Posted by: socalsalty | March 18, 2011

Top 10: Saltwater Bass

I’m not talking about the kind of bass you see in those morning fishing shows.  Those are freshwater bass.  Saltwater bass are related, they’re just the “salty” version.  Out here in So Cal, that means Spotted Bay Bass, Sand Bass and Calico (aka Kelp) Bass.

SD Bay Spotty (image courtesy of SoCal Fishin Tips)

As their name suggests, Spotted Bay Bass or Spotties are most commonly caught in bays.  I’ve only ever caught this species in San Diego Harbor, but I know they catch them down in Newport Harbor a lot as well.  They are a pretty fish and like most bass will give you a big fight for their size.  They like structure.  I typically catch mine near the buoys in the harbor from a kayak.  If you are going to try this means to catch them though, make sure you are drifting away from the buoy.  If you let your line drift toward, you will inevitably get it tangled in the mooring of the buoy and lose your tackle.  A simple dropper loop setup, working the bottom, with 2/0 hooks and squid strips does the trick for me.

Fat Sandy in SD

Barred Sand Bass or sandies are usually caught in a bit deeper water than the spotties, but I’ve caught them ‘yaking in San Diego Harbor too.  More often I hook into these fish on the twilight trips out of MDR.  These fish tend to hug the bottom, especially when the water is colder in the winter months.  Just based on my experience, they tend to be more active at night too.

Most often, I’ve had success catching these fish on leadheads with live or freshly dead whole squid.  I’ve also caught them though on bucktails (with or without a squid strip) in a double dropper loop setup where the bottom loop uses a plain hook with a live sardine pulling it around.  I think that combo gives you some really lively, natural looking action that these fish seem to respond to well.

Winning 6lb 9oz Calico caught on a New Del Mar twilight trip by Ryo

Calicos are the most prized of the 3.  My first intro to the species was during summer half day trips.  As the ‘kelp bass’ name suggests, this species is most often found lurking under kelp where they wait for bait fish or squid to pounce on.  Unlike spotties and sandies, these fish are most often caught near the topwater or mid-level in the water column.  I’ve seen a lot of guys have success catching these fish with soft plastic swim baits and smaller topwater irons.

For myself though, I prefer to go with live fin bait, sardines or better yet anchovies, which are fly lined to the outside edge of a kelp bed.  For this reason, you may also want to try fishing for them using a “kelp cutter” rig.  In a kelp cutter setup, use red or dark green braid tied directly to the hook, and then bait the hook with a live bait.  The braid is more responsive (less stretch) than mono or fluoro, so you can turn the fish and keep it out of the kelp. Braid also has the added benefit of cutting through the kelp if the fish manages to get back into his hideout.

All saltwater bass put up a good fight, and are good eating.  Legal size is 12 inches.  For the calicos though, it takes them about 6 years to reach legal size.  “Slow to grow, so let ’em go” is what you hear a lot, so a lot of anglers practice CPR (catch, photograph, release) on this prized species.  Another saltwater bass worthy of note here is the black seabass aka giant seabass.  The largest recorded black seabass here was caught off Anacapa Island (in the Channel Islands) and measured over 7 ft long and 563 lbs in 1968!  Black seabass take 11-12 years before they can reproduce.  As such, they are a protected species and you MUST send them back.  Along with the California Halibut, saltwater bass are the apex predators of the inshore fishery.  For this reason, they are #6 on the Top 10 Saltwater Fish in So Cal!

***Editorial Notes*** Today the LA Times reported that two men were charged and cited for an incident involving a black seabass down in Newport.

Related Posts: Calico Bass Fishing 101, CoreySanden of MC Swimbaits, DFG : Saltwater Bass Update



  1. So what’s for you the salt water bass is for the freshwater fishermen here in TX the Big Mouth, White and Yellow bass and for the real action the Stripers.
    I caught a few salt water bass down at the Gulf of Mexico. Really small ones and they were more of an “accident” then me targeting them.

    • Hey Rick, thanks for stopping by. These fish are at or near the the top sport fish for pier/shore guys, kayakers, and half day party boaters. When I go on a twilight ride, I pretty much know I’m going to get my 5 sculpin, but if I nail a bass or 2, then Salty is very happy!

  2. More new species of fish I will need to catch someday… Great article!

  3. Thanks Matt. Been having ideas around the chat today. Hit you later. Go get those muskellunge!

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