California is more than just Tinseltown, Silicon Valley, and rich people living the dream. If you ask me, the best thing that makes California, California are the beaches. Is it a wonder that Californians always look tanned and healthy? They practically have a first-row view of the waterfront.
And where there’s water, there are fish. Which means spearos heading there in groves looking for the best spots to dive in California, and going after the rarest of fish in the waters. From La Jolla to Santa Monica Bay, California beckons to every spearfisher worth their salt to try the West Coast underwater adventure.
As usual, there are rules to obey, regulations to follow, fish species to chase and others not to even get close to. And then you have to know which gear is best for these waters, what to expect, and how to fulfill these expectations. We fill you in on all of this and more in this comprehensive guide.
Spearfishing Places in California
As we all know, California has a long and expansive coastline that practically takes up the whole length of the west border. To be exact, the California coastline is 840 miles long. Think how many diving hotspots can you find on a stretch of coast this long.
I’ll save you the trouble. There’s a boatload of spots that you can visit, dive, and spear some fish. Here are the top picks.
People go to Casper Bay to tan, see hotties in bikinis, and enjoy plenty of watersports. But if you put the crowds in your rearview mirror and head to the southern part of the bay, you’ll be rewarded with some great diving spots, an abundance of fish, and cool and refreshing water to boot.
The reason this spot is such a magnet for fish has to do with the kelp and sea urchins which prefer these waters. Does this mean that you will go home with a bagful of fish every single day? You bet.
Before the oil boom, Mcabee Bay was just another nondescript shoreline in Northern California. Fish didn’t find anything interesting there so they moved on to more areas rich in food and something to see. But then pipelines were laid in the water to transport oil and suddenly this bay became attractive to fish.
The pipelines act as a form of an artificial reef where fish hide, congregate, and find love. And that’s where you will lie waiting for them with your spear to catch them if you can. And can you must as Yoda would put it.
Still in Northern California and the time is now and the place is Glass Beach. Another piece of nature that human development has left an indelible mark on. But unlike Mcabee Bay where the pipelines turned out to be a blessing for the fish, here it’s the bottling industry which left plenty of glass-like material that shaped the very sand on the beach.
That doesn’t mean that the beach is not safe. On the contrary, the sand is so glossy, if you like, it’s hard to resist visiting this unique beach and observe the fish framed in a sparkling backdrop of many reflections and colors. Obviously the fish like the area for more practical reasons.
Before we leave Northern California we have to mention this favorite spot for many scuba divers and spearos. The water is deep and visibility is decent which means you can find some big fish here and if you’re good with your spear, you can catch some. Many spearfishers scored some rare fish in these parts. There are pictures to back their claims so we’ll take their words for it.
You just need to know that you’ll have plenty of competition and you need to observe the flag rules jealously here. Keep an eye out for other divers and if visibility isn’t that great, you might want to seek another hotspot.
Santa Monica Bay
We’re now treading water in the famed Southern California territory. Here the water is predominantly warmer, visibility is better, and the fish are more energetic and colorful. Santa Monica Bay is the most famous of all the bays, beaches, alcoves, and waterholes around these parts. It’s a major destination for fishermen, scuba divers, beachgoers, and spearos as well.
Here you’ll come across different fish species such as Barracuda, rockfish, and halibut to name but a few. We’ll talk more about these and other fish species in the next section. But for now, you just need to know that this is an accessible bay and you won’t be disappointed with the game you’ll see there.
La Jolla is a very famous beach and it has served as setting for many movies. Even the ones that were supposed to be taken place in other areas such as Florida. Being a popular destination for beachgoers means you as a spearo will need to seek less crowded areas to enjoy your hobby.
Both fish and spearfishers prefer to steer clear from the boisterous swimmers. So deep water diving would be your best option in La Jolla. Usually, a boat with a local guide will take you to the best places to dive and get acquainted with the local fish.
This is an almost exclusive spot for spearfishers. There’s nothing here to attract vacationers and even divers don’t get interested in the fish. So spearos have the whole place for themselves. The fish swim undisturbed and they gather at various depths. So depending on your skill and stamina, you’re sure to find what you’re looking for here.
Another spot for the big game. Yellowtail and seabass are seen here all year round. You need to gear up and have a few years of experience under your belt to take a stab at these species. The good news is you have many options.
You can go for deep water spearfishing usually in a boat or you can access the diving spots from the beach. The water here is deep as you can tell from the type of fish that frequent these waters.
What to Catch in California?
After this whirlwind tour of the hotspots for spearfishing in California, it’s time to introduce the main course. By that I mean the fish species you’re expected to find here.
Now there is good news and bad news. The good news is the list of fish is long and varied. The bad news is the list is long and varied. So please bear with me as I put the marine biologist hat and tell you about the most interesting ones.
First off, California is geographically divided in Northern and Southern. Not that the fish have respect for such manmade boundaries. It’s usually the temperature of the water and the food that keep certain species locked up in certain areas. So let’s start with Southern fishes.
Black Croaker (Cheilotrema saturnum)
One of a big family called the Croaker (duh!) Notice I mentioned the scientific name there. That will help you do more research about each fish and easily find it. The Black Croaker looks a lot like a perch but in black garb. The white patch on its midsection tells you this is not a perch. They usually weigh about 2 pounds and have no limits for how many you can catch.
Pile Perch (Damalichthys vacca)
These silvery to gray fish are abundant in these waters and grow to decent sizes when they become adults. You can catch as many pile perch as you can carry. They usually weigh around 3 pounds each and are not considered endangered or protected species.
Rubberlip Perch (Rhacochilus toxotes)
An interesting species if only because of the inflated lips that distinguish these fish. Honestly, even if you’re not interested in catching it, just observing this fish that looks like it’s about to snap a selfie and post it on social media is entertainment enough. The fish is shiny white with pink raw lips.
It prefers kelp so where you find kelp you’ll find the rubberlip perch. It usually avoids currents and the surf and hangs out in backwaters, near rocky beds, and around pipelines. It grows to 3 pounds and has no limitations.
Spotfin Croaker (Roncador stearnsii)
A distant cousin of the black croaker that has a gray suit with a black spot on its dorsal fin. You can’t miss it. The male of the species turns golden during the mating season just to pick up girls.
Once they’ve had their way with the fair sex, they go back to their dull gray colors. Adult spotfin croakers reach 14 pounds on a good day. There’s no limit to how many you catch.
California Halibut (Paralichthys californicus)
So that’s how you say California in Latin. This fish has so many names in different areas that it’s hard to keep track. It’s a flatfish which explains why it’s sometimes called flattie.
The only way to know if you’re dealing with a California halibut is if you stick your finger in its mouth and feel its razor-sharp teeth. I wouldn’t recommend it though since your finger will be covered in blood by the time you pull it out.
There’s a limit set on this fish both in size and number. You can’t catch and keep any fish under 22 inches long. And your daily bag limit is 3 California halibuts. In some areas, the bag limit is 5 per day. So you need to check the local regulations.
Kelp Bass (Paralabrax clathratus)
Also known as calico bass and in Mexico, they call it cabrilla. This is one of the big ones and many spearos come to California especially to catch the kelp bass. It’s one of the fish known for its longevity. A lucky kelp bass can live up to 33 years before it succumbs to the ailments of old age. That is if it doesn’t become dinner to a shark or a spearo first.
Their average size is 14 pounds and there are limits to how many you can catch. The size limit is 14 inches and you can’t bag more than 5 a day. However, these rules are not set in stone. They vary from one county to the next.
California Spearfishing Cost
As a popular destination for fishermen, spearos, and divers of all sort and inclination, California early on set rules and fees to fish in its waters. On average you can expect to fork out around $48 a year to get a fishing license. You’ll have to be a resident of that great state though.
If you’re just passing through and still want to take the time to go say hi to the fish, you will be charged $130 for an annual license. There are discounted and reduced fees for veterans, active members of the military, senior citizens, and those under 16.
California Spearfishing Guide
Now that we know where to go spearfishing in California, which places the fish like to hang out in, and what kind of fish populate these waters, it’s time to wrap this guide with a few tips about what gear is best for what fish.
Pole Spear or Speargun?
A popular question among spearos. Now the answer is not simple or clear cut. Generally speaking, it all boils down to your personal preference and taste. And just to be clear, spearguns are usually favored by beginners and spearos who lack experience.
A speargun lets you shoot from a distance as far as 14 feet away. That saves you the trouble of hiding, lurking, and approaching the fish stealthily. But experienced spearos prefer to get close to the fish and use their pole spear or Hawaiian sling. It’s a more intimate encounter and the pleasure of the hunt is manifold.
Again there’s nothing wrong with going with the weapon of your choice here. Whatever you feel comfortable with will do. Enjoy your spearfishing in California!