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Yellowfin Croaker Fishing Guide: How to Catch, Clean, and Cook Umbrina roncador

Let’s talk about surf fishing for yellowfin croakers.

Depending on where you are these fish are fairly abundant close to shore and can be taken on a wide variety of baits.


Yellowfin croaker caught using a gulp camo worm
One of many yellowfin croakers caught from shore in Southern California.

Yellowfin Croaker Facts

Common Name Yellowfin Croaker, roncador
Scientific Name (Genus and Species) Umbrina roncador
Family Sciaenidae
Identifying Characteristics The biggest give away that it’s a yellowfin croaker is that it’ll have a barbell on its chin.

They are shiny and grey with bluish to green-backs and a white belly. They have dotted stripes that are dark brown on their backs.

Their fins are yellow and they have two anal spines with the second being wider.

Yellowfin Croaker Habitat These fish are distributed between the Gulf of Mexico up to around the Ventura area, but there are some reports that they’ll make it up to San Fransico (although rarely).

They are a shallow schooling fish that hang around the 25 feet or shallower zone in the surf.

Depth Range Yellowfin croakers like to stay in shallower water during the day and venture to deeper water at night.
Yellowfin Croaker Fishing Information Yellowfin croakers are schooling fish that are abundant in Southern California between July and September before they venture down to Baja during the colder fall and winter months.


Yellowfin Croaker Diet

They are primarily nighttime eaters and feed on small fish (anchovies), sand crabs, worms, clams, muscles, and small crustaceans.

Yellowfin Croaker Size Yellowfin croakers reach 21.6 inches. If they are around 15 inches they will be about 10 years old. A 10-inch was aged at about 4 years old.

Yellowfin croakers mature at 9 inches so just before 4 years old.

Yellowfin Croaker Lifespan The oldest yellowfin croaker is unknown but most-likely around 10+ years of age.
Can You Eat Yellowfin Croakers? Yellowfin croakers are safe to eat. May anglers say they are tastier than white seabass and they contain less mercury.

Most people will be safe eating 1-2 servings of these fish per week.

Endangered Status Least Concerned

For more information about yellowfin croakers, check out the Fish Contamination Education Collaborative.

How to Catch Yellowfin Croaker

Yellowfin Croaker Setup

These fish are great for light tackle anglers to catch along the shore.

The simplest way to catch these fish is to use a 6 to 9-foot surf rod and a spinning reel with any type of line. Whatever you have in the garage or fishing shed should suffice, but if you need a few recs, try the following.

Light Tackle Surf Rod

A seven-foot Ugly Stick medium-power spinning rod will be more than enough for your yellowfin croaker needs.

Ugly Stik Elite Spinning Rod 7' - Medium - 2pc
  • Elite spinning rod with 35 percent more graphite...
  • Virtually indestructible blank construction with a...
  • Clear Tip design delivers added responsiveness and...

Light Tackle Surf Reel

I’m a huge fan of the Penn Battle II size 3000, but smaller or larger will be fine depending on what other fish you want to catch during your hunt.

Penn 1338218 Battle II Spinning Reel, 3000
  • Durable, high range spinning reel ideal for...
  • Full metal body, sideplate, and rotor and heavy...
  • HT 100 carbon fiber drag system provides powerful...

Yellowfin Croaker Rig

I have the best success catching these using Carolina rig. I use a 3/4 oz egg weight with a small colored bead that comes off the mainline and attaches to the swivel. For the leader, I use 12-18 inch mono or fluorocarbon to an Owner red hook size 6. These fish aren’t large so you don’t need a big hook to get them.

Yellowfin Croaker Bait

My top choices for consistent catches are:

  • Berkley Gulp! 2-inch sandworms (camo color)
  • Sand crabs
  • Mussels

Gulp! Sandworm Soft Bait - Camo - 2in | 5cm - Inshore
  • Each Bait Has A Natural Presentation In...
  • Expand Your Strike Zone With 400X More Scent...
  • Over 15 Years Of Gulp! Evolution...The Best Keeps...

I’ve seen some people fly line anchovies in the marina, but I haven’t tried that method out yet. You can also catch them on a Kastmaster or similar lure.

How to Fillet Yellowfin Croaker

We’re fortunate to have beautiful yellowfin croaker biting along the beaches in Southern California. They truly are a fun surf fish. They’re a nice big fish fillet and are really good to eat.

Yellowfin croaker good to eat
Yellowfin croaker are great table fare if you get one large enough to fillet.

All right, easy to filet. Let’s see. What do you do? How do you fillet a yellowfin croaker? What I’d like to do is get my thumb in the eyeball and my finger right inside the gill plate and then you take your knife and you just run it right down until you hit the backbone.

You hit the backbone and then you just slide right across down to the tail. Once at the tail, flip the full fillet and you’re going to cut all the ribs off. When you’re cutting fish, you can always take a little bit extra so you don’t have to worry about getting any bones.


You don’t want that bone inside there. Then all you do is hold your knife right on the skin and then you kind of peel and push. This gives you a nice fillet. No bones.

It looks like a White Sea Bass fillet and I think they taste a little bit better and then you just flip over on the other side, do the same thing, finger, and thumb, which til you hit the back on, just slide your knife across the backbone. Take the rib cage, put your knife underneath the skin and you just kind of push and pull to get a nice, beautiful fillet. And if you look at the meat, no worms. All nice and clean bones are all gone perfectly for a sandwich.

Key to Filleting is a Sharp Knife

The key to cutting fish is a very sharp knife. A lot of people feel bad when you waste a little bit of fillet sometime, but when you can get all the bones out and you don’t have to worry about it, sometimes it’s worth it.

Yellowfin croaker barbel chin
The barbel on the chin is a great tell to know if it’s a yellowfin croaker that you caught.

It may seem counterintuitive but a dull knife is way more dangerous. You have a lot better chance of cutting yourself with a dull knife because the knife will drag and you’ll put your finger across it and you’ll get cut.

Fry It, Bake It, Just Don’t Burn It

This is a great fish for fish tacos. Fry it, bake it, just don’t burn it. There’s nothing like catching a fish fresh from the sea is there? There’s nothing better to eat.

You’re going to miss a little bit sometimes, but you don’t have to worry about it. This is where the real sharp knife really comes into play where you get all the meat off of the skin. If you can’t tell when you’re filleting fish, if you push the knife with one or two strokes then you’ve really got it. Every once in a while you make a mistake, don’t worry about it.

Yellowfin Croaker Recipe

  • 2 yellowfin croakers
  • 2 tbsp crushed garlic
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp pepper
  • 6 tbsp flour or equivalent
  • 2 tbsp cornstarch
  • Vegetable oil
  • Paprika to taste
  • Slaw
  • Hawaiian buns

The easiest method is to fillet the two yellowfin croakers and batter them up.

After you fried the fish, throw them in a toasted bun win a little slaw and some ranch or sriracha dressing and get your grub on!

Yellowfin Croaker Final Thoughts

These are fun and easy fish to catch. They are solid table fare and if you have the chance to eat a few of these a week, count yourself luck!

The Anglers Behind This Article:

Jon Stenstrom

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