California Department of Fish and Wildlife

Marine Sportfish Identification: Croakers

Last Updated October 17, 2013

Note: Please consult current fishing regulations for species presented in this booklet. To view information on safe fishing eating guidelines, please visit the OEHHA website.

California Corbina | Queenfish | Spotfin Croaker | White Croaker | White Seabass | Yellowfin Croaker

Queenfish


Queenfish
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Queenfish

 

Family: Sciaenidae (Croakers)

Genus and Species: Seriphus politus

Description: The body of the queenfish is elongate and moderately compressed. The head is compressed with the upper profile depressed over the eyes. The mouth is large. The color is bluish above becoming silvery below and the fins are yellowish. Queenfish can be distinguished from other croakers by their large mouth, the base of the second dorsal and anal fins being about equal, and the wide space between the two dorsal fins. Maximum length: 20.5 inches.

Range: Queenfish occur from Uncle Sam Bank, Baja California, to Yaquina Bay, Oregon. They are common during summer in shallow water around pier pilings on sandy bottoms. They are found at depths up to 180 feet; however, occur more often from 4 to 27 feet. Queenfish are common in southern California, but are rare north of Monterey, California.

Natural History: Queenfish feed on small, free swimming crustaceans, small crabs, and fishes. Adult queenfish spawn in the summer. The eggs are free floating. Tiny young queenfish, less than 1 inch long, appear in late summer and fall; first at depths of 20 to 30 feet, gradually moving shoreward until they enter the surf zone when 1 to 3 inches long.

Fishing Information: Queenfish may be caught using live anchovies as bait. They are quite often the most commonly caught fish by anglers from piers.

Other Common Names: herring, kingfish, herring croaker, shiner.

Largest Recorded: 20.5 inches; no weight recorded.

Habitat: Shallow Sandy Environment

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White Seabass


White Seabass
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White Seabass

 

Family: Sciaenidae (Croakers)

Genus and Species: Atractoscion, nobilis*
*previously known as Cynoscion nobilis.

Description: The body of the white seabass is elongate, and somewhat compressed. The head is pointed and slightly compressed. The mouth is large, with a row of small teeth in the roof; the lower jaw slightly projects. The color is bluish to gray above, with dark speckling, becoming silver below. The young have several dark vertical bars. The white seabass is closely related to the California corbina, but is the only California member of the croaker family to exceed 20 pounds in weight. They are most easily separated from other croakers by the presence of a ridge running the length of the belly.

Range: White seabass occur from Magdalena Bay, Baja California, to Juneau, Alaska. They usually travel in schools over rocky bottoms and in and out of kelp beds.

Natural History: The diet of white seabass includes fishes, especially anchovies and sardines, and squid. At times, large fish are found which have eaten only Pacific mackerel. At the minimum legal length of 28 inches, the average white seabass is about 5 years of age, weighs about 7.5 pounds and has been sexually mature for at least one spawning season.

Fishing Information: White seabass are fished primarily with live bait in relatively shallow water, but they will also take a fast-trolled spoon, artificial squid or bone jig. Live squid appear to be the best bait for a white seabass, but large anchovies and medium-size sardines are also good. At times, large white seabass will bite only on fairly large, live Pacific mackerel. The young of this species are exceptionally vulnerable to sport anglers for two reasons. The first is that as juveniles they inhabit shallow nearshore areas, bays, and estuaries, and the second is that they are not easily recognized as white seabass by the average angler. Commonly, these young fish are mistakenly called "sea trout" because of their sleek profile and vertical bars or "parr marks". To add to the confusion, these bars fade as the fish grows.

Other Common Names: sea trout (juvenile), weakfish, king croaker.

Largest Recorded: 5 feet; 83 pounds.

Habitat: Deep Rocky Environment

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Yellowfin Croaker


Yellowfin Croaker
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Yellowfin Croaker

 
Family: Sciaenidae (Croaker)

Genus and Species: Umbrina roncador

Description: The body of the yellowfin croaker is elliptical-elongate with the back somewhat arched. The head is conical and blunt. The color is iridescent blue to gray with brassy reflections on the back diffusing to silvery white below. The sides and back have many diagonal dark wavy lines. The fins are yellowish except for the dark dorsal fins. The yellowfin croaker differs from other California croakers in having a single fleshy projection, a barbel, on the lower jaw and two heavy spines at the front of the anal fin. Maximum length: 21.6 inches.

Range: Yellowfin croakers occur from the Gulf of California, Mexico, to Point Conception, California. They frequent bays, channels, harbors and other nearshore waters over sandy bottoms. These croakers are more abundant along beaches during the summer months and may move to deeper water in winter.

Natural History: The diet of the yellowfin croaker consists mainly of small fishes and fish fry; however, invertebrates such as small crustaceans, worms and mollusks are also eaten in large numbers. Spawning takes place during the summer months when this species is most common along the sandy beaches. Maturity is apparently not reached until the fish are slightly over 9 inches long.

Fishing Information: Yellowfin croaker are most often taken by surf anglers using softshelled sand crabs, worms, mussels, clams or cut fish as bait.

Other Common Names: Catalina croaker, yellowtailed croaker, golden croaker.

Largest Recorded: 21.6 inches; no weight reported. However, an 18 inch yellowfin croaker weighed 4.5 pounds.

Habitat: Shallow Sandy Environment

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California Corbina


California Corbina
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California Corbina

 
Family: Sciaenidae (Croakers) Genus and Species: Menticirrhus undulatus

Description: The body of the California corbina is elongate and slightly compressed. The head is long and the mouth is small, the upper jaw scarcely reaching a point below the front of the eye. The color is uniform grey with incandescent reflections, and with wavy diagonal lines on the sides. This croaker and the yellowfin croaker are the only two of the eight coastal croakers present in California waters to have a single fleshy projection, or barbel, on the lower jaw. The California corbina usually has only one weak spine at the front of the anal fin, while the yellowfin croaker has two strong spines.

Range: California corbina occur from the Gulf of California, Mexico to Point Conception, California, and is a bottom fish found along sandy beaches and in shallow bays. This species travels in small groups along the surf zone in a few inches of water to depths of 45 feet.

Natural History: Adults have been seen feeding in the surf, at times in water so shallow that their backs were exposed. They scoop up mouthfuls of sand and separate the food by sending the sand through the gills. They are very particular feeders, apparently spitting out bits of clam shells and other foreign matter. About 90 percent of the food they eat is sand crabs. Other crustaceans and clams are of lesser importance. Males mature when 2 years old at a length of about 10 inches and females at age 3 when about 13 inches long. Spawning extends from June to September, but is heaviest during July and August. Spawning apparently takes place offshore as running ripe fish are not often found in the surf zone. The eggs are free floating. Young corbina, 1 inch long, have been observed outside the surf in 4 to 8 feet of water in August.

Fishing Information: California corbina are caught throughout the year along southern California's sandy beaches, although fishing is at its best from July through September. They are very wary and difficult to hook as many an avid surf fisherman can affirm. Perhaps one reason is that they tend to mouth and chew their food and don't strike solidly very often. Sand crabs (usually softshells) are the preferred bait, though some anglers swear by blood worms, mussels, clams, pileworms, and ghost shrimp.

Other Common Names: California whiting, surf fish, sucker. California corbina should not be confused with corvina which are taken in the Salton Sea.

Largest Recorded: 28 inches; 8.5 pounds.

Habitat: Surf Environment

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White Croaker


White Croaker
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White Croaker

 

Family: Sciaenidae (Croakers)

Genus and Species: Genyonemus lineatus

Description: The body of the white croaker is elongate and somewhat compressed. The head is oblong and bluntly rounded, with a mouth that is somewhat underneath the head. The color is incandescent brownish to yellowish on the back becoming silvery below. The fins are yellow to white. The white croaker is one of five California croakers that have mouths located under their heads (subterminal). They can be distinguished from the California corbina and yellowfin croaker by the absence of a single fleshy projection, or barbel, at the tip of the lower jaw. The 12 to 15 spines in the first dorsal fin serve to distinguish white croakers from all the other croakers with sub- terminal mouths, since none of these has more than 11 spines in this fin.

Range: White croakers have been taken from Magdalena Bay, Baja California, to Vancouver Island, British Columbia, but are not abundant north of San Francisco. White croakers swim in loose schools at or near the bottom of sandy areas. Sometimes they aggregate in the surf zone or in shallow bays and lagoons. Most of the time they are found in offshore areas at depths of 10 to 100 feet. On rare occasions they are fairly abundant at depths as great as 600 feet.

Natural History: White croakers eat a variety of fishes, squid, shrimp, octopus, worms, small crabs, clams and other items, either living or dead. While the ages of white croakers have not been determined conclusively, it is thought that some live as long as 15 or more years. Some spawn for the first time when they are between 2 and 3 years old. At this age they are only 5 to 6 inches long and weigh less than 0.10 pounds.

Fishing Information: These fish can be caught on almost any kind of animal bait that is fished from piers or jetties in sandy or sandy mud areas. In fact, they are so easily hooked that most anglers consider them a nuisance of the worst sort. If a person desires to fish specifically for white croakers a tough, difficult-to- steal bait, such as squid, is recommended. When hooked, they put up little or no fight. Fishing and catching is good throughout the year.

Other Common Names: kingfish, shiner, Pasadena trout, tommy croaker, little bass.

Largest Recorded: 17 inches; no weight recorded. However, a 14.5 inch white croaker weighted 1.41 pounds.

Habitat: Shallow Sandy Environment

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Spotfin Croaker


Spotfin Croaker
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Spotfin Croaker

 

Family: Sciaenidae (Croakers)

Genus and Species: Roncador stearnsii

Description: The body of the spotfin croaker is elongate, but heavy forward. The upper profile of the head is steep and slightly curved, and abruptly rounded at the very blunt snout. The mouth is underneath the head (subterminal). The color is silvery gray with bluish luster above and white below. There are dark wavy lines on the side, and a large black spot at the base of the pectoral fin. The subterminal mouth, absence of a fleshy barbel and the large black spot at the base of the pectoral fin distinguish spotfin croakers from all other California croakers. Small "spotties" are sometimes confused with small white croakers, but a count of the dorsal fin spines will quickly separate them; the spotfin croaker has 11 or fewer (usually 10), while the white croaker as 12 to 15. So-called "golden croakers" are nothing more than large male spotfin croakers in breeding colors.

Range: Spotfin croakers occur from Mazatlan, Mexico, to Point Conception, California, including the Gulf of California. In California, they are most commonly found south of Los Angeles Harbor. They live along beaches and in bays over bottoms varying from coarse sand to heavy mud and at depths varying from 4 to 50 feet or more. They prefer depressions and holes near shore.

Natural History: Spotfin croakers eat a wide variety of food items. Apparently they prefer clams and worms. Small crustaceans are also eaten extensively. They use the large pavement- like pharyngeal (throat) teeth to crush their food. Male spotfin croakers first mature and spawn when 2 years old and about 9 inches long. Most females mature when 3 years old and 12.5 inches long. All are mature by the time they are 4 years old and have reached a size of 14.5 inches. The spawning season runs from June to September and apparently takes place offshore, since no ripe fish have been caught in the surf zone. One inch juveniles do appear in the surf in the fall. Spotfin croaker travel considerably, but with no definite pat- tern. They move extensively from bay to bay. For example, fish tagged in the Los Angeles Harbor were later taken as far south as Oceanside. Spotfin tagged in Newport Bay moved to Alamitos Bay and vice versa.

Fishing Information: Although some are caught throughout the year, late summer is best for spotfin croaker fishing. Good fishing seems to depend on runs. When a "croaker hole" is found and a run is on, good fishing can be had by all present whether in a bay, from a pier or in the surf. Most spotfin croaker caught are small to medium sized fish.

Other Common Names: spotties, spot, golden croaker.

Largest Recorded: 27 inches. Largest taken off California by a recreational angler: 14.0 pounds in 1951.

Habitat: Shallow Sandy Environment