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Home / Fishing / Fish Species



Surf Fish


California Corbina
Barred Surf Perch
Yellowfin Croaker

Spotfin Croaker

Surf fish are caught on the beach areas in the pounding surf line. They are also found in the shallow bays along the coast. They are caught mostly on mussels, various clams, ghost shrimp, innkeeper worms, blood worms and some artificials. Traditional tackle used by surf fishermen is a long rod for distance casting, sand spikes to hold the rods in position, and heavy 3 to 6 ounce sinkers to keep the bait from sliding in the powerful current. There is also a group of light tackle anglers that fish with artificial rubber tails and some plugs.

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Corbina are almost always found over sandy bottoms, usually where there is extensive wave action. They are also found cruising the bays close to the sand drop-offs when the tides are moving at their maximum speed. They have always been one of the most sought after surf fishes.

RANGE: Corbina range from Point Conception to the Gulf of California.
HABITAT: Corbina exist in the extreme shallow surf areas of the beach. Many times, their backs are exposed as they swim in with a wave to chase sand crabs. They have been caught 150 feet deep but are known mainly for their existence in very shallow water. They are also found in the numerous bays along the Southern Cal coast.
Corbina are long slim croakers with a chin barbel used for smelling out food buried in the sand, mostly sand crabs and grunion eggs. They are usually gray or bluish on the back and white below. In the summer
the females turn very dark and their pectoral fins are black. These colors darken as they approach the spawning period. Their tails are large and powerful for mobility in the strong surf. Corbina have been taken to 32 inches. The State record is 6.9 pounds. From many of the piers along the coast you can see groups of small male fish chasing the much larger females during the heat of the spawn.
The corbina filets are pure white, light and very tasty. They rank at the top of the list for surf fish.
GAME QUALITIES: Corbina are very powerful because of the size of their tail, and especially powerful to those anglers fishing with 4 to 6 pound line. Large corbina are virtually impossible to get up to dry sand using light
tackle. To land them, light tackle anglers have to get in the water and grab them. Many of the traditional long rodders have had their rods yanked out of the sand spike as hooked fish lunge for deep water.
Light tackle anglers use long 8ı to 9ı rods with reels spooled with 4 to 6 pound line. The sinkers are usually slip egg sinkers from 1/4 th ounce to 1 1/2 ounces, blocked by a swivel. Light tackle anglers walk down the beach with the ever moving current. Their sinkers bump along the bottom until the bait gets to a fish. Their bait is usually sand crabs, bloodworms, or rubber worms. Long pole fishermen use 10 to 13 foot rods with reels spooled with 15-pound test line or heavier. They cast large 3 to 6-ounce sinkers out into the surf where the heavy sinkers hold the bait in place until a fish swims by. Bait is available in most tackle stores along the coast. The best all around bait (highly arguable) is mussels. The next is ghost shrimp with sand crabs following in there somewhere.


Surf Perch
The most prolific fish found in the turbulent surf is one of Southern Cals most common fish, the surfperch. Surf fishermen catch more of these fish than any other fish that live in the surf. There are ten different species of surfperch: calico, kelp, pile, shiner, spotfin, silver, striped, wall eye, redtail and barred perch. Contrary to what their names imply most of them exist in bays, under piers and around pilings. The two most popular are the redtail and the barred perch. The redtail lives mostly in northern California waters and the barred perch is a Southern Cal resident. Walleye surfperch are also caught while fishing for the barreds and sometimes become targets for anglers, especially those fishing artificials.

RANGE: These aggressive fighters live in the surf from northern Washington to north Baja, but most commonly found from Santa Cruz southward.
Barred perch swim in very shallow water. They like to school up and swim in the trench that parallels most of the beaches in Southern Cal. You know! The one that you fall in when you first enter the surf.
Barreds are silvery or brassy fish with 8-10 yellow or rust colored bars on their sides. Usually there are spots between the bars. Barreds reach 17 inches and the California record is 4.2 pounds. Barreds bear live young and itıs not unusual to land a one while the young ones pop out and swim off. Spawning occurs from February to July.
Like most surfperch the barreds have firm white, light tasting meat. They are excellent eating.
There is no question in the mind of an angler who has a barred perch strike. They hit harder than any other surf fish. This is especially true when you are fishing with rubber grubs for bait. There is a selective group of anglers that roam the beaches with light lines and various artificials, mostly rubber grubs. They fish the incoming tide to the point of the highest pounding surf and the rougher it is the better these guys like it. They twitch the rubber grubs behind sinkers from 3/4 th ounce to 2 ounces.
Most anglers use traditional surf fishing tackle. They use 10-13 foot rods with reels full of 15-LB test line. Sand spikes are necessary to support the rod while 3 to 6 ounce sinkers hold the bait in place. Sand crabs are barreds favorite food. Ghost shrimp, mussels and bloodworms also work well. Light tackle anglers use 8-9 foot rods and reels filled with 4-6 LB test line. Slip egg sinkers are used blocked by a swivel.
The leader is about 24 inches if bait is used. The best bait is a live sand crab put on a number #6 hook in such a way as to not kill the crab. Many fishermen use small, single tailed rubber "Grubs". They are an inch long and come in various colors. Number #4 -#6 bait holder hooks are used so the worm doesnıt slide back on the hook. Some anglers place as many as 5 tails trailing off an 8-foot leader. Most use only two grubs behind the sinker.


Yellowfin are croakers like many of their cousins that swim the beaches of Southern Cal. Springtime through the summer bring them to the beaches and bays by the thousands. Yellowfin are the most caught of the surf fishes right along side the barreds. Yellowfin are easily the most frequent biters of all. They bite at any time of the tides. They are caught anywhere in the shallow waters of the coast.

RANGE: Yellowfin range from San Francisco to the Gulf of California but are rarely taken above Ventura, California.
These fish hang out in large schools behind the surf line. They like rapidly moving water and can be found within bays in areas of swiftly moving tidal bores. They are most abundant from July through September and scarce the rest of the year.
Yellowfins have shiny gray, green or bluish backs with white bellies and a series of diagonal yellow brown stripes on their backs. There is a pronounced barbel on the chin. Their fin color can be a dark yellow brown to a brilliant canary yellow color.
These fish can have firm white filets of delectable quality. They can also assume a strong iodine taste. Apparently this taste is most prevalent in the middle of their spawn. Sometimes itıs so strong you can detect the smell as you remove the hook from the fresh caught fish.
Yellowfins are prime targets for many pier fishermen and surf fishermen. They hit the bait very hard and fight with reckless abandon. This is especially true when artificials are used. Halibut anglers using
live anchovies for bait, catch many incidental yellowfin. The California State record is 2.1 pounds.
If the surf is where you wish to fish the yellowfin then remember that it takes long casts to reach them. In this case you should use a long rod with light #15 pound test line so that you can really throw the bait great distances. You can use light tackle in the bays and off the piers. Their favorite food is live anchovies but readily take any bait that you can put in front of them. Casting great distance calls for bait that will stay on the hook and not get thrown off. Blood worms and ghost shrimp are probably the best for this application. You can enjoy some real tackle busting fun if you can get a boat into their zone and fish with artificials. They love to hit small plugs, rubber grubs and small barracuda feathers. Trolling these artificials can sometimes really catch them.


"Spotties" have long been the number one objective of the long casting surf fishermen. They average larger than the other surf fishes and their powerful strikes are legendary, some fish bending the long rods in the sand spikes completely down to the water.

RANGE: Spotfin are found from Point Conception, California to southern Baja California, most commonly from Los Angeles Harbor southward. They truly are a Southern California fish.
Spotfins hug the shoreline in water less than 30 feet. They cruise the area behind the breaker line and come into the surf area only during the flood high tides. They also enter the bays in large schools with the incoming tide, especially a tide moving up to a flood level.
Spotties have very obvious black spots at the base of their pectoral fins. They are bluish-gray or gray on their backs, brassy on their flanks and white on their bellies. During the breeding season the males may be completely brassy or golden. Some anglers have thought these golden males were a separate species.
They are white fleshed and very table worthy.
GAME QUALITIES: When ever a spottie strikes there will usually be a series of immediate follow-up strikes as the school moves by. Their strikes are strong and steady as they pull those 4-ounce sinkers effortless across the bottom. Spotfin are not caught with artificials. They are caught mostly on bait. Contrary to popular belief the best time to catch spotties in the surf is at a dead low tide, where the angler can wade and cast into their zone.
This zone becomes much harder to reach as the tide moves up. Bay fishermen can use light tackle if they can find the spotties thoroughfare. This usually requires a boat. Spotfin are very large and the California State Record is #14 pounds.
Long casting for spotfin is the answer to landing them. If you can throw bait long distances your chances of catching them becomes much greater. Sometimes individual fish come into the surf zone at high tide but most of them are deeper. Use 10-13 foot long, slow bend, casting rods with 15 pound test line or
less. Put small one inch pieces of bloodworm on a #4- #6 hooks. String the worm completely onto the hook with only the point of the hook exposed. Ghost shrimp is probably a better bait but difficult to cast without falling off on the casting arc. The best bait is mussel tied to the hook with string or a rubber band but they are also really hard to cast.


Sargo have a resemblance to spotfin and sometimes are mistaken for them. Very large individuals are caught at Catalina Island by anglers fishing with squid for white sea bass. Some anglers target Sargo for catching but most are caught by fishermen looking for other surf type fish. They are popular targets for pier fishermen.

RANGE: Sargo have been found from Santa Cruz in central California to southern Baja, California. They were planted in the Salton Sea in 1951 and have done very well there. They are abundant from Santa Monica southward.
Sargo are schooling fish that are found near the bottom from shallow subtidal waters to 198 feet, most often in 40 feet or less. They like to hang around structure such as rocks, kelp, oil platforms and pier pilings. They are abundant in marinas under the boats near the mooring pilings.
Sargos are deep bodied, perch shaped fish. They have vertical dark bars on their side near midbody. They are silvery and sometimes brassy colored. They donıt get as large as a spotfin but there are reports of 6 pounders being caught.
Sargo flesh is firm, white and light tasting, not fishy tasting.
GAME QUALITIES: They are tremendous fighters. Sargo attack your bait and fight much like a spotfin. They are caught strictly on bait. When you catch one expect another instantly because of their schooling tactics.
Not many are caught in the surf but they are caught piers and in bays. Light tackle can be used efficiently. 8 to 9 foot rods with 8 LB to 10 LB test line works well around the base of piers and rocks.
Mussels, razor clams, and ghost shrimp are the best baits for sargo. Fish for sargo during the fast water tidal flow around bridges, piers and bays. The largest sargo of all are caught in 10 feet of water or less at Catalina Island during the white sea bass bite.

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