California Department of Fish and Wildlife

Guide to California Beach Fishing

Guide to Central California Beach Fishing  |  Guide to Southern California Beach Fishing  |  Useful Links

Guide to Central California Beach Fishing

Guide to Central California Beach Fishing

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Getting Started

A few simple practices and gear choices can greatly enhance your enjoyment of Central California's year-round surfperch fishing. Anglers also enjoy seasonal opportunities for striped bass, California halibut, jacksmelt and surf smelt, among others.

When to Go Fishing

You are more likely to catch fish:

  • In the early morning or an hour before dusk
  • On an incoming high tide. The rising water level dislodges small invertebrates in sand bars, stimulating fish to feed.
  • During mild to moderate surf

EXCEPTIONS: Surf smelt and night smelt fishing are best in the daytime and evening respectively, on a falling high tide. Both species usually spawn on coarse-grained sandy beaches when the surf is mild.

Peak months for some favorite species in Central California

Peak Months October-June April-SeptemberMay-AugustApril-AugustFebruary-August
Species Surfperch Striped BassCalifornia HalibutJacksmeltNight/Surf Smelt

Casting Tips

  • When you are beach fishing, cast to the edges of sand bars and drop-offs and be on the lookout for fish "highways," or channels with transiting fish in search of food.
  • If you are surfperch fishing, try casting near sand crab beds.
  • If you are striped bass or halibut fishing, look for signs of baitfish, such as feeding birds and marine mammals, and cast into these areas.
Commonly Caught Central California Surf Species

Rod and Reel Tips

  • If you are heavy bait fishing or "plugging," use a 10- to 12-ft rod rated for 2- to 8-oz casting, with spinning or conventional reels capable of holding 150 to 200 yds of 20- to 30-lb monofilament line.
  • If you are fly-fishing, try a 9- to 11-ft rod, rated for a 6- to 8-weight line, with matching reel and sink-tip or shooting head lines. Stripping baskets help manage line in the surf.
  • If you are light bait fishing or using Carolina-rigged grubs, try a 7- to 9-ft rod, with either a spinning or bait casting reel. Use a 6- to 12-lb test line that can comfortably cast a 1/2- to 1-oz egg sinker, depending on surf conditions.

Net Fishing

  • For surf smelt fishing along San Mateo County beaches, try cast or "throw" nets in the 6- to 8-ft range, with 1 to 1 1/2 lbs of lead per foot and 3/8-in webbing.
  • For night smelt fishing, try "A-frame" nylon webbing nets constructed of two rigid poles and a cross-member.

Equipment Checklist

  • Waders, hat, polarized sunglasses and sunblock. Besides protecting your eyes, polarized sunglasses will help you see fish in the shore break and run-up. Wear a U.S. Coast Guard approved personal flotation device if wading.
  • Pack for fish, tackle, tape measure, and needle-nose pliers for removing hooks
  • Bucket and scale to weigh catch, if fishing for night or surf smelt

Guide to Southern California Beach Fishing

Guide to Southern California Beach Fishing

View a printer-friendly version of this brochure. Adobe Reader required

Getting Started

A few simple practices and gear choices can greatly enhance your enjoyment of Southern California's year-round fishing for surfperches, croakers, California corbina, and California halibut, among others.

When to Go Fishing

You are more likely to catch fish:

  • In the early morning or an hour before dusk
  • On an incoming high tide. The rising water level dislodges small invertebrates in sand bars, stimulating fish to feed.
  • During mild to moderate surf

Peak months for some favorite species in Southern California

Peak MonthsSeptember-MayJune-SeptemberJuly-SeptemberJuly-SeptemberJune-October
Species Surfperch Yellowfin CroakerSpotfin CroakerCalifornia CorbinaCalifornia Halibut

Commonly Caught California Surf Species

Rod and Reel Tips

  • For heavy bait fishing or "plugging," try a 10- to 12-ft rod rated for 2- to 8-oz casting, with spinning or conventional reels. The reel should be capable of holding 150 to 200 yds of 20- to 30-lb test line.
  • For fly-fishing, try a 9- to 11-ft rod, rated for a 6- to 8-weight line, with matching reel. Use a sinktip or shooting head lines. Stripping baskets help manage line in the surf.
  • For light bait fishing or when using Carolina rigged grubs, try a 7- to 9-ft rod, with either a spinning or bait casting reel. Use 6- to 12-lb test line that can comfortably cast a - to 1-oz egg sinker, depending on surf conditions.

Equipment Checklist

  • Waders, hat, polarized sunglasses, sunblock. Besides protecting your eyes, polarized sunglasses will help you see fish in the shore break and run up. Wear a U.S. Coast Guard approved personal flotation device if wading.
  • Pack for fish, tackle, tape measure, and needle-nose pliers for removing hooks.

Useful Links