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Home / Fishing / Fish Species



West Coast Fish

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The West Coast Fish

Spotted Bay Bass
Barred Sand Bass
Kelp Bass (Calico)
White Sea Bass

Pacific Barracuda
California Halibut
Yellow Tail

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Fish Species brought to you in association with Wickstrom Publishers Inc.
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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 "Serranidae"

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.
TACKLE AND 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.

Barred Sand Bass "Serranidae"

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.
TACKLE AND 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.

Kelp Bass (Calico) "Serranidae"

RANGE: Calico bass occur as far north as the Columbia River in Washington to southern Baja California. But they are most abundant from Point Conception southward.
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 -70 feet.
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.
TACKLE AND 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) and sardines.
FISHING SYSTEMS: Casting and flylining baits. Casting heavy metal jigs and casting lead heads and rubbertails.

White Sea Bass "Atractoscion Nobilis"

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 "Silver Giants".
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.

Pacific Barracuda "Sphyraena Argentea"

Pacific Barracuda
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 barracuda.
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.
TACKLE AND 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.

California Halibut "Paralichthys Californicus"

California Halibut
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 lizard fish.

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 pounder.
TACKLE AND 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 line.

Yellowtail "Seriola Lalandi"

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 yellowtail.
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 waters.
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.
TACKLE AND 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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