, crabs, shrimp, and smaller flounder are among the most popular baits for flounder.

Halibut vs Flounder: Which Species Should You Target?

Angling for halibut was one of the best experiences I’ve ever had. Still, I don’t condone overfishing, so I released the halibut I caught soon after I reeled it in.

Halibut are strong, and catching them can be dangerous. Moreover, this giant Flatfish prefers cold waters, meaning you must travel to its natural habitat if you live in the southern regions of the United States.

Flounder is much smaller than halibut, which makes it a more attractive option for anglers who are just testing the waters of offshore and inshore fishing.

More importantly, you won’t have to travel thousands of miles to catch it because its natural habitat spans from the Gulf of Maine to the Gulf of Mexico.