Halibut vs. Flounder: All You Need to Know
Jan 28, 2021 | 4 minute read Comments
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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 almost always right-facing. Other Flounders may face left or right depending on the species.

Where to Find Flounder and Halibut

a map infographic showing Halibut vs. Flounder distribution across North America

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.

The most iconic Halibut fishing waters are around Homer on the Kenai Peninsula. You can also find this monster Flatfish farther south, around Juneau or Vancouver Island, and all the way down to central California.

The California Halibut are actually a different subspecies, but many people consider them the same fish as their northern relative.

Atlantic Halibut start showing up around Cape Cod and live all the way up to Greenland and over into northern Europe. 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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Comments (20)
  • Rose Meriales

    Dec 14, 2020

    My fisherman catch some flounders yesterday and a few are facing Left and most are facing Right. Because the flounders that are facing Right are much larger, has eggs and so I am assuming they are female. Pls confirm. Thanks!

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      Albert

      Dec 15, 2020

      Hi Rose,

      Even though each species of Flounders is usually left or right-eyed, they can occasionally be the other way around. It doesn’t normally depend on whether they’re male or female.

      However, female Flounders do generally grow bigger, and if they had eggs, they’re definitely female.

      All the best!

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  • Tanner

    Oct 6, 2020

    Hi Sean I am Spencer’s brother my name is tanner

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      Sean

      Oct 7, 2020

      Hi Tanner,

      Nice to meet you!

      Say hi to your brother, and do let us know if you catch any more cool fish.

      Have a great day!

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  • Spencer

    Oct 6, 2020

    Yes that was a nice one do you know my poppy Bob Guss because if you do I don’t know if you caught a halibut before but he’s pretty good I am his grandson I also I have my cousin Nico Guss Tanner guss Spencer Guss well that’s me but nice talking Sean bye

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      Sean

      Oct 7, 2020

      Hi Spencer,

      I don’t know your grandpa, but I’m sure he loves fishing just as much as you do.

      Hope you get to catch another flatfish soon!

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  • Spencer

    Oct 6, 2020

    Ya I caught a small mouth bass at a pond a about 2weeks ago then I went to a other pond and had some blue gills on the line but I tried hooking then but they were real tricky fish I also caught a 22 inch flounder in Avalon with my poppy and I ate it with some lemon on it

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      Sean

      Oct 6, 2020

      Hi Spencer,

      Thanks for sharing.

      Sounds like you’ve seen some nice action lately. Love the way you finished things off, few things taste as good as fresh Flounder!

      Tight lines!

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  • mark jamison

    Oct 2, 2020

    your article has several distinct omissions and mistakes. First, halibut has no scales like flounder have. flounder do live in Alaska waters in difference to your map. Also halibut are also right and left handed. Usually you will catch about one left handed halibut for every thirty or forty fish caught.

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      Albert

      Oct 2, 2020

      Hi Mark,

      I’m not sure I really agree.

      Firstly. Halibut do have scales, they’re just small and embedded in the skin. This is why Halibut and Flounder are both normally considered kosher, for example.

      In terms of distribution, you’re right that Starry Flounder do live in Alaska. However, they’re not really caught recreationally, while Halibut is one of the most iconic catches both in Alaska and along the Canadian coast.

      It is true that some Halibut can be left-handed, even though they’re officially a “righteye Flounder“.

      Overall, I wanted to keep the article easy to understand, and not make these fish any more confusing than they already are. However, I’ll add a note that, occasionally, Halibut can be left-handed.

      Thanks for getting in touch. It’s great to hear from someone so passionate about flatfish.

      Tight lines!

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      Spencer

      Oct 7, 2020

      Flounder don’t live in alaska I’m ten and I know this come on now

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      Albert

      Oct 8, 2020

      Hi Spencer,

      You may be surprised to hear that actually, they do! However, they’re not a common catch and they’re nowhere near as famous as Halibut, hence I didn’t include them in the article.

      Either way, it’s great to see young people taking an interest in our fisheries.

      All the best!

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  • Frank A Sosa

    Aug 4, 2020

    That map is not accurate. There is a vibrant Halibut fishery on the West Coast of the United States as far south as central California (San Luis Obispo area).

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      Sean

      Aug 5, 2020

      Hi Frank,

      Thanks for pointing that out, you’re completely right.

      We’ve updated the map to show the correct Halibut distribution.

      Thanks once again, and have a great day!

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  • dave scott

    Jul 11, 2020

    I am a Halibut Fanatic!

    Best place I have ever had Halibut is on the Pier in Seattle just beside the Argosy tour boat at a walkup restaurant. To get there I have to drive for 17 hours from Edmonton Alberta.

    By the time you hit the dock you’re starving and they have a meal of HUGE pieces of Halibut and a whole potato turned into chunky fries. The Halibut is slightly smoked and then steamed I think.

    Worth the drive just for for this dinner alone!

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      Albert

      Jul 13, 2020

      Hi Dave,

      That’s quite the recommendation! I’ll have to keep it in mind next time I’m up in the Northeast.

      Do you fish for Halibut, too?

      All the best.

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  • LILIA PEREZ

    Jun 23, 2020

    Thanks for your helpful article regarding the difference between them.
    I’d no idea we are capable of getting halibut in the northeast. Unfortunately they are endangered species as you mentioned.
    I pan fried some halibut the other day ( Pacific) delicious ! Topped it with ” sarsa criolla” and rice on the side.
    Thanks 😊 again.

    Thanks again 😊

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      Albert

      Jun 24, 2020

      Hi Lilia,

      Thanks for getting in touch. I’m glad you enjoyed the article!

      That sounds delicious! Food really doesn’t get much better than fresh Halibut.

      All the best!

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  • Kathy Elentrio

    Apr 2, 2020

    I found cod in fast foods and grocery frozen flounder. I did not know how good for you it was. I had to search but that is 1way to avoid extinction. I did not get a chance to search til I was passed 20! I don’t know if this comment has any significance but I wrote it anyway, hope it does.. rsp

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      Albert

      Apr 2, 2020

      Hi Kathy,

      Thanks for getting in touch. You’re right, Cod and Flounder are both incredibly good for you. They’re also super tasty, which is always a bonus!

      All the best!

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