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California Saltwater Fishing

Updated on October 28, 2014

Saltwater Fishing Along the California Coast

This page has information on saltwater fishing in California USA.

California has more than 30,000 miles of rivers and streams and 80 major rivers. It also has more than 1,100 miles of coastline and hundreds of native fish and shellfish species.

California Salmon

California waters are home to coho (silver) and chinook (king) salmon. Salmon are anadromous fish. They hatch in freshwater streams and rivers, migrate to the ocean for feeding and growth, and return to their natal waters to spawn.

Chinook salmon are the largest of the Pacific salmon. Chinook salmon are highly sought after by commercial fishermen and recreational anglers. The fish are are also known as king, pring, or tyee salmon. Chinook salmon occur in North America from the Ventura River in California to Alaska.

Coho (silver) salmon are found in streams and rivers throughout much of California. Coho are also anadromous and have a life history similar to chinook.

On February 18th, 2009, the Pacific Fishery Management Council confirmed that only 66,286 adult chinook returned to the Sacramento River to spawn during the 2008 fall run. This is less than half the salmon that the agency stated as their target population for 2008, and it is the lowest number ever recorded.

California Fishing Passport Program

California Department of Fish and Wildlife now offers a fishing incentive and angler recognition program called the California Fishing Passport program. The Passport program is for people of all ages and skill levels. Anglers are encouraged to catch all of the different sport fish species in the state and can use the passport booklet as a guide.

More than 150 of the most commonly caught species of freshwater fish, saltwater fish and shellfish species found in California are included as part of the Passport Challenge. More information is available at

California Smelt, Grunion and Anchovies

Smelt are small fish that arrive in the surf in great numbers. For surf smelt fishing, anglers use cast or "throw" nets that are 6 to 8 ft in diameter, with 1 to 1 1/2 lbs of lead per foot and 3/8-in webbing.

California grunion are small silvery fish that reach about five to six inches in length. At certain times of the year, the fish ride the waves in onto the beach just after the high tide has peaked. The female quickly drills herself down deep into the sand, depositing sometimes as many as 3,000 eggs as the wave she rode in on recedes. Waiting males then curve their bodies around her on top of the sand to release their milt, and once spawning is complete (about 30 seconds), both fish will ride the next wave back out to sea.

Pacific sardines are members of the herring family, found in the Pacific Ocean from the Gulf of California in Mexico to southeastern Alaska. These small pelagic fish have an iridescent, silvery body and a single dorsal fin located over the middle of the body. The species can grow to around 14 inches in length and weigh up to one pound. Pacific sardines are available fresh or frozen whole. Other names include pilchard, California Sardine, California Pilchard, Sardina, South American Sardine, Chilean Pilchard

More California Saltwater Fish


Sablefish are dark gray to black in color. They range from the Asiatic coast of the Bering Sea to northern Baja California. Sablefish are sometimes called blackcod, although not a member of the cod family. They have long been an important component of the California catch. Sablefish are caught with cut baits. The high oil content of the flesh produces an excellent smoked product. Many experts regard sablefish as one of the best flavored of all fish.

White Seabass

White seabass (Atractoscion, nobilis) are another member of the croaker family and is closely related to the California corbina. They are heavy bodied fish with bluish-gray above, dark speckling, and silver undersides. The white seabass is the only Pacific member of the croaker family to exceed 20 pounds. White seabass occur from Alaska southward to Baja California. They are usually found in areas of rocky bottom and around kelp beds.

California Corbina

California corbina (Menticirrhus undulatus) are common croaker of the California coast. These mid sized fish are gray with a pattern of diagonal lines along the sides. The body is slender and slightly compressed. California corbina have a large head, small mouth and a barbel on the lower jaw.California corbina occur from Point Conception, California, southward to the Gulf of California, Mexico. They are found along sandy beaches and in shallow bays, traveling in small schools from the surf line out to depths of about 50 feet.


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