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Spearfishing California: 21 Fish Worth Hunting and How to Find Them

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It is important to know and understand how fish behave and what the size limits are of any particular fish you are hunting, especially while spearfishing California waters.

Spearfishing California
Bring back this quality of fish to the boat! Source

If you understand where to look and what their habits are, you have a better chance of finding them. Once you start thinking like a fish, you’ll automatically start seeing more fish and greatly improve your chances of becoming a better spearfisherman or spearfisherwoman (we’ll stick with spearo for article simplicity).

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Also, the more relaxed you are, you will also see more fish. These are all vital first steps to becoming a successful spearo.

Spearfishing California: List of Southern California Fishes

It is important to have some knowledge of the different kinds of fish, their size limits and the daily limits before undertaking any spearfishing (or fishing). It is the responsibility of the spearo to know these rules. If Fish and Wildlife catch you with under-sized or over-limit fish, you could be facing a hefty fine, and you could even risk having your gear and your fish confiscated.

Below is a list of fish that a beginner spearo might target in the first or second year of spearfishing. Please keep in mind that anything having to do with rules or laws in this list are pertaining only to the Fish and Wildlife Rules (laws) of California.

The daily limit for the state of California for the total amount of fish caught or speared is twenty-fish per day is 20 fish and no more than 10 species of each.


Rubberlip Perch

Rubber Lip Perch
Check out the lips on this fish. Source

Rubberlip Perch Facts:

  • Names: Rubberlips, bigmouth
  • Scientific Name: Rhacochilus Toxotes
  • Identifying Characteristics: Thick white or pale pink lips.
  • Locations for How to Catch: Found from Mendocino County (Northern California) to central Baja California. Abundant near kelp beds, rocky reefs, pilings, oil platforms and sometimes in quiet blackwaters (rarely in surf).
  • Size: 4 pounds
  • Limit: No limit

Rubberlip Perch can grow to four pounds. They can be found from Mendocino County to Southern Baja, California. They are the largest surf perches off the California Coast. They prefer rocky areas and kelp beds. These fish usually are in schools, so you might be able to get more than one fish out of each school.


Pile Perch

Pile Perch
These are quite common, especially shore-fishing. Source

Pile Perch Facts:

  • Names: Pile Perch, Piler
  • Scientific Name: Damalichthys Vacca
  • Identifying Characteristics: Usually grey, occasionally brown or dusky, usually with a dark mid-body bar on the sides. They have a deeply forked caudal fin, and the soft rays of the second dorsal fin are long.
  • Locations for How to Catch: Occur from southeastern Alaska to north-central Baja California. Taken from the shallows and all the way down 690 feet depths. They tend to move into shallow waters during the winter and spring.
  • Size: 3 pounds
  • Limit: No limit

Pile Perch can grow up to three pounds. They can be found off rocky shores and around kelp beds. These fish usually are in schools, so you might be able to get more than one fish out of each school.


California Corbina

California Corbina Facts:

  • Names: Berrugata
  • Scientific Name: Menticirrhus Undulatus
  • Identifying Characteristics: Long, thin croakers with a short chin barbel. Corbina is usually gray or bluish (occasionally brown) on back and white below.
  • Locations for How to Catch: Corbina range from Pt. Conception to the Gulf of California. Almost always over sandy bottoms, usually, there is extensive wave action. They are found in water so shallow their backs show and down to 150 feet.  Usually found in groups of 2-5 fish.
  • Size: Seen up to 32.6 inches and up to 8 pounds.
  • Limit: No limit

California Corbina can grow up the eight pounds. Small groups of these species travel along the bottom of the sandy beaches in shallow bays. When there is not much surf, and the sandy beaches are clear, this is the best time to hunt this fish.


Black Croaker

Black Croaker
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Black Croaker Facts:

  • Names: China Croaker, Chinese Croaker
  • Scientific Name: Cheilotrema Saturnum
  • Identifying Characteristics: Perch-shaped croakers with black colors of dusky, purplish, bluish, brownish or coppery hues and silvery bellies. The rear part of the gill cover is black and there is a pale bar at midbody.
  • Locations for How to Catch: Live from Pt. Conception to northern Baja California. They prefer rocky reefs and kelp beds and often found in crevices and caves. They are abundant at 10-50 feet and as deep as 150 feet. Young ones are found in schools and adults are either in schools are alone.
  • Size: 2 pounds
  • Limit: No limit

Black Croaker grow up to two pounds. They are found along the open coast and sloughs south of Point Conception in California. Adults are often found in rocky areas, as well as in caves and dark crevices. However, they may also be found in sandy areas.


Spotfin Croaker

Spotfin Croaker Facts:

  • Names: Spotfin Croaker
  • Scientific Name: Roncador Stearnsi
  • Identifying Characteristics: Spotfins have an obvious black spot at the base of their pectoral fins. They are bluish-gray or gray on backs, brassy on flanks and white on bellies. Males may be completely brassy or golden during the breeding season, while females develop blackish streaks on their bellies.
  • Locations for How to Catch: Found from Pt. Conception to southern Baja California, most commonly from about Los Angeles Harbor southward. The largest catches are in the shallow water in the late summer. No one knows where the population is the other times.
  • Size: 14 pounds
  • Limit: No limit

Spotfin Croaker grows up to fourteen pounds. They are found most commonly south of the Los Angeles Harbor. They live along beaches and in bays, over bottoms, varying from coarse sand to heavy mud. The depths vary from four feet to fifty feet.


Yellowfin Croaker

 

Yellowfin Croaker Facts:
  • Names: Yellowfin Croaker
  • Scientific Name: Umbrina roncador
  • Identifying Characteristics: Yellowfin Croakers have an elliptical shape and their backs have an arched contour. Their color is a shiny blue-gray with a transition to silvery white on the belly. The fins are yellow except for the dorsal fins which are darker.
  • Locations for How to Catch: They are found along beaches, harbors, channels, bays from Point Conception, California all the way down to the Gulf of Mexico. They tend to be plentiful during the summer along the coast but will move to deeper water during winter.
  • Size: Largest ever was 18 inches and 4.5 pounds.
  • Limit: No limit

California Halibut

California Halibut
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California Halibut Facts:

  • Names: Bastard Halibut, Monterey Halibut, Flyswater, Barndoors, Chicken Halibut, Southern Halibut, flatties.
  • Scientific Name: Paralichthys Californicus
  • Identifying Characteristics: Best way to identify this flatfish is if you stick you finger in its mouth and it starts to bleed…they have sharp teeth, were other flatfish don’t. Usually brown or blackish with various blotches on the eyed side and white underbelly.
  • Locations for How to Catch: Found off the Quillayute River, Washington to southern Baja California, most commonly from about Bodega Bay southward. They are found on soft bottoms but like to be near structures.  Find them near rocks, artificial reefs, kelp holdfasts, etc. Even slight irregularities in the bottom will be enough to aggregate them. Also look for them near sand dollar beds. They live between shore and 600 feet, but most-commonly between 5-180 feet.
  • Size: Minimum keeper size is 22 inches.
  • Limit: North of Point Sur is three per day and South of Point Sur is five per day. Minimum size is 22 inches. Always double-check for updates.

California Halibut can grow up to seventy pounds. They must be at least 22 inches in order to take from the sea. In other words, the size limit is 22 inches. North of Point Sur, the limit is three per day. South of Point Sur, the limit is five per day.

Anything less than that must be left alone, or if accidentally caught must be thrown back. They may be caught or seen in exposed beaches or areas mixed with sand and rock bottom. They like to lay in sand patches among the reefs and around eelgrass. Halibut bury themselves in the sand and sometimes can be very hard to spot.


Sargo

Sargo Fish
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Sargo Facts:

  • Names: Sargo
  • Scientific Name: Anisotremus Davidsoni
  • Identifying Characteristics: Sargo is a deep bodied, perch-shaped fish. Adults almost always have a dark vertical bar on their sides near midbody. They are usually silver but can be found as golden, brassy, or even albino colorings. These are easily confused with Perch.
  • Locations for How to Catch: Sargos are found from Santa Cruz to southern Baja California. These are rare north of Santa Barbara.  They are schooling fish and are found from the shallows to 198 feet, but mainly in 40 or fewer feet of water.  Find them in rocky areas, in sandy areas, and near structures.
  • Size: 4 pounds. Largest found has been 19.7 inches.
  • Limit: No Limit

Sargo grow up to four pounds. They can be found from Santa Cruz to the Southern California border. They are in bays and close to shore. The Sargo’s preferred habitat includes rocky areas and sometimes near sand and submerged structures. They tend to be schooling fish.


Kelp Bass (Calico Bass)

Kelp Bass Calico
These fish are slow growers, so be extra careful when shooting to make sure you get a legal one. Source

Kelp Bass Facts:

  • Names: Bull Bass (big ones), Calico Bass, Cabrilla (Mexico)
  • Scientific Name: Paralabrax Clathratus
  • Identifying Characteristics: These fish have unique markings and are usually brown, gray-brown or olive on backs and sides, alternating with pale blotches (where the name calico comes from). Their colors are more vibrant the younger the fish is.  The third dorsal fin should be the same size as the fourth and fifth dorsals.
  • Locations for How to Catch: Kelp bass is found from the mouth of the Columbia River to southern Baja California.  Kelp bass love to live around a structure, kelp, rocks, sewer pipes, oil platforms, it doesn’t matter…Guess they don’t need much kelp to be happy.  They tend to live solo and can be found as deep as 200 feet, but are usually around 10-70 feet deep.
  • Size: 14 pounds. Kelp bass reaches 28.5 inches and some live to be 33 years old.
  • Limit: Minimum size is 14 inches and up to 5 per day. Always double-check for updates.

Kelp Bass grow up to fourteen pounds. The size limit is fourteen inches. They are found near rugged rocky reefs, kelp beds or other structures. They prefer to be in water depths between four and sixty feet. For Kelp Bass, Barred Sand Bass and Spotted Sand Bass combined, the limit is five per day.


Barred Sand Bass

Barred Sand Bass Facts:

  • Names: Sand Bass, Cabrilla (Mexico)
  • Scientific Name: Paralabrax Nebulifer
  • Identifying Characteristics: Barred Sand Bass are greenish to gray with dusky bars on sides. The smaller they are the more vibrant in color. Most have freckles on their snouts. Don’t get confused with a calico.
  • Locations for How to Catch: Barred Sand Bass are found from Santa Cruz to southern Baja California. This bass loves the sand-rock interface and you’ll rarely see it over high relief, and they are a major species on artificial reefs. They are found from the shallows to as deep as 600 feet but mainly stick to around 10-120 feet deep.
  • Size: 11 pounds. Barred Sand Bass can reach 25.5 inches and live up to 24 years old.
  • Limit: Five per day and minimum size is 14 inches. Always double-check for updates.

Barred Sand Bass grow up to eleven pounds. The size limit is fourteen inches. They can be found in California from Santa Cruz to Southern California. They can usually be found near sand and rock interfaces.

They can also be found near deeper reefs and artificially submerged structures, as well as around jetties and break walls. For Kelp Bass, Barred Sand Bass and Spotted Sand Bass combined, the limit is five per day.


Spotted Sand Bass

Spotted Sand Bass Facts:

  • Names: Johny Verde, Cabrilla (Mexico)
  • Scientific Name: Paralabrax Maculatofasciatus
  • Identifying Characteristics: A beautiful fish with brown, olive, or gray body, and covered with many spots.
  • Locations for How to Catch:Spotted Sand Bass are warm water fish and are rarely north of Newport Beach.  You’ll find many in Monterey, central California, and into the Gulf of Calfornia. They are extremely common in the bays and backwaters of central Baja California. They are found as deep as 200 feet but are also found between 2-20 feet.
  • Size: 6 pounds. Spotted Sand Bass can reach 22 inches in length and live at least 14 years.
  • Limit: 5 per day. Always double-check for updates.

Spotted Sand Bass grow up to six pounds. They can be found from Monterey to Southern California. However, this species is generally confined to bays in Southern California. In fact, it is rarely seen north of Santa Monica Bay. They are taken less frequently than kelp bass or barred sand bass. They prefer muddy or sandy areas of eelgrass or surf-grass, as well as underwater structures such as rocks or pilings. For Kelp Bass, Barred Sand Bass and Spotted Sand Bass combined, the limit is five per day.


Sheepshead

California Sheephead
These fish take a long time to grow, please shoot sparingly. Source

Sheepshead Facts:

  • Names: California Sheephead, Sheep’s Head, Sheepie, Billygoat, Redfish, Humpy, Vieja (Mexico)
  • Scientific Name: Semicossyphus Pulcher
  • Identifying Characteristics: Color and body shape give these fish away. Young Sheephead look completely different than the picture above, they are gold or salmon color with at least one white stripe along the side and two black spots on the dorsal fin, one on the anal fin and one on the caudal peduncle. Female Sheephead are pink all over with a white chin. Males look like the picture above.
  • Locations for How to Catch: Sheephead are found from Monterey Bay to Isla Guadalupe and into the Gulf of California over reef and kelp.  These fish are common on reefs, either alone or in a small group. You can find them in the shallows and as deep as 281 feet, with many around 10 feet deep.
  • Size: 40 pounds. Sheephead reach three feet in length and males can live to 53 years old, while female live to 30.  These are a slow growing fish, so be mindful when you take one.
  • Limit: Size limit is 12 inches and not more than 5 per day.

California Sheephead grow up to forty pounds. The size limit is twelve inches. Also, there is a limit of five fish per day. They are uncommon north of Point Conception. However, they have been caught as far north as Monterey Bay. They are generally taken in rocky kelp areas near shores in water from 5 to 100 feet. However, fishermen have caught them at depths of 280 feet.

An interesting side note about the Sheephead is that they start off female, and when the big male is taken off the reef by spearo, fishermen or old age, the next biggest female turns into a male. It is also worth noting that a 25-pound Sheephead is approximately 55 years old.


Opaleye

Opaleye
When cooked right, these can be tasty. Source

Opaleye Facts:

  • Names: Button Bass, Opaleye Perch
  • Scientific Name: Girella Nigricans
  • Identifying Characteristics: Opaleye are oval, perch-shaped fish, with gray-green or olive-green bodies and blue eyes. Opalyes have between 1 to 3 white or yellowish spots on their backs.  You’ll find more spots on the Opaleye found in Baja California than in Southern California.
  • Locations for How to Catch: Opaleye is found from Otter Rock, Oregon to southern Baja California. They have been found as deep as 100 feet, but prefer to stay around 5-65 feet depths.  Adults tend to swim to midwater and up to the kelp canopy.  Tidepool opaleye tends to return to their favorite tide pools at each low tide.
  • Size: 6-8 pounds. Opaleye reaches 26 inches.
  • Limit: No limit

Opaleye can grow up to six to eight pounds. They are found from San Francisco Bay to Southern California. They are found on rocky shorelines and kelp beds. They can be found in very shallow waters.

These fish are fairly easy to spear, but keep in mind they are not a very tasty fish to eat, however, some divers like to make sashimi out of them.


Lingcod

Lingcod
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Lingcod Facts:

  • Names: Cultus Cod, Cultus, Blue Cod, Ling, Greenlinger, Slinky Linky, Kin Mutsu (Japanese), Lincod or Bacalao (Mexico)
  • Scientific Name: Ophiodon Elongatus
  • Identifying Characteristics: Lingcod is elongate fish and has a mouth full of canine teeth. They come in many colors ranging from black or brown to blue and green.  They often have orange or yellow spots.
  • Locations for How to Catch: Lincod is found from the Shumagin Islands (western Gulf of Alaska) all the way south to Ensenada, northern Baja California, and even into the Bering Sea. These fish like colder water so if you’re in Southern Calfornia, you’ll tend to find them near the Channel Islands.  Lingcods have been found as deep as 1,620 feet deep, but are usually taken in less than 100 feet of water.  These are bottom dwelling fish but have been known to rise up 20-30 feet to attack hooked rockfish from boat fishers.
  • Size: 54 pounds. Lingcod can reach 5 feet and can live up to 20 years old.
  • Limit: 2 fish per day, the minimum size is 22 inches. Always double-check for updates.

Lingcod can grow up to fifty-four pounds. The size limit is twenty-two inches. Also, there is a limit of two fish per day. They are found state-wide off of California. This species lives at or near the bottom in a wide range of habitats, including rocky areas and kelp beds – especially where there is strong tidal movement.

They can be found in shallow water when they are spawning. They prefer colder water.


Cabezon

Cabezon
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Cabezon Facts:

  • Names: Marbled Sculpin
  • Scientific Name: Scorpaenichthys Marmoratus
  • Identifying Characteristics: Cabezon is large, scaleless, brown, red, or green sculpins covered with darker mottling.  They have a flap of skin over their snouts and long, branched flaps over each eye. Most males are reddish and most females are greenish.
  • Locations for How to Catch: Cabezon is found from Sitka, Alaska southward to central Baja California.  They are hard-bottom dwellers and are found over natural and artificial reefs, oil platforms, and wrecks.  The deepest found is 362 feet, but are mostly found around 90 feet deep.  They tend to live on the same reef for long periods of time before moving.
  • Size: 25 pounds. Cabezon reaches 30 inches and can live more than 13 years.
  • Limit: Cabezon minimum size is 15 inches and you’re allowed 3 fish per day. Always double-check for updates.

Cabezon can grow up to twenty-five pounds. Their size limit is fifteen inches. Also, there is a limit of three fish per day. They can be found anywhere along the California Coast where there are rugged rocks and kelp beds. This popular fish is frequently caught in Central and Northern California (they prefer the colder water).


Halfmoon (Catalina Blue Perch)

Halfmoon Catalina Blue Perch
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Halfmoon Facts:

  • Names: Catalina Perch, Catalina Blue Perch
  • Scientific Name: Medialuna Califoniensis
  • Identifying Characteristics: These are perch-shaped fish with slate-blue or blue backs, silvery bellies and half-moon-shaped curved tails.
  • Locations for How to Catch: Abundant from Pt. Conception south, half-moons live from Vancouver Island to the Gulf of California. While schooling they prefer high relief areas such as rocky reefs, kelp beds, oil platforms, and drifting kelp mats.  They are found as deep as 130 feet but are mainly between 10-65 feet.
  • Size: 5 pounds. Halfmoons can reach 19 inches.
  • Limit: No limit

They can grow up to five pounds. They are primarily a Southern California fish. They are particularly common around the Channel Islands and Catalina Island over shallow rocky areas near kelp beds. However, they are most commonly taken in waters from 4 to 65 feet. They are also a fairly easy fish to spear.


White Seabass (WSB)

White Sea Bass
This is the prize fish of many spearos. Source

White Seabass Facts:

  • Names: Seatrout (small ones), Weakfish, King Croaker, Curvina (Mexico), White Sea Bass
  • Scientific Name: Atractoscion Nobilis
  • Identifying Characteristics: Baby white sea bass are a few inches long and are brown, golden, or silvery. Juveniles grow to about 24 inches and are silvery-gray to silvery-dusky with dark bars on their sides. Adults are gray0blue, bronze or almost yellow. Juveniles are often mistaken as white croakers, but remember that white croakers don’t have bars on their sides and do have a tiny barbel on their chins.
  • Locations for How to Catch: White seabass are taken from Juneau, Alaska all the way down to southern Baja California and into the northern Gulf of California. They live in different areas during their growth cycle. Adults are usually found near reefs or kelp beds.
  • Size: 93 pounds. White seabass can grow as tall as a human and can live at least 20 years.
  • Limit: Minimum size is 28 inches and you’re allowed 1 fish per day between March 15 and June 15, with an increase to 3 fish the rest of the year. Always double-check for updates.

White Sea Bass grows to 93 pounds. The size limit is 28 inches. Between March 15 and June 15, the limit is one per day. The limit is three per day the rest of the year. They are found state-wide off the California Coast. However, they are seldom seen north of the San Francisco Bay.

They usually travel in schools over rocky bottoms and through kelp beds. This is a fish that is more appropriate for an advanced spearo to go after.


Ocean Whitefish

Ocean White Fish
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Ocean Whitefish Facts:

  • Names: Blanquillo Pez Blanco (Mexico)
  • Scientific Name: Caulolatilus Princeps
  • Identifying Characteristics: This is an elongated fish with long dorsal and anal fins and they have a tiny mouth. Ocean whitefish are brown or dan on their backs and white bellow, with fins that are striped with light yellow and blue.
  • Locations for How to Catch: Ocean Whitefish have been taken from Vancouver Island, British Columbia to Peru and are most common south of Pt. Conception.  They are found in aggregations and live near the bottom of the ocean or just above it to about 15 feet.  They prefer to be over rocks, kelp, and other high relief.  They tend to be around 90-200 feet depending on their size.
  • Size: Ocean whitefish grow up to 40 inches and can live at least 13 years.
  • Limit: Limit is 10 per day, but no size limit. Always double-check for updates.

Ocean White Fish grow up to 40 inches. There is no size limit. But the limit is ten per day. They have been caught from Fort Bragg to the Southern California Coast. However, they are rarely seen north of Point Conception. They prefer rocky bottoms and a kelp forest habitat in shallow areas.

Loosely aggregated schools of adults are often found in depths of 10 to 65 feet. The adults swim a few feet above the bottom, dropping down occasionally to the substrate to search for food. They are more abundant around offshore islands and banks than along the mainland coast.


Pacific Barracuda

Pacific Barracuda
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Pacific Barracuda Facts:

  • Names: Barries, Snakes, California Barracuda, Scoot, Scooter
  • Scientific Name: Sphyraena Argentea
  • Identifying Characteristics: Pacific Barracuda are slender fish, long, skinny, and have blusih or brownish backs, silvery sides, and a mouth full of pointed teeth. Males have a tanish or grayish anal fin and females have black anal fins.
  • Locations for How to Catch: Pacific Barracuda live from Kodiak Island to southern Baja California.  They are schooling, more-or-less pelagic fish. Adults are found near reefs or kelp, almost always close tot he coast.  While they are usually close to the surface, they have been caught as deep as 120 feet.
  • Size: 18 pounds. Pacific Barracuda are fast growing fish and have been taken at 48 inches. They live to at least 11 years of age.
  • Limit: Minimum size is 28 inches. Always double-check for updates.

Pacific Barracuda can grow to 18 pounds or more. The size limit is 28 inches. They are usually found south of Point Conception. However, they may range much further north, especially during warm water events such as El Nino. It prefers the upper water layers, from the surface to the depths of 60 feet.


Pacific Bonito

Pacific Bonito
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Pacific Bonito Facts:

  • Names: Boneheads, Bonies, California Bonito, Skipjack, Laguna Tuna, Magneto, Striped Tuna, Ocean Bonito
  • Scientific Name: Sarda Chiliensis
  • Identifying Characteristics: Bonito are tuna-shaped fish and have dark, slanting stripes on their greenish-blue backs.
  • Locations for How to Catch: Bonito are found between Alaska and southern Baja California, while in the south Pacific they range between Peru and Chile.  They are found in large schools near the surface and anywhere from just behind the surf to miles out.  They are most abundant within 15 miles of the coast.
  • Size: 25 pounds. Bonito have been known to get to 40 inches, but anything over 36 inches are rare. They are fast growing and don’t live past 6 years old.
  • Limit: 5 any size and 5 greater than 24 inches fork length or 5 pounds.

Pacific Bonito can grow to 25 pounds. They range throughout California state waters, but they are most prevalent south of Point Conception. Sometimes, they arrive off California when the ocean warms in the Spring. However, they may never show up if the conditions dictate colder than normal water temperatures.

This is a good eating fish, just make sure you bleed it after it’s caught and keep it cool.


Yellowtail

Yellowtail
This fish is delicious! Source

Yellowtail Facts:

  • Names: Jurel (Mexico)
  • Scientific Name: Seriola Lalndi
  • Identifying Characteristics: Yellowtail is torpedo-shaped silvery fish, with a yellow to dusky stripe along their sides. They have a dark bar extending through each eye.
  • Locations for How to Catch: Yellowtail is found from British Columbia to Chile and worldwide in temperate and subtropical seas.  They are common off the coast of Santa Barbara and southward.  These jacks usually school but have been seen alone or in small groups, particularly under drifting kelp mats. They like to live near some kind of structure such as kelp, rocky reefs, or oil platforms. In open water, they like kelp mats and various other flotsam.  They tend to hang between 10 and 20 feet of the surface and have been caught as deep as 120 feet.  They are migratory fish and follow the warm water.
  • Size: 87 pounds. Yellowtails grow up to five feet long and up to 12 years of age.
  • Limit: 10 yellowtails per day with no size limit for the first 5, then 24 inches for the remaining 5. Always double-check for updates.

Yellowtail can grow up to 87 pounds. They are found state-wide off of California, but most fish are taken south of Point Conception. The first five caught do not have a size limit. The next five must be over 24 inches at the fork length. You are allowed a limit of ten Yellowtail per day.

They can be seen from the surface to at least 200 feet. Prime Yellowtail areas are La Jolla kelp beds, Oceanside and Dana Point, the Horseshoe Kelp, Palos Verdes Peninsula, Catalina Island and the Channel Islands. This is a fish that is more appropriate for an advanced spearo to go after.


Spearguns, Floatlines, and Reels for Spearing Fish

Which Spearguns to Use for Spearfishing California Waters

Now that we have covered most of the fish you might be considering spearing or catching (as a beginner), we are now going to cover what kinds of spearguns are best for spearing certain fish.

If you want to learn more about spearguns, check out our in-depth guide.

Some divers prefer to use a speargun with a reel when they are diving from the beach. The reason for this is that a floatline can get tangled in the rocks. Also, if you swim out with it, then you have to untangle it before you start to hunt.

One thing that I like about a floatline is that if you drop your gun, the floatline will be on the surface so that you can relocate your gun. If, on the other hand, you have a reel on your speargun and you drop it, it will sink to the bottom and you may never find it (unless the gun floats).

If you decide to go with a floatline, they come to 50-foot, 75-foot, and 100-foot lengths. For a beginner, a 50-foot length will suffice.

If you are just starting out, you are probably going to be targeting fish less than 15 pounds. Therefore, there are certain sized guns that are more suited for these sized fish. Anywhere from 60 centimeters to 90 centimeters would accomplish your catching these smaller fish.

If you want to target fish that are 20 pounds or larger, then you can move up to guns from 100 centimeters to 130 centimeters. The reason for the larger spearguns is that they will shoot further and have more penetration at a further distance.

When you are hunting bigger fish, I would recommend a reel with at least 200 feet of line with 200-pound testline (minimum) and very high visible line (white or yellow). If you are going to use a floatline, I would recommend a 100-foot floatline. If you are in the deep blue water, I would recommend a 2-3 Atmosphere Float.

I recommend that when beginners purchase their first speargun that they order the guns with the 9/16” bands. This is because the 5/8” are harder to load, and most beginners do not have the upper body strength required to load the 5/8” bands yet.

Which Fishing Spears to Use While Spearfishing California Waters

Fishing spears, more commonly known as pole spears are an ancient method of catching fish.

If you want to learn more about fishing spears, check out our in-depth guide.

If a speargun is out of your price range, you can start off with a pole spear. You can start off with the best beginner pole spear by Mako. You can get it with a three-pronged Paralyzer Tip or a three-pronged Barbed Paralyzer.

Crist pole spears are also high-quality aluminum fishing spears that can take down any size fish.

If you plan on doing any traveling, the Sea Stinger travel pole spear that breaks down into for maximum travel convenience. It comes with a single barbed tip and a barbed paralyzer tip for any diving occasion.

Speargun vs. Pole Spear: Which is Better?

Before you start spearfishing, you need to decide whether you are going to use a speargun or a pole spear. A speargun is going to cost you a little more money; however, your first dive will probably be enjoyable. With most spearguns that are advisable for a beginner to start with, you will have a six-to-fourteen-foot shooting range with which to hit your target.

If you decide to start with a pole spear, then your learning curve is going to be greater. With most pole spears, you will have to get within less than four feet of your target. However, to be fair, some people enjoy this challenge.

This topic is vast and there are many things to consider. If you want to learn more about the two methods, check out our in-depth guides below:


This post was inspired by the great work of Dr. Milton Love out of the Love Lab at UC Santa Barbara.

Check out his amazing book: Probably More Than You Want To Know About The Fishes of The Pacific Coast.

If you decide you’d like to visit Santa Barbara to try some spearfishing, be sure to look for some budget accommodation in Santa Barbara so you can make the most of your trip.


Disclaimer: Any of the limits and minimum sizes may be wrong or change, check the regulations

Helpful Links for Fish Identification

This post was written with the help of Al Schneppershoff III, who’s been spearfishing for over 48 years, and his wife Vicki Rosenthal…

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