California Department of Fish and Wildlife

Marine Sportfish Identification: Sea Bass

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.

Barred Sand Bass | Giant Sea Bass | Kelp Bass | Spotted Sand Bass | Striped Bass

Striped Bass


Striped Bass
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Striped Bass

 

Family: Serranidae (Sea Basses) or Percichthyidae

Genus and Species: Roccus saxatilis*
* Also known as Morone saxatilis

Description: The body of the striped bass is elongate and slightly compressed. The head is a narrow, cone-shape, and the mouth is large. The color is greenish above, silvery on the sides, and white below. There are six to nine horizontal blackish stripes on the side. In southern California, the much smaller salema occasionally is mistaken for young striped bass; the salema, however, has orange-brown stripes and larger eyes than those of striped bass.

Range: Striped bass were brought to California from New Jersey in 1879. They now are found from northern Baja California to Barkley Sound, British Columbia. In California, they most commonly are found in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, San Francisco Bay and adjacent ocean areas.

Natural History: Examination of stomach contents show that shrimp and anchovies are most important during the summer and fall while a variety of small fishes are eaten during the winter. Females usually mature at 5 years of age when about 24 inches long and many males mature at age 2 when about 11 inches long. A 5 pound fish may spawn as many as 25,000 eggs in one season; while a 12 pounder will spawn 1,250,000 eggs. A 75 pound striper produces as many as 10,000,000 eggs. Striped bass are believed to spawn only in fresh water in which there is an appreciable current. In California, they spawn from March to July with a peak in April and May.

Fishing Information: By far the largest part of the striped bass catch is made in San Francisco Bay and the Delta. Good fishing occurs during late summer, but is best in the fall. Stripers occur along the coast only during late spring and summer at which time surf fishermen get a chance at them. A variety of artificial lures and chunks or strips of standard bait fish will attract stripers. The beaches immediately adjacent to the Golden Gate are generally the best coastal spots, but occasional good runs are encountered as far south as Monterey and as far north as Bodega Bay. In San Francisco Bay, trolling with live bait is popular, with common catches under 10 pounds.

Other Common Names: striper, streaked bass, squidhound, rock bass.

Largest Recorded: 4 feet; 90 pounds (California); however, in the Atlantic Ocean to 6 feet and 125 pounds.

Habitat: Bay Environment

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Giant Sea Bass - NO FISHING ALLOWED


Giant Sea Bass
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Giant Sea Bass

 

Family: Serranidae (Sea Basses) or Percichthyidae

Genus and Species: Stereolepis gigas

Description: The body of the adult giant sea bass is elongate, with dorsal spines that fit into a groove on the back. The head is robust, and mouth is large with teeth in the back. Giant sea bass are usually reddish brown to dark brown in color on all but their stomachs and, at times, many have dark spots on their sides. Perch-like in appearance, juvenile giant sea bass differ radically from adults and are often mistaken for a different fish. Coloring on juveniles is distinct with the body being sandy red with white and dark patches spread along the sides.

Range: Giant sea bass occur throughout the Gulf of California and from Cabo San Lucas, Baja California, to Humboldt Bay, California. In California, the appearance of this species north of Point Conception has been sporadic.

Natural History: Giant sea bass feed upon a wide variety of items. Small fish taken of this species off our coast contained mostly anchovies and white croakers. Pacific mackerel, jack mackerel, sheephead, ocean whitefish, sand bass, cancer crabs, and red crabs have all been found in the stomachs of large giant sea bass. By their very bulk they appear to be slow and cumbersome, yet they are capable of outswimming and catching a bonito in a short chase. Giant sea bass apparently do not mature until they are 11 to 13 years old. A fish of this age will weigh between 50 and 60 pounds. The ovaries of a 320 pound female weighed 47 pounds and contained an estimated 60 million eggs. This fish was ready to spawn and the larger eggs were about 0.04 inch in diameter. The main spawning season for giant sea bass occurs during July, August, and September.

Fishing Information: There is a moratorium on the take of giant sea bass in California. All fish must be returned alive to the water.

Other Common Names: black sea bass, jewfish, giant bass.

Largest Recorded: over 7 feet; 563.5 pounds (Anacapa Island, 1968).

Habitat: Deep Rocky Environment

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Kelp Bass


Kelp Bass
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Kelp Bass

 

Family: Serranidae (Sea Basses)

Genus and Species: Paralabrax clathratus

Description: The body of the kelp bass is elongate and compressed. The head is relatively elongate, compressed and has a pointed snout. The mouth is large. The color is brown to olive green, with light blotches, becoming lighter below. Kelp bass can be easily distinguished from sand bass by the fact that the third, fourth and fifth dorsal spines of kelp bass are about the same length; while in sand bass, the third dorsal spine is much longer than the fourth and fifth spines.

Range: Kelp bass occur from Magdalena Bay, Baja California, to the Columbia River, Washington. They are taken regularly from Point Conception south to central Baja California in depths down to 150 feet.

Natural History: Small shrimp-like crustaceans are very important in the diet of kelp bass of all ages. However, with increase in size there is a corresponding increase in the amount of fish eaten. Anchovies, small surfperch, and other small fishes are part of the diet. By the time kelp bass are 10.5 inches long and 5 years of age, nearly all are capable of spawning. The spawning season usually extends from May through September with a peak during July. As with most members of the bass family, growth is slow and a 9 year old fish is only about 16.5 inches long.

Fishing Information: Kelp bass are caught primarily with live anchovies fished at or near the surface in and around kelp beds. They may be taken throughout the water column by trolling near kelp beds with live or dead bait. Numerous anglers also catch them on cast plugs, spoons, lures, and jigs. These anglers obtain their best catches with a yellowish, bronze, or white colored jig. In localities where kelp bass are not spoiled by offerings of live bait, they willingly accept hooks baited with strips or chunks of anchovy, mackerel or squid. Kelp bass are noted for their fighting qualities regardless of the type of bait or lure used.

Other Common Names: calico bass, bull bass, kelp salmon, cabrilla.

Largest Recorded: 28.5 inches; 14.5 pounds.

Habitat: Shallow Rocky Environment

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Barred Sand Bass


Barred Sand Bass
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Barred Sand Bass

 

Family: Serranidae (Sea Basses)

Genus and Species: Paralabrax nebulifer

Description: The body of the barred sand bass is rather elongate and compressed. The mouth is large and the lower jaw protrudes slightly. The color is gray white on the back, white on the belly and there are dark vertical bars on the sides. Barred sand bass can be easily distinguished from kelp bass by the height of the third dorsal spine. In barred sand bass, this spine is the longest of the dorsal spines, while in the kelp bass, the third, fourth and fifth dorsal spines are of about equal length. Barred sand bass can be distinguished from spotted sand bass by the lack of spots on the body.

Range: Barred sand bass occur from Magdalena Bay, Baja California, to Santa Cruz, California. This species occurs from shallow water to depths of 600 feet; however, most fish are taken in 60 to 90 feet of water.

Natural History: The barred sand bass diet includes crabs, octopus, squid, and small fishes. The adults aggregate and spawn during warmer months. The eggs are free floating. The striped young appear in southern California nearshore areas and eelgrass beds during fall and winter.

Fishing Information: Most barred sand bass landed in California are taken between May and October. They are fished in three main areas: Horseshoe Kelp to Newport Beach, Dana Point to Oceanside and the Silver Strand off San Diego. The best method for catching barred sand bass is to search a sandy area with an echosounder until a school is located. The boat then can be anchored and fishing commenced with live anchovies. Barred sand bass will usually "build" or gather under the boat when chummed so it pays to wait for awhile before moving.

Other Common Names: sand bass, sandy, ground bass, sugar bass, kelp bass, California sandbass, rock bass.

Largest Recorded: 26 inches. Largest taken off California by a recreational angler: 13.3 pounds.

Habitat: Shallow Sandy Environment

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Spotted Sand Bass


Spotted Sand Bass
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Spotted Sand Bass

 

Family: Serranidae (Sea Basses)

Genus and Species: Paralabrax maculatofasciatus

Description: The body of the spotted sand bass is moderately elongate and compressed. The mouth is large and the jaw protruding only slightly. The color is olive brown with round black spots on the body, head and fins. Spotted sand bass can be easily distinguished from kelp bass by the height of the third dorsal spine. In spotted sand bass and barred sand bass it is the longest of the dorsal spines, while in the kelp bass the third, fourth and fifth spines are of about equal length. Spotted sand bass differ from barred sand bass by the presence of spots that cover the entire body.

Range: Spotted sand bass occur from Mazatlan, Mexico, to Monterey, California. Spotted sand bass are confined to large bays in southern California. Because of this, they are taken less frequently than kelp or barred sand bass. They may be taken in the open ocean but this generally occurs only when drifting through the kelp.

Natural History: Spotted sand bass eat primarily crustaceans, and small fishes; nevertheless, they do consume many other organisms that occur in their habitat. Spawning occurs during May and June.

Fishing Information: Most fishing for spotted sand bass takes place from March to November, with peak catches occurring during the spawning season (May and June). Most fish caught are between 12 and 13 inches long and taken at depths up to 200 feet. Spotted sand bass tend to aggregate around underwater structures such as rocks or pilings. Live anchovies fished around these structures should allow a catch of spotted sand bass, but lures such as spotted or plastic leadheads or "bay feathers" can be effective if correctly worked around suitable habitat.

Other Common Names: sand bass, bay bass, spotty.

Largest Recorded: 23 inches; 6.7 pounds.

Habitat: Bay Environment