When surf fishing in California, there are several species of fish you can count on seeing year after year at your favorite fishing spots. However, certain factors play a role in what type of fish you’ll see off the California coast, and where.
There are three main staples when surf fishing off the California coast are Surfperch, Striped Bass, and California Halibut. However, other fish varieties can be found when surf fishing, depending on which part of the California coast you’re fishing and what point in the season.
The rest of this article outlines what types of fish you can find on the Southern, Central, and Northern California coasts, along with the best seasons to surf fish in each area, depending on what fish you’re looking for.
Southern California is the geographical region of the state from San Luis Obispo to Imperial counties, encompassing ten counties overall.
This region of California is home to over 22 million residents, approximately two-thirds of the entire state.
Because of the Mediterranean-like climate of Southern California, conditions for fish breeding are ideal for many species.
That, coupled with the generally calm seas, makes it an ideal spot for surf fishing.
Some of the best fishing spots in Southern California include Redondo Beach and San Diego, but the most biologically diverse range of fish hail out of Newport Beach, where over 30 different game fish species can be caught.
The fishing season in Southern California runs almost the entire year, with numerous species available throughout the season.
From sand bass and halibut in the winter to yellowtail in the spring and fall, there will never be a shortage of fish in this area!
With that being said, below is an outline of what types of fish you can catch in each of the three major fishing seasons – spring, summer, and fall.
What Type of Fish Can You Catch in Southern California in the Spring?
Some of the most plentiful fish to hail from the Southern California region include barred surfperch, jacksmelt, yellowfin croaker, California corbina, California halibut, and leopard sharks.
In the springtime months (March through May), you can expect to find more instances of surfperch, halibut, and jacksmelt.
If surfperch is what you’re looking to snag, try using sand crabs, shrimp, or squid as your bait and cast your line out from the beach.
California halibut tend to stay closer to the shore and out of the deep ocean, lingering near the sand in an attempt to blend in.
They prefer grunion, anchovies, and opalescent squid, so try to use those if you’re looking to grab a halibut while surf fishing.
What Types of Fish Can You Catch in Southern California in the Summer?
In the summer months (June through August), you can expect an influx of California halibut, leopard shark, and California corbina to be at your fingertips while surf fishing.
While the typical commercial fishing season for California halibut is mid-May through mid-September, these fish inhabit the Southern California coast in larger, more plentiful quantities after the grunion has completed their run in late spring.
Grunion, a fish native to California only, is the favorite meal of California Halibut.
Leopard sharks are commonly caught in Southern California in the summer months because they prefer warmer, less deep water than some of their larger local counterparts like the broad nose sevengill shark or the brown smooth-hound shark do.
These sharks prefer clams, fish eggs, and worms, so plan to use those as bait when fishing for leopard sharks.
California corbina is one of the most abundant in California but is most available for anglers from July through September. These fish, part of the croaker family, enjoy snacking on clams and sand crabs.
What Types of Fish Can You Catch in Southern California in the Fall?
Many of the fish found in abundance in Southern California’s summer months will stick around into the fall season (September through October) and are still available for anglers to catch while surf fishing.
The most abundant fish available in the fall months are halibut, corbina, and yellowfin croaker.
As outlined above, halibut and corbina tend to hang around in more shallow water during the summer months, traveling farther out into the ocean during the winter.
However, unlike ever-abundant corbina, yellowfin croakers tend to spend most of their time in slightly deeper waters.
Central California is described as the middle two-thirds of the state, encompassing all of the lands between Tuolumne county to the North, Monterey county to the West, and Tulare County to the East.
Much like SoCal, fishing in Central California provides an opportunity for anglers to catch a wide variety of different fish.
However, the most abundant fish in central California are striped bass, a wide variety of surfperch such as barred, walleye, calico, silver, redtail surfperch, and multiple smelt varieties, including jack, surf, and night smelt.
Some of the best fishing locations in central California include Monterey Bay, Santa Cruz, and Carmel Beach.
Much like Southern California, you can fish all year-round in central California if you wish – but fishing is in its prime from March through September.
What Types of Fish Can You Catch in Central California in the Spring?
In the spring months, surfperch and striped bass are most prevalent, with their peak seasons running from October to June and April to September, respectively.
What Types of Fish Can You Catch in Central California in the Summer?
In the summer, striped bass, California halibut, and surfperch are most available.
Striped bass continues to thrive from early spring onward through early fall, while California halibut start their season in the later spring months.
Surfperch has the longest fishing season, which begins mid-fall and runs through early summer.
What Types of Fish Can You Catch in Central California in the Fall?
The best fish to target in the fall months, as mentioned above, is striped bass and surfperch.
Northern California is classified as the northernmost portion of the state, encompassing the final 48 counties from Alameda County through Yuba County.
Northern California boasts many fishing spots, particularly in the Bay Area of San Francisco and Humboldt County.
The most popular fish hailing from the Bay Area include California halibut, smelt, white sturgeon, and striped bass.
The surf fishing season runs year-round in northern California, much as it does in the rest of the state.
What Types of Fish Can You Catch in Northern California in the Spring?
California halibut can be found throughout California in the early spring months. However, these are more prevalent in the summer and early fall months in the state’s northern regions.
The most widely available fish in the spring months is the silver surfperch, but you can find other surfperch as well.
What Types of Fish Can You Catch in Northern California in the Summer?
Various species of smelt can be found in Northern California in the summer months.
These fish prefer warmer water and head upstream in the colder months to avoid the drop in water temps that come with the fall season.
What Types of Fish Can You Catch in Northern California in the Fall?
Striped bass is most prevalent in Northern California during the fall months when water temperatures average between 59 and 86 degrees Fahrenheit (15 to 30 degrees Celsius).
White Sturgeon are available year-round in Northern California, preferring bays or estuaries’ brackish water to the open seas.
You will need to pay special care that you don’t accidentally hook a Green Sturgeon because removing those from California’s waters is considered illegal.
To summarize, there is a wide variety of fish available when surf fishing the entire California state. The fish species you catch largely depends on which region of the state you’re in (Southern, Central, or Northern), and it also depends on which season you are fishing in.
In Southern California, you can expect to catch surfperch, halibut, and jacksmelt in the spring; leopard sharks, corbina, and grunion in the summer; and yellowfin croakers in the fall.
In Central California, your best bet will be surfperch, striped bass, and California halibut at almost any time of the year.
And finally, in Northern California, you can expect California halibut and silver surfperch in the spring, smelt in the summer, and striped bass or white sturgeon in the fall.