Halibut vs. Flounder: All You Need to Know
Apr 18, 2019 | 4 minute read
Reading Time: 4 minutes

Flounder and Halibut are some of the tastiest fish in the sea. They’re a fish counter classic. A favorite among seafood lovers worldwide. But what’s the difference between them? In this guide, you’ll learn to distinguish Halibut vs. Flounder. You can also find tips on where to catch them, and how to cook them once you do.

So what is the difference between Halibut and Flounder? Strange as it sounds, Halibut is Flounder. Flounder is the general name for a whole Flatfish family, including Turbot, Sole, Plaice, and more. Halibut is part of that family. The confusion comes from the fact that several species have “Flounder” in their name, while others, like California Halibut, aren’t actually Halibut at all.

Halibut vs. Flounder Identification

A diagram showing how to identify Halibut vs Flounder. There is an illustration of a Halibut and a Flounder at the bottom. Above is written: "1. Body Size: Halibut grow to be significantly bigger than Flounder. 2. Body Shape: Halibut are long and diamond-shaped. Flounder are shorter and round. 3. Tail Shape: Halibut have pointed, slightly forked tails. Flounder have rounded tails."

The easiest way to distinguish Halibut from other Flounders is by their sheer size. Halibut are much bigger than your average Flatfish, growing to 10 or even 20 times the size. In fact, the IGFA records for both Pacific Halibut and Atlantic Halibut (the only “true” Halibuts) sit at well over 400 pounds.

That’s great if you hook a trophy, but how do you recognize them if they’re small? Halibut are generally longer than other Flounders. Their pointed dorsal and anal fins also give them a signature diamond shape. On top of that, they have slightly concave tails ending in defined points. Most other Flounder have flat or rounded tails.

Finally, the unique thing about Flounders is that their eyes “migrate” across their face until both eyes are on the same side. They are either “right-facing” or “left-facing,” depending on which side their head is when their eyes are above their mouth (like in the picture above). Halibut are always right-facing. Other Flounders may face left or right depending on the species.

Where to Find Flounder and Halibut

A map showing the distribution of Halibut and Flounder in North America. Waters where only Halibut live are marked in red. Waters where only Flounder live are marked in yellow. Waters where both fish live are marked in orange.

The general rule of thumb is that Halibut live farther north than other Flounder species. You can find Pacific Halibut from the western coast of Alaska down to the Northwestern United States. Atlantic Halibut start showing up around Cape Cod and live all the way up to Greenland and over into northern Europe.

Alaska is the heartland of Halibut fishing. The most iconic waters are around Homer on the Kenai Peninsula. You can also find monster Flatfish farther south, around Juneau or Vancouver Island. Halibut fishing isn’t as big on the East Coast, though. Atlantic Halibut is an endangered species, and it’s not a common target on charter trips.

Flounder live everywhere from the Gulf of Mexico to the Gulf of Maine and all along the US Pacific Coast down into Mexico. They’re hugely popular in Gulf Coast towns like Galveston, where they make up the “Big Three” inshore fish along with Redfish and Seatrout. They’re also a staple catch in California, Maryland, New Jersey – pretty much anywhere with a coastline!

Halibut vs. Flounder Taste

A piece of fried Halibut on a plate, with green beans behind it and chopped peppers and onions scattered on top. There are two slices of lemon on the left corner of the plate and a fork in the bottom left on a napkin.

Which tastes better? That’s the million dollar question. After all, people catch these fish for food as much as for fun. Halibut and Flounder taste pretty similar. Not surprising, considering they’re so closely related. The main difference is that Halibut is more firm and meaty, while Flounder tends to be delicate and flaky.

Halibut is also one of the least fatty fish you can buy. This, combined with its firm flesh and delicious taste, makes it perfect for frying or grilling. Flounder is slightly fattier and the fillets are much thinner. It’s a dream fish to fry or bake, but it’s tough to cook right on the grill.

However, The most important thing to think about is how fresh the fish is. If you catch it yourself or you know it’s fresh, go for Halibut. If you’re on the East Coast, Flounder is often a better choice just because it doesn’t have to come all the way from Alaska. Atlantic Halibut is a rare find these days, and it’s best to avoid eating endangered species if possible.

Halibut and Flounder: a Slice of Fishy Perfection

An angler in orange waterproof trousers, a cap, and sunglasses holding a giant Pacific Halibut at the back of a charter boat. There is a fishing rod in a holder on the rail to the right and sea behind. You can see some rocks sticking out of the water in the distance and mountains behind them on the horizon.

Halibut and Flounder are two of the country’s favorite fish. They’re a staple part of charter trips along the length of both seaboards. More than that, they define the history of places like Alaska. It’s easy to see why people love them so much: They’re healthy, delicious, and to top it all, they’re great fun to catch.

Sadly, Atlantic stocks are critically overfished. Pacific waters are carefully managed, though, and many fisheries are considered to be sustainable. On top of that, most smaller Flounders are doing fine. They live all around the US, so next time you’re in the mood for delicious fish, why not go out and catch one yourself?

What’s the biggest Flatfish you ever caught? Do you have a favorite way of cooking it? Drop us a comment with your fishing stories and cooking tips. We would love to hear from you!

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