The deep sea fishing California has on its doorstep will have you spoiled for choice. As you make your way up the coast, a host of colorful pelagic fish gives way to a steady, year-round population of bottom fish, including some of the finest delicacies in the Pacific Ocean.
Deep sea trenches, offshore islands, and warm water currents from South America and Japan make these waters one of the most challenging—and rewarding—fisheries in the country. The question is, where to begin?
What to Catch and Where to Find it
Tuna runs, monster Shark fishing, and a resident Salmon population are just a few of the treasures waiting offshore. The best deep sea fishing in California usually makes itself available in spring and lasts through fall. Crab and Lobster season start just in time to keep you busy through winter.
No matter where you plan on fishing, rest assured there will be a captain and crew ready to help you make the most of it. CA fishing charters from San Diego all the way to Bodega Bay are your ticket to this world renowned fishery.
If you find yourself deep sea fishing in sunny SoCal, chances are you’ll be heading straight to the islands offshore. Santa Catalina Island and San Clemente Island are the go-to destination for deep sea anglers in San Diego, Dana Point, and the greater LA area. For the hardcore fisherman, there’s nothing better than a journey to the Coronado Islands.
Santa Catalina (a bit more than 20 miles offshore) and San Clemente Island (just over 40 miles) host year-round populations of Halibut, Calico, and White Seabass. The season for various Rockfish opens in spring, making Lingcod, Cabezon, and California Sheephead available to recreational anglers. You’ll also find Yellowtail Amberjack and Barracuda at this time of year. In summer, the deep waters surrounding the islands see Striped Marlin, Mahi Mahi, and several kinds of Tuna. Most trips to the islands last around 12 hours.
If you’re up for an overnight excursion, pack your bags for a trip to the Coronado Islands. Located more than 100 miles away in Mexican federal waters, these fishing grounds are a popular destination for deep sea fishing charters out of San Diego and Dana Point. Here you can target the biggest fish around, including Bluefin Tuna, Yellowfin Tuna, Blue and Striped Marlin, and massive Sharks. Be sure to bring your passport and as much ambition as you can muster.
Heading north, you’ll find great deep sea fishing in the Santa Barbara area as well. Heading over 10 miles offshore brings you to the Channel Islands, where you can catch Yellowtail, White Seabass, Calico, Barracuda, and sometimes Albacore Tuna in warmer months. Here you can bottom fish for Rockfish and Lingcod, too. In winter and spring, you’ll see runs of Chinook and Coho Salmon in the Santa Barbara Channel and around the islands—a sneak peak at the deep sea fishing to be had farther north. Trips last 8-12 hours.
Halfway up the coast, CA deep sea fishing takes on a totally different persona. Here the water is colder and big game fish like Marlin and Yellowtail are replaced by Salmon, Lingcod, and Albacore Tuna.
Though overlooked, the waters between San Luis Obispo and San Simeon offer some excellent fishing opportunities for Lingcod and late season Albacore Tuna in the 30-50 lb range. You may even catch runs of King and Coho Salmon if the season is right.
Next on the list is Monterey Bay, a world famous habitat which hosts shallow water Rockfish as well as deep sea Pelagics. Here you can catch Halibut, Striped Bass, Flounder, Sharks, Lingcod, and more, depending on the season and what’s legal to keep. Salmon enter the bay in early spring and stay through fall. In late summer, Albacore Tuna might come within 10 miles of shore and sometimes stay until December.
Continuing north, you’ll find great fishing for Lingcod and Rockfish on the shallow reefs outside of the harbors in Santa Cruz and Half Moon Bay. While fishing the open waters you might land Salmon, Striped Bass, Flounder, and more. Heading as far as 50 miles offshore will bring you into contact with Albacore Tuna. For Salmon and Rockfishing, plan on a trip of 7-8 hours. Going for Tuna in this area will require a 12 hour trip.
If catching Salmon is your main objective, there’s no better place to cast lines than San Francisco. The open waters just outside the Golden Gate are home to a resident Chinook population in addition to Halibut, Striped Bass, and Albacore Tuna in late summer. The Farallon Islands 27 miles offshore are a popular destination for the best Rockfish and Lingcod fishing, as well as Salmon fishing at the start of the open season in spring.
You can find more great deep sea fishing near Bodega Bay. Halibut, Rockfish, Lingcod, Salmon, and Albacore Tuna all make an appearance here. You can fish for Chinook Salmon from mid April through late summer, or chase after Albacore Tuna 30-40 miles offshore.
Continuing north, you can fish for Rockfish, Lingcod, and Salmon in Tomales Bay, Humboldt Bay, and numerous reefs near Crescent City, Fort Ross, and Timber Cove. Tomales bay is also known for its teeming Shark population.
Types of Fishing
Fast trolling will help you land pelagic game fish like Mahi Mahi, Yellowtail, and Tuna, especially when using a combination of metal jigs, spoons, and soft plastic trolling lures.
Trolling baits such as Sardines, Shrimp, or Squid will entice Salmon. Later in the season, some anglers switch to “mooching” a form of slow trolling which allows the boat to drift with the tide.
Chumming and Chunking for Tuna
Chumming and chunking are effective ways to lure Tuna and Sharks to the boat by tossing bucketfuls of cut fish or live Squid into the sea. Once the fish have clearly taken interest, just cast your hooked bait into the feeding frenzy.
This method is common in southern California. Chumming is prohibited in other locations such as San Francisco Bay.
Kite Fishing for Bluefin
Another tactic favored by anglers in southern California, kite fishing is one way to catch the biggest Bluefin Tuna. Specialized lures and live bait (Mackerel) both prove effective.
No method for catching critters near the seafloor is more tried and true than bottom fishing. This will bring you Lingcod, Rockfish, Sheephead, Halibut, and more. A slow retrieval works best, sometimes bounced off the bottom. Bait choices might include frozen Squid, live bait (Anchovies, Mackerel), or swim baits.
Anglers in SoCal target many bottom fish by fly lining live bait, which involves fishing a hook with no weight so that your bait swims freely. This can help you catch Yellowtail, White Seabass, Calico Bass, Bonito, Barracuda, and other species near rocks or reefs.