Fishing in California

Early settlers flocked to California in search of gold. Today, the Golden State is a treasured destination for saltwater and freshwater fishermen alike.
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About California

California is the most populous state of the United States and the third largest in area. It is geographically diverse, with mountains, deserts, lakes, and rivers, and 840 miles of stunning Pacific coastline. The fishing here is diverse as well, featuring everything from trout in wilderness creeks to record-size largemouth bass to saltwater species like surf perch and tuna. You can fish for big runs of Chinook (king) salmon and steelhead in northern California rivers, or spend an idyllic day cruising off the southern California coast fishing for yellowtail. California is one of the best places in the world for lunker largemouth bass. Seventeen of the top twenty world-record bass come from California lakes, including the largemouth that ranks number 3, a 22-pound behemoth caught in Lake Castaic.

Fishing Types

One of California’s most popular types of fishing is kayak fishing. The calm waters of the Pacific coastal bays are ideal for kayaks, and you’ll often see fishing kayaks drifting through beds of kelp near shore. Kayaks are also used for fishing on inland lakes, but motorboats are the way to go on the state’s large reservoirs, although most of them offer opportunities for shore fishing as well. Salmon can also be caught from boats or from shore; big runs of Chinook salmon find anglers casting shoulder-to-shoulder along the shorelines of popular rivers in northern California. Along the coast, pier fishing and surf fishing are good ways to target species such as surf perch. A charter boat is your best bet if you hope to catch big offshore species such as tuna and yellowfin.

Targeted Fish Species

Freshwater fish found in California include largemouth, smallmouth, spotted, striped, and white bass; panfish, crappie, and bluegills; channel, blue, and flathead catfish. You can also catch rainbow, brown, brook, Lohantan cutthroat, golden, and lake trout; steelhead; Chinook and kokanee salmon; carp; white sturgeon; and mountain whitefish. In saltwater environments, California anglers target rockfish, barracuda, sheepshead, corbina, ling cod, halibut, white seabass, calico bass, sand bass, albacore tuna, yellowtail amberjack, and surf perch. Golden trout, the state fish of California, may be one of the most beautiful freshwater game fish found anywhere. These small trout are found in cold, clear mountain streams in and near the Sierra Nevada range in eastern California.

Fishing Techniques

Balmy weather in California makes this state a good place to fish year-round. Chinook salmon are usually caught in the ocean off northern California in the spring and early summer. From August through December, these huge salmon can be found in rivers and streams and are targeted by anglers using heavy baitcasting reels and at least 20-pound-test line. Offshore fishermen look for albacore and bluefin tuna to appear off the southern California coast in early summer. This is also the time for surf fishermen or inshore anglers to focus on surf perch and corbina: bait fishing with soft-shelled sand crabs on sinker rigs is a good technique. The best technique to target California’s record-class largemouths is to cast and retrieve large swimbaits and crankbaits that resemble the panfish and trout that large bass eat. As is true with bass fishing most anywhere, jigs, spinnerbaits, and soft plastics are effective as well, as are topwater lures at dusk and dawn.