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West Coast Fish
The West Coast Fish
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Southern California Bass
This group of basses are very
similar in appearance. They exist in habitats that are different but sometimes
overlap, especially with the barred sand bass and the calico bass. The sand bass
many times will swim into the calicos' kelpy domain and be caught alternately
with the calico. But it's rare for a calico to cross over into the sandy habitat
of the the sand bass. They both exist in the numerous shipwrecks that are found
off the Los Angeles waters and in the many rocky made made rock jetties that
adorn the Southern California coastline. These fish are very popular targets for
West Coast anglers who catch thousands of them each year. The spotted bay bass
is found mostly in the bays from Long Beach into Mexico and around Cabo into the
Sea of Cortez where they are the found by the millions. There is a very popular
sportfishing group that search the West Coast bays for the spotted sandies using
small jigs and artificial.
Spotted Bay Bass
RANGE: Spotted bay bass occur from the Sea Of Cortez around the
corner of Baja and up north into California as far as Long Beach.
HABITAT: They are primarily confined to the large bays in
California. Only once in awhile are they found in open ocean.
DESCRIPTION: The body of the spotted bass is moderately
elongate and compressed. The mouth is large and the jaw protruding slightly. The
color is olive brown with round black spots on the body head, and fins. Spotted
bass can easily be distinguished from the kelp bass by the height of the third
dorsal spine. In spotted sand bass and barred sand bass it is the longest of the
dorsal spines, while in the kelp bass the third, fourth, and fifth spines are of
about equal length. Spotted bass differ from barred sand bass by the presence of
spots that cover the entire body.
SIZE: Most fish are from 12 to 13 inches long. The California
record is 22 inches, 5.8 pounds.
FOOD VALUE: Very light textured flesh and excellent eating.
GAME QUALITIES: Very strong fighters that initially yank the
rod out of your hand. They immediately look for a hole to dive into.
BAITS: Float tube fishermen and small boaters can really have fun
with the bay bass. They love small lead heads sporting rubber tails of different
colors and very light lines. Huntington Harbor, Newport Harbor and the San Diego
Bays support large numbers of the spotties. Anglers fish among the boats and
boat docks, the stretches of submerged marsh grass, stretches of rapid tidal
flow and points and corners of the various bays.
FISHING SYSTEMS: Casting.
Barred Sand Bass
RANGE: Barred sand bass occur from southern Baja to Santa Cruz
California. The adults of this species occurs from shallow water to depths of
600 feet; however, most fish are taken in 60 to 90 feet of water. Younger fish
are found in abundance from 5-30 feet.
HABITAT: The barred sand bass lives in the sandy areas of the
offshore. They congregate around bottom structure like boulders and shipwrecks.
During their spawning period they gather in schools over hard sandy bottom areas
from 90 to 100 feet.
DESCRIPTION: The body of the barred sand bass is elongate and
compressed. The mouth is large and the lower jaw protrudes slightly. The color
is gray white on the back, white on the belly and there are dark vertical bars
on the sides. Barred sand bass can easily be distinguished from kelp bass by the
height of the third dorsal spine. In barred sand bass this spine is the longest
of the dorsal spines, while in the kelp bass, the third, fourth and fifth dorsal
spines are of about equal length. Barred sand bass can be distinguished from
spotted sand bass by the lack of of spots on the body.
SIZE: Barred sand bass are generally larger than spotted bay
bass and the largest California fish caught was 26 inches and 11.1 pounds.
FOOD VALUE: Light textured flesh and good eating.
GAME QUALITIES: Very strong aggressive fish. Many times on the
initial cast of a lure the entire school of fish, numbering in the hundreds,
will follow a hooked fish to the boat. Tackle and Baits: Barred sand bass will
attack most any artificial thrown at them. They eat lead heads and rubber tails
as well as any live bait presented to them. When they gather for their summer
spawn , they are located with a depth sounder. The boat is anchored in the area
and traditionally the school builds under the boat as the anglers pick away at
catching them. Usually the school builds to heavy proportions and the angling
some times reaches a frenzy catch. They are fished in three main areas:
Horseshoe Kelp to Newport Beach, Dana Point to Oceanside and the Silver Strand
off San Diego.
BAITS: Casting lead heads and various colored rubber tails. Iron
Jigs and live bait. They can also be caught trolling very large plugs like
Rapalas and Yo-Zuri.
FISHING SYSTEMS: Casting;
RANGE: Calico bass occur as far north as the Columbia River in
Washington to southern Baja California. But they are most abundant from Point
HABITAT: Calico bass love to live around structure and almost
any kind will do. Kelp, rocks, sewer pipes and oil platforms, it hardly matters.
They live from subtidal waters to 200 feet deep and they are most abundant in 10
DESCRIPTION: Calico bass are handsome fish. Brown, gray brown
or olive on backs and sides, alternating with pale blotches (hence the name
"calico"). The colors are much more vibrant in small fish. Some breeding males
have bright yellow snouts and chins.
SIZE: Kelp bass can reach 28 inches and some live at least 33
years. The California record is 14.7 pounds.
FOOD VALUE: The flesh of the calico is the tastiest of his
cousins. It is very light and not fishy. It is probably within the top three of
the best tasting fishes on the west coast.
GAME QUALITIES: Kelp bass are the most important recreational
species in the Southern California sportboat industry. They are true fighters
that have a distinctive attack on your bait. They hit hard and some times clear
the water chasing a bait or lure. They are more of a top water fish than their
cousins but they have been caught at 200 feet deep.
BAITS: Any of the metal jigs, " Iron", or rubber tails with
leadheads work for kelp bass. The best bait for this bass is "brown bait". Brown
bait is smaller bait fish named "herring" (queenfish) "tom cod" (white croaker)
FISHING SYSTEMS: Casting and flylining baits. Casting heavy
metal jigs and casting lead heads and rubbertails.
White Sea Bass "Atractoscion
White Sea Bass
White sea bass are probably one the
most desired catch of Southern California anglers. The potential of catching
fish to 50 pounds is always there and not unusual. They appear at the local
islands with the spawning squid and sometimes are caught every single cast for
over an hour. They are called "croakers" because they belong to a family of fish
that actually make a croaking sound as you pull them over the side. The harbors
and bays are their nurseries and many fish as small as 8 inches can be caught.
RANGE: White sea bass have been taken from Juneau, Alaska to
southern Baja California\. These fish are most common from about Point
Conception south with an occasional fish taken in central California.
HABITAT: Sea bass live in different habitats at different life
stages. Very young sea bass from 2-4 inches live in drift algae just behind the
surf line. Older juveniles occupy bays and shallow coastal waters, often near
rocks or kelp. Adults are usually found near reefs or kelp beds. Large adults
move into deep water (120- 350 feet) during the winter.
DESCRIPTION: Very young sea bass up to a few inches long are
usually brown or golden, but can be silvery. Juveniles to to 24 inches are
silvery- gray or silvery-dusky, with a series of dark bars on their sides.
Adults are gray- blue, bronze or almost yellow. Anglers refer to sea bass as the
SIZE: Big sea bass can get 5 feet long and weigh 50 pounds.
Sometimes you can catch all short fish to 15 inches and sometimes catch a bunch
from 10 pounds to 50 pounds. It's not unusual to catch 30 pounders. The
California record fish weighed 77.4 pounds.
FOOD VALUE: Sea bass are very important to commercial fishermen
and fish restaurants all over California use sea bass on their menus. Sea bass
flesh is pure white and very light tasting. Usually the filets are so big you
have to barbecue them.
GAME QUALITIES: White sea bass are one of the rare fish that
don't intentionally dive into the rocks or kelp when they are hooked, they tend
to head for open water. They are powerful, strong and steady fighters that will
test your reel drags.
TACKLE AND BAITS: Live squid is easily the best bait for sea bass at the
local islands. Live sardines are the second best bait elsewhere. There are four
techniques that are used. One: Dropper loop: A 2 foot dropper leader is placed
above a 2 -4 ounce torpedo sinker about 3 feet. The bait is hooked onto a 3/0 to
7/0 hook attached to the leader. Two: An egg sinker is used to slide up and down
the line and it is blocked with a swivel above the hook about 3 feet. The hook
is also 3/0 to 7/0 size. Three: For live squid a 1/4-3/4th lead head hook, size
to 7/0 is tied to the line and the squid is hooked in the tail and cast into the
area of the fish. Four: Large heavy metal jigs painted white are tied to the end
of the line with as many as 4 live squid placed on the hooks. This is "still
fished " with the rod anchored in a rod holder with he reel in gear. This is
called "Jig and Squid" fishing.
FISHING SYSTEMS: Casting to shallow water at least 3 feet deep.
Still fishing the "Jig and Squid" system. Many anglers deploy casting and
retrieving white jigs to 6 ounces in weight.. Heavy rods are needed for the "Jig
and Squid". 30 pound test line is not too light, most anglers use 40 pound test.
Fishing the other systems you can use lighter gear but don't use lines lighter
than 15 pound test.
This barracuda is not to be confused
with the great barracuda of the tropics. The pacific barracuda is excellent
eating and sold commercially. The great barracuda is poisonous and inedible.
Barracuda move into southern waters during early spring for spawning although
some years they have been caught in the winter especially during the El Nino
years. They roam around the southland waters in large schools where they might
appear anywhere along the coast.
RANGE: "Barries" live from Kodiak Island to southern Baja
California. Except during warm water years when they are commonly taken in
central California, these fish are found from point Conception southward to
Punta Canaos, Baja California.
HABITAT: Barracuda are considered a top water or pelagic fish.
They travel in large schools usually close to shore around the rocky kelp areas.
Their young of the year live in the shallow bays and marinas along the coast.
Los Angeles and Long Beach harbors are a virtual nursery for the young
DESCRIPTION: It would be difficult to confuse barracuda with
anything else. They are long, skinny, have bluish or brownish backs, silvery
sides and a mouth full of pointed teeth. Males have a tan or grayish anal fin
while those of a female are black.
SIZE: They can reach 35 inches and some records show fish to 48
inches being caught. Most fish range from 5 to 10 lbs. Any fish over 10 pounds
is always a female. The California record is 15.15 pounds.
FOOD VALUE: Barracuda are excellent eating but they have to
cleaned quickly and iced down on the spot. If they are left in a gunny sack all
day, they become very strong, and fishy tasting. Barracuda is one of the better
fish for smoking. They are probably barbecued more than fried.
GAME QUALITIES: Barracuda are ferocious attackers. They are
caught mostly on iron jigs and live bait. Sardines are their favorite. Steel
leaders are a must as their sharp teeth will cut your line instantly.
BAITS: Jig casting calls for long 8-9 foot rods of sufficient
backbone to throw the heavy jigs.30- 40 pound line is necessary to hold up under
the tremendous stress of constant casting the heavy jigs. Traditionally,
barracuda like blue and white colored jigs the best although when they are in a
frenzy bite they will eat literally anything thrown to them. Live sardines are
their favorite live bait and you have to use "shorty" steel leaders to avoid
their teeth. Trolling Rapalas is another excellent way to put them on the boat
but don't forget a shorty steel leader in front of that expensive plug.
FISHING SYSTEMS: Casting and flylining baits. Casting heavy
metal jigs and casting lead heads and rubbertails.
Halibut "Paralichthys Californicus"
California Halibut are bottom
dwellers. They cover themselves with sand, exposing only their eyes and their
jaw. Here they wait in ambush position for an unwary bait to swim by. They have
powerful tails that give them tremendous push off the bottom. Their eyes are
somewhat small for their body size, because they are always looking up into the
sun. Halibut migrate from deep water in the winter to shallow areas in the
summer. They especially like grunion runs in the surf. There main diet is
probably anchovies but they eat all of the fish that are called "Brown Bait".
These are: herring (queenfish), smelt, tom cod (white croaker), sardines, and
RANGE: California halibut are found from the Quillayute River,
Washington to southern Baja California.
HABITAT: While these fish live on soft bottoms, they really
like to hang around structure. You will find them near rocks, artificial reefs,
kelp holdfasts and irregularities in the bottom will aggregate them. They
especially like to lay in the sand dollar beds found just behind the breaker
line of the beach. "Flatties" live most commonly from about 5 feet to 180 feet.
Contrary to popular belief, halibut move around extensively following schools of
bait. They spawn inshore in the early spring and late winter.
DESCRIPTION: Halibut have their eyes on one side of their head.
On this side of the body they are usually brown or blackish especially if they
come out of the harbor areas. In open water and around the islands their dark
side is light brown with white splotches. The blind side of the fish is white.
They have large tails and small eyes. They are the only flatfish that have much
in the way of teeth. Their teeth are well developed, large, and very sharp.
SIZE: California halibut reach 5 feet in length and about 72
pounds pounds in weight. Females live as long as 30 years and grow much faster
than males. The average catch along the beach is anywhere from 8 inches to 30
pounds. The California record is 58.9 pounds.
FOOD VALUE: Halibut rate at he top of the food-fare list. They
flesh is very light, flaky and tasty but the meat is very dry and you must not
overcook it. It is one of the top catches for the commercial fishermen and all
fish restaurants serve halibut.
GAME QUALITIES: Halibut grab your bait in an unusual way. They
don't run off in extended runs like other fish. They push off the bottom, grab
the bait, and settle back down to the same spot they came from and swallow the
meal. If they take the bait as it's going down you might not know it until you
decide later to pull it in for a check. Surprise, especially if its' a 20
BAITS: Slip sinkers are the best so that the " flattie " doesn't
feel weight resistance of the sinker. This is especially true as you drift down
wind dragging your bait across the bottom. (The most popular fishing technique
for halibut). Halibut respond very well to light tackle so if you are fishing in
shallow water you can use 6 pound test line. Halibut also respond to rubber
tails bouncing along the bottom.
FISHING SYSTEMS: The most popular system is the slip egg sinker
blocked by a swivel with about a 30 inch leader. When the fish strikes, it pulls
your line out off the free-spool position of your reel. Hook size should fit the
bait size. Since the bait is always nose-hooked when dragging he hook cannot be
too large. When they are too large they tend to turn around and stick into the
eye of the bait. A small reel and a 10 to 20 pound rod is best for shallow
water. The reel should have clicker. In deeper water you need heavier tackle.
It's difficult to lift a 20 pound halibut up from 30 feet or more with light
Yellowtail is the most sought after game fish in
Southern California. It is without doubt the strongest and fastest fish on the
hook. From the 40 pound + Catalina mossbacks to the breezing schools of 10
pounders, " yellows" are chased all over Southern California waters.
RANGE: They are found from British Columbia to Chile and
worldwide in temperate and subtropical seas. They are common off California from
Santa Barbara southward.
HABITAT: "Yellows" are schooling fish but you often see
individuals under floating kelp paddies. Although they are thought of as open
water animals they often are found in association with some kind of structure,
such as kelp, rocky reefs or oil platforms. Most yellows migrate to Southern
California from central Baja in early spring or sometimes late winter depending
on the water temperature. Resident fish can be found living around the off shore
islands. They are large fish called "Mossbacks".
DESCRIPTION: Yellowtail are beautiful torpedo-shaped silvery
fish, with a yellow to dusky stripe along their sides and a dark bar extending
through their eye. Their fins and tail are very yellow ; thus, the name
SIZE: Schooling yellows in Southern California average from 10
to 25 pounds while old individual mossbacks reach over 40 pounds. There are some
who claim that fish over 100 pounds are cruising around especially in Mexican
FOOD VALUE: Yellowtail is a fish that spoils quickly in the
bag. They should immediately be placed on ice and never allowed to get warm. If
they are cared for properly they are a top eating fish. Since their flesh is
dark, they are best barbecued or smoked. Some chefs claim that they are the
finest of smoked fish.
GAME QUALITIES: They are the fastest of all the pelagic game
fishes. They also head for the nearest rock or kelp bed, making them the most
difficult of all to catch." Puddling yellows" to "breezing bird" " yellows" to
"kelp paddy" yellows are descriptions of these fish. All the names indicate what
they look like on top the water. There are stories of Catalina "mossbacks"
running off from anglers using 40 pound line to end up lost in the rocks.
BAITS: Yellows will chase a variety of iron jigs of various
colors. They will on occasion attack jigs reeled back just under the water to
retrieves from 100 feet deep or more. Most always they want the jigs reeled as
fast as possible. Reels that recover line of at least a 4-1 ratio or faster are
desirable. They also can be caught with various live baits depending on their
size. Large yellows will eagerly attack a mackerel while smaller fish will eat
live sardines with no problem. Casting jigs calls for rods 8 feet or longer and
with enough backbone to handle 6 ounces or more. The reels for casting should
handle at least 200 yards of 40 pound test line and retrieve at a 4-1 ratio (
6-1 is better). For bait, the line test should go down according to how touchy
they are. In open waters you can use as small as 12 pound test but around
structure, 20 pound line is recommended. Yellows also like trolled 6 inch
Rapalas. Mackerel, anchovy, or fire tiger colors are best. Troll at least 8
knots or more.
FISHING SYSTEMS: Casting heavy jigs, flylining large mackerel
and sardines. Trolling large plugs.
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