Southern CA seasonal Fish Target Chart & Fish Species Description
The diverse underwater environment off the San Diego coast offers a plethora of year round fish species to target. About 1/2 mile offshore most of San Diego County are thick kelp forests home to countless species of fish.
This provides some great fishing grounds for kayaker’s (‘yakers), private boaters and party boats based in San Diego. Even better the ride to the grounds is very short for most boats. Trips to the Kelp areas averages about 20-30 min. ride. The Coronado Islands and areas off Imperial Beach (near the Mexico Border) run about 45-60minutes. Roughly 20min. north of Mission Bay fleets and closest to boats out of Mission Bay like Seaforth and Dana Landing are the La Jolla Kelp Beds. For boats out of San Diego Bay including H&M Landing, Pt. Loma Sportfishing and Fisherman’s Landing, the Pt. Loma Kelp Beds (my favorite) are right around the Cabrillo Monument point at Point Loma. As a bonus the scenery is awesome, especially for those seeing for the first time.
Most common targets you will be fishing for in these fishing grounds are (note some species are part of random and scheduled DFG closures and are off limits during certain months of the year:
Targeted year round but mostly caught during late Spring through Fall. This fish gives one of the best fights pound for pound of any fish in San Diego and Mexico waters.
Another explosive fighting surface feeder caught sporadically year round but mostly summer months through Fall.
The highly respected and elusive Calico Bass can be evasive to catch and a local San Diego favorite and my personal favorite to both catch and eat, especially for fish tacos. Bigger “Bulls” or females I release and encourage others to do the same as this fish is a slow grower and doesn’t produce many babies. Caught Spring through Fall mostly when the surface temp rises. Bites well in a strong current and tide.
Sand Bass::Caught year round, spring through summer most popular. Usually caught off or near the bottom, these fish are hardy and abundant off San Diego at the kelp beds or various popular way points between Pt. Loma and the Coronado Islands. Also big north out of Oceanside Harbor and south to Encinitas. Another good eating fish. Again the bigger fish and breeders I prefer to release and only keep a couple for eating. Please consider releasing big females as they keep the populations up and as size of this fish has decreased in past years the females not being as large carry less eggs.
January through May and again September through December. California Halibut avg about 15-30 lbs but get up over 50lbs. I prefer to drift fish for these fish either off Imperial Beach or North out of Oceanside Harbor along the flats offshore the golf ball on Camp Pendalton Marine Base. They take anything from jigs and scampi’s lined with strip bait squid or sardine and using special rigs like a carolina rig with red beads fishing the bottom with squid, Sardine or anchovies. If you want to specifically target this fish in San Diego consider fishing times of grunion runs as the summer spawning Halibut will gorge themselves on this rare treat.
Sculpin & Rockfish::
These fish are caught off the bottom between September and April except during periods of DFG closures. Keep in mind though of closures for some species during breeding months. Best to ask the boat or landing before planning your trip what targets are currently open season. Sometime boats will make the trip a little farther into Mexico where these fish are fair game for fisherman. Sculpin is fantastic eating, especially in fish tacos. Just don’t poke yourself as they have very poisonous spines that inflict big pain when stuck. Be familiar with what this fish looks like and ask the deckhand or captain if unsure what you are bringing aboard.
Targeted year round. Summer months this fish is everywhere you look it seems at times. Unlike east coast “logs” west coast Barri’s are smaller or “twigs”. They are long and slender with sharp teeth so use caution when bringing aboard and handling. Contrary to what many locals say, this fish when properly prepared is ok to eat. I really like it smoked or if bbq’d, soak the fish in milk for awhile before putting on the grill. This fish will strike most any jig or take live bait, but a blue/chrome is irresistible to them amongst other colors and bait options.
White Sea Bass::
Spring time is the best time for this awesome fish. Caught all along the San Diego coast and around San Clemente Island (Hot Spot!) this enormous fish is fine dining. During peak season there is a one fish limit. If you plan to release it or catch one too small to keep proper and careful handling and release technique is essential for this fish to survive. Squid is candy for this fish as well as I like a white plastic swim bait with a squid strip bait and fished tight along the outer edge of the kelp beds.
Tuna & and other game fish (Dorad, Marlin & Wahoo)::
Late Spring into late Fall many of San Diego’s enormous fleet heads south to fish the rich waters off Baja, California to these days as far as Panama for tuna and other exotic gamefish. Yellowfin Tuna to over 300+ pounds are a popular target later in the Fall into the winter months as well as Wahoo and other exotics. Late Spring to late Fall is the main season for Albacore, Bluefin and Big Eye Tuna’s.