California Department of Fish and Wildlife

Marine Sportfish Identification: Other Fishes

Last Updated October 17, 2013

Note: Please consult current fishing regulations for species presented in this booklet. To view information on safe fishing eating guidelines, please visit the OEHHA website.

Cabezon | California Sheephead | California Barracuda | California Lizardfish | California Grunion | Chinook Salmon | Coho Salmon | Giant Kelpfish | Green Sturgeon | Halfmoon | Jack Mackerel | Jacksmelt | Kelp Greenling | Lingcod | Opaleye | Pacific Hake | Pacific Tomcod | Pacific Staghorn Sculpin | Sablefish | Sargo | Striped Marlin | Swordfish | White Sturgeon | Yellowtail

Green Sturgeon - NO FISHING ALLOWED


Green Sturgeon
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Green Sturgeon

 

Family: Acipenseridae (Sturgeons)

Genus and Species: Acipenser medirostris

Description: The body of the green sturgeon is long, roughly cylindrical and has five rows of bony plates on its back. The snout is narrow, long, and cone-shaped, and more or less depressed below the level of the forehead. The mouth is toothless, protruding, and sucker-like. Four fleshy projections, or barbels, extend from the underside of the snout. The color is olive green above, whitish below, with olive stripes on the sides. The green sturgeon can be distinguished by its olive green color, the number of bony plates along the side of the body (mid lateral plates; 23 to 30), a very pointed snout, and the barbels are closer to the mouth than to the tip of the snout.

Range: Ensenada, Baja California, to the Bering Sea and Japan. The green sturgeon is commonly found in brackish water (part saltwater, part freshwater).

Natural History: The green sturgeon sifts muds and silts for food and feeds upon small invertebrates and fishes. Since it has no teeth, it must swallow its food whole. The green sturgeon is anadromous, spending its adult life in the ocean but ascending coastal streams in the winter where it remains to spawn the following summer. This species appears to reach sexual maturity in 10 or 15 years and may live to be over 100 years old. Adults migrate from salt water into fresh water beginning in late February and stays to spawn in the summer months. Males reach maturity at about 14 years of age and females at 16 years of age. Green sturgeon have been reported to reach ages of 60-70 years.

Fishing Information:TheSouthern Distinct Population Segment (DPS) of green sturgeon includes populations originating from coastal watersheds south of the Eel River, was listed as federally threatened in 2006, and in 2007 the recreational fishery was closed coastwide.  The green sturgeon is listed as a state Species of Special Concern.

Other Common Names: none.

Largest Recorded: 7 feet; 350 pounds.

Habitat: Bay Environment

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White Sturgeon


White Sturgeon
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White Sturgeon

 

Family: Acipenseridae (Sturgeons)

Genus and Species: Acipenser transmontanus

Description: The body of the white sturgeon is long, roughly cylindrical, and has five rows of bony plates on its back. The snout is bluntly rounded and more or less depressed below the level of the forehead. The mouth is toothless, protruding, and sucker-like. Four fleshy projections, or barbels, extend from the underside of the snout. The fish is overall gray in color. The white sturgeon can be distinguished from the green sturgeon by its overall grey color, 38 to 48 bony plates along the side, a round snout, and the barbels are closer to the tip of the snout than to the mouth.

Range: This species occurs from Ensenada, Baja California, to the Gulf of Alaska. The white sturgeon is the largest fish found in North American freshwaters. The white sturgeon is anadromous, and spends more of its time in the brackish (part salt, part fresh water) waters of bays than in the open ocean. Most anadromous fish spend their adult life in the ocean or brackish water, and spawn up freshwater streams.

Natural History: White sturgeon are bottom feeders and their diet consists predominantly of clams, grass shrimp, crabs and herring roe. All can be used as good baits to catch fish that are most commonly under 300 pounds. Rocks, twigs and other odd things have been found in their stomachs and a white sturgeon caught in the Snake River had eaten half a bushel of onions that it had found floating in the river. This species is long lived and may live to be over 100 years old.

Fishing Information: A good food fish, the white sturgeon in California has been taken commercially in the past for its eggs (caviar). A white sturgeon report card is required for all anglers fishing for or taking white sturgeon.

Other Common Names: Sacramento sturgeon, Oregon sturgeon.

Largest Recorded: 12 feet; 1,285 pounds. Largest recreational caught in California: 468 pounds.

Habitat: Bay Environment

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Coho (Silver) Salmon - NO FISHING ALLOWED


Coho (Silver) Salmon
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Coho (Silver) Salmon

 

Family: Salmonidae (Salmons)

Genus and Species: Oncorhynchus kisutch

Description: The body of the coho salmon is elongate and somewhat compressed. The head is conical. This species is dark metallic blue or blue green above, becoming silvery on the sides and belly. There are spots on the back. The main distinguishing feature between the coho and chinook salmon is the color of the gums at the base of the teeth. Chinook salmon have a blackish lining while coho has a white lining. Cohos also have black spots only on the upper part of the tail fin, whereas chinook tail fins are completely covered with black spots.

Range: Coho salmon occur from Chamalu Bay, Baja California, to the Bering Sea and Japan.

Natural History: Cohos, as all salmon, are anadromous and spawn in fresh water. At spawning time the males turn dusky green above and on their head, bright red on their sides and blackish below. The females turn a pinkish red on their side after they enter fresh water. Coho salmon enter streams, move upstream, and spawn from September through March. The bulk of spawning takes place from November through January. Adult males enter streams when they are either 2 or 3 years old, but adult females do not return to spawn until 3 years old. Almost all female coho salmon will spawn at age 3. All coho salmon, whether male or female, spend their first year in the stream or river in which they hatch. All adults die after spawning. Generally speaking, the larger the female the greater the number of eggs produced; however, numerous counts have been made that indicate most females will spawn from 1,500 to 3,500 eggs. The average number produced per female appears to be about 2,500.

Fishing Information: Coho salmon has been listed as a state and federal endangered species, and the recreational fishery is closed.  To avoid coho when fishing for Chinook salmon fish near shore and use larger lures.

Other Common Names: silver salmon, silversides, hookbill.

Largest Recorded: 38.5 inches; 31 pounds.

Habitat: Pelagic Environment

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Chinook (King) Salmon


Chinook (King) Salmon
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Chinook (King) Salmon

 

Family: Salmonidae (Salmons)

Genus and Species: Oncorhynchus tshawytscha

Description: The body of the chinook salmon is elongate and somewhat compressed. The head is conical. The color is bluish to dark gray above, becoming silvery on the sides and belly. There are black spots on the back and on both lobes of the tail. While five species of salmon occur along the Pacific Coast, over 99% of all salmon caught in the ocean off California are either chinook or cohos. Chinook and coho salmon can be distinguished by the color of the lining of the gums at the base of the teeth. In chinook salmon, this lining is blackish, while in cohos it is white.

Range: Chinook salmon occur from San Diego, California, to the Bering Sea and Japan. Generally, the fishery begins off San Luis Obispo County, California, and continues north.

Natural History: Chinooks and all salmon are anadromous that is, they spend part of their life in the ocean and then enter fresh water to spawn. The adults spawn principally in large river systems, primarily from the Sacramento River system north. At spawning time, male chinooks turn very dark and usually have blotchy, dull red splotches on the sides and develops a hooked nose. Most all chinook spawn when either 3 or 4 years of age but some, predominately males, will spawn at age 2. These precocious males are called jacks, chubs or grilse. Some rivers have large chinooks that do not spawn until 5 or 6 years old. Sacramento River female chinook salmon produce an average of 6,000 eggs each. This, however, is an unusually high number since female chinook salmon from other river systems normally average only 3,500 to 4,500 eggs each.

Fishing Information: In the ocean, chinook salmon are fished principally by trolling dead bait or artificial lures. Occasionally, live bait will be used while anchored or drift-fishing. Chinook salmon normally stay well beneath the surface of the ocean, usually 40 to 250 feet or more and a heavy weight or downrigger is necessary to keep trolled bait at the desired depth.

Other Common Names: king salmon, Sacramento River salmon, spring salmon, black mouth, Columbia River salmon, tyee.

Largest Recorded: 4 feet 10 inches; 126.5 pounds. Largest taken off California by a recreational angler: 65 pounds, 4 ounces.

Habitat: Pelagic Environment

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California Lizardfish


California Lizardfish
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California Lizardfish

 

Family: Synodontidae (Lizardfishes)

Genus and Species: Synodus lucioceps

Description: The California lizardfish has an elongate cylindrical body with a head and mouth which are lizard-like in appearance. The body is a uniform brown on the back and sides shading to tan or white on the belly. Because of its elongated body and mouth full of sharp teeth, California lizardfish are occasionally mistaken for the California barracuda. The barracuda, however, is silvery rather than brown and has two dorsal fins of approximately equal size with a wide space between them. The lizardfish has only a single dorsal fin with a tiny fleshy fin behind it.

Range: The California lizardfish occurs from Guaymus, Mexico to Cape Beal, British Columbia, Canada, but is not common north of Point Conception, California. This species generally occurs over sandy bottoms in shallow water ranging from 30 to 180 feet, but has been taken at depths up to 750 feet.

Natural History: The California lizardfish spend most of their time sitting on the bottom with the body at a slight angle, propped up in the front end by the ventral fins. This inactivity ends rapidly when small fishes or squid swim into the area and the fish dart upward to grab one, usually swallowing the prey in one gulp. This species is believed to begin spawning during the summer months when adult fish have been observed to congregate on sandy patches. Spawning peaks in the fall. Young lizardfish, less than 3 inches long, are nearly transparent, elongate, scaleless, with a row of large black spots under the skin of the belly.

Fishing Information: The California lizardfish, while not sought by most anglers, is taken incidentally in fairly large numbers by anglers fishing for other shallow water bottomfishes like halibut. California lizardfish can be caught on a wide variety of cut baits fished on the bottom.

Other Common Names: candlefish, lizardfish.

Largest Recorded: 25.17 inches; no weight recorded; however, it is reported to reach 4 pounds.

Habitat: Shallow Sandy Environment

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Pacific Whiting (Pacific Hake)


Pacific Hake (Pacific Whiting)
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Pacific Hake (Pacific Whiting)

 

Family: Merlucciidae* (Hakes)

Genus and Species: Merluccius productus
* Gadidae (American Fisheries Society)

Description: The body of the Pacific whiting is elongate, slender, and moderately compressed. The head is elongate and the mouth large. The color is gray to dusky brown, with brassy overtones and black speckles on the back. The elongated shape, notched second dorsal and anal fin, and the coloration separate Pacific whiting from other fish in this group.

Range: The Pacific whiting occurs in the Gulf of California (isolated population) and from Magdalena Bay, Baja California, to Alaska and along the Asiatic coast. It is found to depths exceeding 2,900 feet.

Natural History: The diet of this species includes euphausiids (small crustaceans), shrimp and pelagic fishes. Pacific whiting spawn in the winter, beginning at 3-4 years of age, off southern California and Baja California, Mexico. After spawning the adults migrate northward to Oregon, Washington and Canada and return to their spawning areas in the fall.

Fishing Information: Pacific whiting are most commonly caught incidentally by anglers seeking salmon or bottomfish. Considered a nuisance by many recreational anglers, they are generally discarded if caught. If kept and chilled immediately after capture, Pacific whiting have good food qualities. However, the flesh becomes soft and undesirable if not cared for properly. Pacific whiting may be caught with salmon or groundfish baits such as squid, herring or anchovy.

Other Common Names: Pacific hake, whitefish, haddock, butterfish, California hake, popeye, silver hake.

Largest Recorded: 3 feet; no weight recorded.

Habitat: Deep Sandy Environment

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Pacific Tomcod


Pacific Tomcod
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Pacific Tomcod

 

Family: Gadidae (Codfishes)

Genus and Species: Microgadus proximus

Description: The body of the Pacific tomcod is elongated, slender and moderately compressed. The head is elongate and there is a small fleshy projection, a barbel, on the lower jaw. The color is olive green above, creamy white below, and the fins have dusky tips. Three spineless dorsal fins and the small chin barbel separate the Pacific tomcod from any similar appearing fish, except its cousin, the Pacific cod. The Pacific cod has a barbel as long as the diameter of the eye while the Pacific tomcod has a barbel that is less than one half the diameter of the eye. The Pacific tomcod is a member of the true cod family. It is one of the smaller members of the group and is often confused with the white croaker. Again, the three spineless dorsal fins will distinguish this species from the others.

Range: The Pacific tomcod occurs from Point Sal, California, to Unalaska Island, Alaska, in near surface waters to depths of 908 feet, common to 500 feet.

Natural History: The diet of the Pacific tomcod includes anchovies, shrimp, and worms. A 10.3 inch female Pacific tomcod contained an estimated 1,200 eggs.

Fishing Information: Pacific tomcod are occasionally taken by recreational anglers in central and northern California. This is usually incidental to fishing for other species of fish. Since these are rather small fish, light line and small baited hooks are the proper gear. Small pieces of cut fish make good bait.

Other Common Names: tomcod, piciata, California tomcod.

Largest Recorded: 30 inches; no weight recorded.

Habitat: Shallow Sandy Environment

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California Grunion


California Grunion
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California Grunion

 

Family: Atherinopsidae (Silversides)

Genus and Species: Leuresthes tenuis

Description: The California grunion has an elongate body and head that are more or less compressed. The mouth is small. The scales are small, smooth and firm. This species is bluish green above, silvery below, and a bright silvery band tinged with blue and bordered above with violet extends the length of the body.

Range: The California grunion occurs from Magdalena Bay, Baja California, to San Francisco, California; however, the principal range is between Point Abreojos, Baja California, and Point Conception, California.

Natural History: The food habits are not well known; however, they do eat small crustaceans and fish eggs. The life span of California grunion is usually 3 years, with some individuals surviving 4 years. The most rapid growth takes place during the first year, at the end of which they are 5 inches long and capable of spawning. The spawning behavior of grunion is one of the more unusual of all marine fishes. They are the only California fish known to strand themselves on the beach to deposit their reproductive products in the moist sand. Females, accompanied by one to eight males, swim onto the beach, dig themselves into the sand up to their pectoral fins and lay their eggs. The males wrap themselves around the female and fertilize the eggs. With the next wave the fish return to the sea. During spawning activities, grunion may make a faint squeaking noise. Spawning takes place from early March through September, and then only for 3 or 4 nights following the full moon during the 1 to 4 hours immediately after high tide. Most females spawn from four to eight times a year producing up to 3,000 eggs every 2 weeks. California grunion are non-migratory, and are most often found in schools a short distance from shore in water 15 to 40 feet deep.

Fishing Information: California grunion may only be taken by hand. No appliances of any kind may be used, and no holes may be dug in the beach. The season is closed April and May. While the California grunion may not be taken during April or May, these are good months to observe spawning activities.

Other Common Names: smelt, little smelt, grunion, lease smelt.

Largest Recorded: 7.5 inches; no weight record; however, a 7 inch female full of eggs weighed less than 2 ounces.

Habitat: Surf Environment

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Jacksmelt


Jacksmelt
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Jacksmelt

 

Family: Atherinopsidae (Silversides)

Genus and Species: Atherinopsis californiensis

Description: The body of the jacksmelt is elongate and somewhat compressed. The head is oblong and compressed, and the eyes and mouth are small. The color is greenish blue above, silver below, with a metallic stripe bordered with blue extending the length of the body. Jacksmelt, topsmelt, and California grunion are members of the silversides family and are not considered true smelt. These three species look very similar except for the location of the first dorsal fin. In the jacksmelt, the first dorsal fin is forward of a line drawn perpendicular to the vent (anus); in the topsmelt, it is just about over the vent and in the grunion, it is behind the vent.

Range: Jacksmelt occur from Santa Maria Bay, Mexico to Yaquina Bay, Oregon. Jacksmelt are found in California bays and ocean waters throughout the year. They are schooling fish which prefer shallow water less than 100 feet and are most common in 5 to 50 foot depths.

Natural History: Jacksmelt feed on small crustaceans. Jacksmelt that are 13 to 15 inches long are 8 or 9 years old. A 16 inch, 1 pound male was 11 years old. They will spawn first when 2 years old and about 6 inches long. The spawning season extends from October to March. Large masses of eggs, about the size of small BB's, are attached to shallow water seaweeds by means of long filaments.

Fishing Information: Jacksmelt are one of the most common fishes taken by pier anglers, but are also caught in the surf. Sometimes a number of coiled up worms are found in the flesh. These are intermediate stages of spine headed worms, the adult of which are harmful to sharks, pelicans and other fish predators. The worms are harmless to humans when the fish is thoroughly cooked.

Other Common Names: silverside, horse smelt, blue smelt, California smelt.

Largest Recorded: 17.5 inches; no weight recorded; however, a jacksmelt 16 inches long weighed 1 pound.

Habitat: Bay Environment

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Sablefish


Sablefish
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Sablefish

 

Family: Anoplopomatidae (Sablefishes)

Genus and Species: Anoplopoma fimbria

Description: The body of the sablefish is quite elongate, slightly compressed and tapering to the tail. The head is rather large and elongate. The sablefish is blackish gray on the back and sides, and gray to white below. Two well separated dorsal fins, very small teeth and the uniform coloration distinguishes this species.

Range: The sablefish occurs from Cedros Island, Baja California, to the Bering Sea and Japan; at depths ranging from the surface (juveniles) to 900 feet. They are usually taken in 80 to 600 feet of water; however, schools of small individuals occasionally enter shallow areas.

Natural History: The diet of sablefish include marine worms, crustaceans and small fishes. About 50 percent of the male sablefish are mature by the time they are 24 inches long and 5 years old, whereas 50 percent of the females first mature at 7 years, when they are 28 inches long. A 28 inch female weighing 6.5 pounds and 7 years old is capable of spawning about 100,000 eggs; while a 40 inch female that is 20 years old will contain approximately 1,000,000 eggs.

Fishing Information: During some years, young sablefish abound in inshore waters and can be caught in large numbers close to the surf zone. Most of the time, however, they live on the bottom in deeper water. There is a tendency for sablefish to move deeper during the winter spawning season; thus, the heaviest catches, which are made during summer months, are made in shallower water. Chunks of salted mackerel or fresh squid are both excellent baits. Sablefish are feeble fighters at best, but large fish have a weight advantage that makes hauling them from the depths a back breaking ordeal. The flesh is pure white and oily with a very mild flavor.

Other Common Names: butterfish, blackcod, coalfish, candlefish, skilfish, coal cod, bluecod, bluefish, deep sea trout, black candlefish, skill.

Largest Recorded: 40 inches, no weight recorded however the fish was estimated to be 80-92 years old.  A sablefish 3 feet long weighed 40 pounds.

Habitat: Deep Sandy Environment

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Lingcod


Lingcod
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Lingcod

 

Family: Hexagrammidae (Greenlings)

Genus and Species: Ophiodon elongatus

Description: The body of the lingcod is elongate, tapering and only slightly compressed. The head is elongate and conical, the mouth is large with numerous large teeth. Lingcod are generally dark brown with lots of spots and blotches on the upper part of the body, but come in a variety of colors ranging from blue green to red brown.

Range: Lingcod occur between Point San Carlos, Baja California, and Kodiak Island, Alaska. They are not abundant south of Point Conception except in a few localities. They live at or near the bottom, generally in close association with rocky areas and kelp beds, especially where there is a strong tidal movement. They occur most abundantly at depths ranging to about 350 feet, but will often go into deeper water and have been caught as deep as 2,700 feet off southern California.

Natural History: Young lingcod feed primarily upon shrimp and other crustaceans until they are big enough to eat fish. Once started on fishes, it seems that any kind coming within reach is fair game. Male and female lingcod first mature when they are 3 years of age and about 23 inches in total length. Nearly all are mature at age 4 when they are nearly 26 inches long. Spawning usually takes place from December through March. The eggs are large (0.17 inch in diameter) and adhesive, sticking in large masses to rocky crevasses, generally on subtidal reefs. The male lingcod guards the eggs after fertilization until they hatch. A female 30 inches long may lay approximately 60,000 eggs; whereas, a 45 inch female may lay more than 500,000 in a single season.

Fishing Information: Lingcod are easily caught on standard rockfish rigs using anchovies or squid pieces. Larger baits such as live squid, mackerel or even small rockfishes often produce catches of very large lingcods. Large chromeplated metal jigs, large lead-head and rubber jigs, and lead-filled pipe jigs are also favorites of avid lingcod anglers. When sportfishing, live bait is more effective than dead bait and dead bait usually more than metal jigs. Whatever the bait, it seems more effective if jigged or bounced up and down along the bottom. Care should be taken when unhooking one of these toothy beasts. The lingcods teeth, as well as the gillrakers, are extremely sharp and can cause serious injury to the fingers of careless anglers. Unless you are wearing heavy gloves, NEVER put your fingers into the mouth or gill chamber of a lingcod. The safest way to pick up a lingcod is to place the thumb and first finger of one hand in the eye sockets and grab the tail with the other hand.

Other Common Names: ling, greenlinger, slinky linky, buffalo cod, cultus cod.

Largest Recorded: 52 inches; 56 pounds (California).

Habitat: Deep Rocky Environment

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Kelp Greenling


Kelp Greenling
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Kelp Greenling

 

Family: Hexagrammidae (Greenlings)

Genus and Species: Hexagrammos decagrammus

Description: The body of the kelp greenling is elongate and somewhat compressed. The head is conical, blunt in profile, and the mouth is rather small. Male and female kelp greenling can be readily distinguished by their coloration. The forepart of the body of the male has numerous sky blue spots, each surrounded by a ring of rusty spots. The female is rather uniformly covered with round reddish brown spots. Certainly, the kelp greenling is one of the most boldly colored fishes found along our coast. The kelp greenling has small, unfringed flaps of skin (cirri) over the eyes and the mouth is yellowish inside; whereas, the rock greenling has a pair of large, fringed flaps of skin over the eyes and the inside of the mouth is bluish.

Range: Kelp greenling occur from La Jolla, California, to the Aleutian Islands, Alaska, but are quite rare south of Point Conception. They live in relatively shallow water along rocky coasts, around jetties and in kelp beds.

Natural History: Included in the kelp greenling's diet are various seaworms, crustaceans, and small fishes. In California, spawning occurs between September and December. Females lay pale blue eggs masses on rocks where increased water circulation occurs.  Egg masses average 4,000 eggs that may come from multiple females with females spawning at least 3 times per season.  Like lingcod, male kelp greenlings are known to guard the nests.

Fishing Information: Kelp greenling is one of the major species in the rocky shore angler's bag in central and northern California. The jetties at Eureka comprise the number one greenling "hole" in the state. They can be caught with hooks baited with cut pieces of fish, clams, mussels, shrimp, squid, worms and crab backs. Once hooked, the kelp greenling is difficult to land because of its habit of entangling the angler's line about rocks, crevices or kelp.

Other Common Names: greenling sea trout, rock trout, spotted rock trout, kelp trout, kelp cod.

Largest Recorded: 3 pounds, no length recorded; however, a male 12 inches long weighed 1 pound.

Habitat: Shallow Rocky Environment

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Pacific Staghorn Sculpin


Pacific Staghorn Sculpin
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Pacific Staghorn Sculpin

 

Family: Cottidae (Sculpins)

Genus and Species: Leptocottus armatus

Description: The body of the Pacific staghorn sculpin is elongate and scaleless. The head is long and depressed, and the mouth is large. The body coloration often blends with its environment and shows such varieties as greenish brown or gray above, and white to yellow below. The spinous dorsal fin has an obvious black spot and the pectoral fins are yellowish with dark cross bars. The most striking characteristic of this species is an antler-like spine located just forward of the gill cover.

Range: The Pacific staghorn sculpin occurs from San Quintin Bay, Baja California, to Chignik, Alaska. They frequent California's bays, estuaries, lagoons, and shallow coastal waters, and are wide ranging from the intertidal zone to a depth of 906 feet.

Natural History: The diet of the Pacific staghorn sculpin includes crabs, shrimp, worms, mollusks, and many kinds of juvenile and adult fishes. These fish become sexually mature when 1 year old. Spawning takes place between October and April. The average sized female produces about 5,000 eggs in a season.

Fishing Information: The Pacific staghorn sculpin is attracted to a variety of baits, preferably small invertebrates. It is not highly prized as a food or sport fish. On the other hand, it is a popular bait fish for the San Francisco Bay Delta striped bass sport fishery. Caution is recommended when handling this species because the spines located on the gill cover can leave nasty cuts if the fish thrashes around in your hands.

Other Common Names: bullhead, staghorn sculpin, smooth cabezon, buffalo sculpin, smooth sculpin.

Largest Recorded: 12 inches (California), 18 inches (Canada); no weight recorded; however, a 10 inch fish weighed 0.5 pounds.

Habitat: Bay Environment

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Cabezon


Cabezon
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Cabezon

 

Family: Cottidae (Sculpins)

Genus and Species: Scorpaenichthys marmoratus

Description: The body of the cabezon is elongate and stout. The head is large, broad and the snout is bluntly rounded. The mouth is large. The color is usually dark brown, but a variety of colors ranging from blue green to reddish brown occur and there is much mottling. It looks somewhat like the lingcod, and sometimes has blue colored flesh. It is a member of the true sculpin family and it can best be distinguished from the similar looking lingcod by: the absence of scales on its body; and by the presence of a small flap of skin, a cirrus, over each eye and in the middle of the snout. The lining of its mouth is a pale to dark blue and it also lacks the large teeth of the lingcod.

Range: Cabezon occur from Point Abreojos, Baja California, to Sitka, Alaska. Cabezon are usually found on the bottom around rocky reefs and kelp beds in water less than 120 feet deep, although they are known to occur as deep as 300 feet.

Natural History: The cabezon's diet is made up of about 50 percent crabs and 50 percent mollusks and fishes. Small abalones are swallowed whole and the shells are regurgitated after some digestion takes place. These shells are sometimes beautifully polished by the action of the acids. Male cabezon first mature when about 2 years old and 12 inches long, females when 2 1/2 years old and 16 inches long. Females grow faster and attain larger sizes than do males. Spawning takes place from November through March, peaking in January. The adults tend to congregate at nesting sites. The eggs are laid in large masses on cleared rocks. The individual nest is guarded by the male who will drive away any intruder. A 5 pound female will lay an average of 66,000 eggs and a 23 pound female, 152,000. The eggs and young are free floating, some having been taken more than 200 miles from shore. The young enter the tide pools and inshore areas during the spring when they are about 1.5 inches long. They then lose their silvery color and take on the pattern characteristic of adults.

Fishing Information: Cabezon are caught by rocky shore anglers in every suitable area throughout the state. Larger numbers are caught in the central and northern part of the state. They are one of the most sought-after rocky shore inhabitants. Suitable baits include mussels, clams, squid, shrimp, worms, cut or strip bait, and live bait when available. Here again is a bottom rock dweller that can be most difficult to land if allowed to retreat to the shelter of rocks or seaweeds after being hooked. Cabezon eggs are poisonous, so do not eat the roe. Consumption of cabezon roe has produced near fatal results in humans.

Other Common Names: bullhead, cab, cabby, bull cod, giant sculpin, scorpion, marble sculpin.

Largest Recorded: 39 inches; 25 pounds.

Habitat: Shallow Rocky Environment

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Opaleye


Opaleye
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Opaleye

 

Family: Girellidae (Nibblers)

Genus and Species: Girella nigricans

Description: The body of the opaleye is oval and compressed. The snout is thick with an evenly rounded profile. The mouth is small. The color is dark olive green, and most have one or two white spots on each side of the back under the middle of the dorsal fin. The opaleye is California's only representative of the nibbler family. Bright blue eyes and the heavy, olive green, perch-like body quickly distinguish it from any other species.

Range: Opaleye occur from Cape San Lucas, Mexico to Otter Rock, Oregon. Opaleyes are residents of rocky shorelines and kelp beds. Young ones, 1 or more inches long, live in tide pools, but they seek deeper water as they grow larger. The largest concentrations of opaleye are in 65 feet of water.

Natural History: Opaleye primarily eat marine algae with or without encrustations of organisms. Food items include feather boa kelp, giant kelp, sea lettuce, coralline algae, small tube dwelling worms, and red crabs. Ripe adults have been taken in April, May and June. They form dense schools in shallower water where spawning takes place. The eggs and larvae are free floating and at times are found a number of miles from shore. The juveniles form schools of up to two dozen individuals. When about 1 inch long they enter tidepools. As they grow they seek deeper and deeper water. They mature and spawn when about 8 or 9 inches long at an age of about 2 or 3 years.

Fishing Information: Few fish are harder to hook than the opaleye and few fish will put up more fight pound-for-pound. Long considered one of the better sport fish, they take mussels, sand crabs, pieces of fish or invertebrates on a hook. Since opaleye are primarily vegetarians, some anglers find it easier to catch them using various "mosses" for bait.

Other Common Names: green perch, black perch, blue-eyed perch, bluefish, Jack Benny, button-back.

Largest Recorded: 25.5 inches; 13.5 pounds.

Habitat: Shallow Rocky Environment

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Halfmoon


Halfmoon
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Halfmoon

 

Family: Scorpididae* (Halfmoons)

Genus and Species: Medialuna californiensis
* Kyphosidae (American Fisheries Society)

Description: The body of the halfmoon is oval and compressed. The head is blunt and rounded and the mouth is small. The color is dark blue above, shading to blue gray on the sides and becoming white below. The tail is halfmoon shaped. The soft rays of the dorsal and anal fins are nearly hidden by a thick sheath of scales. The halfmoon most closely resembles the blue rockfish, but lacks the 5 spines on the front section of the gill cover, which are common to all rockfishes.

Range: Halfmoon occur from the Gulf of California to Vancouver Island, British Columbia . They are most common in southern California, particularly around the Channel Islands. Halfmoon occur over shallow rocky areas and in kelp beds. They have been observed as deep as 130 feet, but are most commonly taken by anglers from waters from 8 to 65 feet deep.

Natural History: Halfmoon feed on a variety of plant and animal matter such as red, green and brown algae, and sponges. In the turbulent areas of the rocky coasts they have been seen catching bits of upsurging seaweed. Spawning takes place during the summer months. Ripe adults are taken from July through October. The eggs and young are free floating and the young, like opaleye, are found some distance from shore. One inch halfmoon, are found at the outer edges of kelp beds. Only adults are commonly found in the inshore area. They reach maturity when about 7.5 inches long.

Fishing Information: Halfmoon are abundant throughout the year. They are scrappy and are good eating. Anglers, fishing from the rocks, have good success using mussels and shrimp; opaleye anglers occasionally catch them on moss bait. Anglers, fishing offshore, are most successful using fresh cut bait such as anchovy, sardine or squid.

Other Common Names: Catalina blue perch, blue bass, black perch.

Largest Recorded: 19 inches; 4.75 pounds.

Habitat: Shallow Rocky Environment

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California Sheephead


California Sheephead
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California Sheephead

 

Family: Labridae (Wrasses)

Genus and Species: Semicossyphus pulcher

Description:The body of the California sheephead is elongate, robust, and compressed.  This species is a “protogynous hermaphrodite” meaning it begins life as a female, then may become male later in life.  Females mature at about 8 inches in length when they reach 3 to 6 years of age and may remain female for up to fifteen years. Timing of the transformation to males involves population sex ratio as well as size of available males and sometimes does not occur at all.  This sex change is accompanied by a marked change in appearance. Female sheephead are a uniform pinkish red with a white lower jaw. As they age and become males, the head and rear third of the body turns black, the midsection of the body remains red and the lower jaw remains white. In all stages of their development, sheephead have unusually large dog-like teeth.

Range: California sheephead occur from Cabo San Lucas, Baja California, to Monterey Bay, California, with an isolated population in the Gulf of California. They are uncommon north of Point Conception. California sheephead are generally taken in rocky kelp areas near shore, in water from 20 to 100 feet deep, although they do occur in depths of 10-200 feet.

Natural History: Crabs, mussels, various sized snails, squid, sea urchins, sand dollars, and sea cucumbers are typical food items. The large canine-like teeth are used to pry food from rocks. A special plate in the throat crushes shells into small pieces for easy digestion. Occasionally, large adults have been observed out of the water in the intertidal hanging onto mussels after a wave has receded. Spawning takes place in early spring and summer. Young about 0.5 inch long occur in late May through late December and do not resemble the adult. They are brilliant red orange with two black spots on the dorsal fin and a black spot at base of tail fin. Pelvic and anal fins are black, trimmed in white. Occasional lemon yellow young are seen. The young live close to rocks at depths from 10 to well below 100 feet, particularly around beds of gorgonian corals (sea fans). When disturbed, they seek shelter in sea fans or among red seaweed. The following summer, juveniles are 3 to 4 inches long and have faded to dull pink. At 2 years they are 6 to 8 inches long, have lost all spots, and have a typical female color pattern.

Fishing Information: Sheephead will take a variety of live and cut baits, such as anchovy or squid, fished on the bottom. Those interested in trophy-sized sheephead may try a whole, live mackerel fished on the bottom. The angler who hooks a California sheephead is usually in for a strong, tugging battle. A battle that commonly ends in disaster when the "catch" runs through or around a kelp plant, or under the nearest rocky ledge.

Other Common Names: sheepie, goat, billygoats (large), red fish, humpy, fathead.

Largest Recorded: 36 inches; 36.25 pounds.

Habitat: Shallow Rocky Environment

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California Barracuda


California Barracuda
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California Barracuda

 

Family: Sphyraenidae (Barracudas)

Genus and Species: Sphyraena argentea

Description: The body of the California barracuda is very elongate and slender, and almost round. The mouth is large with canine-like teeth. It has a sharply pointed snout with a projecting lower jaw. The color is grayish black with a bluish tinge on the back becoming silvery or white on the sides and belly. The tail is yellowish and the dorsal fins are widely spaced.

Range: California barracuda occur from Cape San Lucas, Baja California, to Kodiak Island, Alaska. This species is found from the surface to depths of 60 feet, but is rare north of Point Conception, California.

Natural History: The California barracuda's main forage is anchovies and other small fishes. At two years, almost all males and 75 percent of females are sexually mature. All are mature at three years of age. Full sexual maturity occurs in males at a length of 20 inches and in females at 22 inches. In a single spawning, a two-year-old female may produce 50,000 eggs, increasing to about 400,000 by age six. Individuals may spawn more than once during a spawning season. Off southern California, spawning takes place from April to September, peaking in June.  Young barracuda up to 6 inches in length are usually found in shallow water close to shore.

Fishing Information: Most California barracuda are taken with live bait fished at or near the surface; however, they will take an assortment of trolled artificial lures. If you see a very large barracuda, in the 10 pound range, chances are it's a female. Positive identification can be made because the female has a charcoal black edge on the pelvic and anal fins, whereas the male fins are edged in yellow or olive. Three pound barracuda are common, but generally they are large enough to put up a good fight. Caution should be taken when you land a barracuda to avoid their needle sharp teeth.

Other Common Names: barracuda, scoot, scooter, snake, barry, Pacific barracuda.

Largest Recorded: Reported to 5 feet, but recorded to 4 feet; 18.1 pounds.

Habitat: Pelagic Environment

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Giant Kelpfish


Giant Kelpfish
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Giant Kelpfish

 

Family: Clinidae (Clinids)

Genus and Species: Heterostichus rostratus

Description: The body of the giant kelpfish is very elongate and compressed. The head is slender, compressed and pointed. The color may vary from light brown to green and purple with lighter areas of mottling. Giant kelpfish are easily separated from other family members because they are the only ones with forked tails; other members have rounded tails.

Range: Giant kelpfish range from Cabo San Lucas, Baja California, to British Columbia, and from surface waters down to 130 feet. Rocks covered with seaweed and kelp beds surrounding them provide the forage and habitat giant kelpfish desire.

Natural History: The diet of the giant kelpfish is predominantly small crustaceans, mollusks, and small fishes. Spawning occurs during March through July. During spawning, which occurs in a territory established by the male, the female releases her eggs on seaweed while she quivers with the male next to her, sometimes head to tail. Pink to greenish eggs are attached to the seaweed by entangling threads that extend from egg coverings. The male remains to guard the eggs. Transparent post larvae appear from April through August, usually in shallow water from 5 to 30 feet. Giant kelpfish school until approximately 2.5 inches long when they begin to assume adult colors and become solitary, living close among seaweeds.

Fishing Information: Anglers pursuing giant kelpfish should drift through giant kelp beds since the fish are closely associated with the plants. When fishing for this species, small hooks are recommended since the fish have small mouths. Small shrimp, juvenile clams and other small invertebrates are used as bait. Squid can also be used if cut into small pieces.

Other Common Names: kelpfish, eel, iodine fish, butterfish, kelp blenny.

Largest Recorded: 24 inches; no weight recorded; however, a 16.2 inch giant kelpfish weighed 1.2 pounds.

Habitat: Shallow Rocky Environment

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Swordfish


Swordfish
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Swordfish

 

Family: Xiphiidae (Swordfishes)

Genus and Species: Xiphias gladius

Description: The body of the swordfish is elongate and somewhat compressed. The upper jaw is very much extended, forming a long, flat sword. The color is dark gray to black above becoming gray to yellowish below. Swordfish are readily distinguished from other billfish by their flattened bills, lack of fins on the belly, and the presence of only one keel (small projection) on the base of the tail adjoining the fish.

Range: Swordfish occur worldwide in temperate and tropical seas. Off southern California, they are most commonly encountered between the mainland and the Channel Islands.

Natural History: The diet of swordfish includes fishes such as small tuna, dorado, barracuda, flying fish, and mackerel as well as benthic species such as Pacific whiting and rockfish. Squid is also important when available. Swordfish do not spawn off the coast of California. Off Hawaii, spawning takes place from April through July with females producing up to 16 million eggs per season. The eggs take 2.5 days to hatch. Swordfish grow quickly during the first 6 years, with females reaching 74.5 inches, eye to fork of the tail (EFL) and males reach 68.8 inches EFL. Swordfish from the North Pacific Ocean have been aged to 12 years.

Fishing Information: Most recreational fishing for swordfish involves visually searching for a fish that is finning (presenting itself at the surface) and then maneuvering a baited hook in front of it. Live Pacific mackerel or dead squid are the preferred baits, although some anglers use live California barracuda. Once hooked, swordfish are strong and stubborn fighters with average encounters lasting more than 4 hours.

Other Common Names: broadbill, broadbill swordfish.

Largest Recorded: 15 feet; 503 pounds. Largest taken off California by a recreational angler: 452.5 pounds.

Habitat: Pelagic Environment

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Striped Marlin


Striped Marlin
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Striped Marlin

 

Family: Istiophoridae (Billfishes)

Genus and Species: Tetrapturus audax

Description: The body of the striped marlin is elongate and compressed. The upper jaw is much extended, forming a rounded spear. The color is dark blue above becoming silver below, with light blue bars or vertical spots on the sides. Of the billfishes that occur in California waters, the striped marlin is difficult to confuse with the others. Marlin have scales, fins on the belly, and a rounded spear which set them apart from swordfish which have no scales or ventral fins and have bills that are flat. Sailfish have an extremely high dorsal fin not found among the marlins, and shortnose spearfish do not have the long spear on the upper jaw nor the body weight of the marlin. The striped marlin normally develops conspicuous stripes along the sides of its body after death. This feature is unique to striped marlin.

Range: Striped marlin occur in tropical and warm temperature waters of the Indian and Pacific Oceans. On the west coast of the United States they range as far north as Oregon, but are most common south of Point Conception, California. They usually appear off California in July and remain until late October.

Natural History: The food of striped marlin is predominately fishes, squid, crabs and shrimp. The latter three make up lesser portions of the diet than do fish. The spear of the marlin is sometimes used both as a weapon for defense and as an aid in capturing food. Wooden boats frequently have been rammed by billfish, and in one instance the spear penetrated 18.5 inches of hardwood 14.5 inches of which was oak. When it uses its bill in capturing food, the striped marlin sometimes stuns its prey by slashing sideways with the spear rather than impaling its victim, as some believe.

Fishing Information: Most striped marlin are taken by trolling artificial lures in areas they are known to inhabit. Blind strikes are generally the rule, but one can occasionally tempt a "finner" or "sleeper" (marlin swimming along the surface) to strike if lures are trolled past the fish. Live bait also works well but requires more effort since the fish must usually be first spotted visually. Once a striped marlin is located, the angler should cast a bait in front of and past the fish so it can be reeled back towards the animal. Strikes usually result from properly presented live bait. Most striped marlin anglers prefer Pacific mackerel as bait. The best California fishing locality is in a belt of water which extends from the east end of Santa Catalina Island offshore to San Clemente Island and southward in the direction of the Los Coronados Islands.

Other Common Names: striper, marlin, Pacific marlin, spikefish, spearfish.

Largest Recorded: 13.5 feet; 339 pounds (California).

Habitat: Pelagic Environment

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Jack Mackerel


Jack Mackerel
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Jack Mackerel

 

Family: Carangidae (Jacks)

Genus and Species: Trachurus symmetricus

Description: The body of the jack mackerel is rather elongate; somewhat compressed. The body tapers to a tail, which is as broad as it is deep. The color is metallic blue to olive green above becoming silvery below. The jack mackerel, which is not a true mackerel, is quite similar to the Mexican scad, but can be distinguished by the enlarged scales along the side and by the last rays of the dorsal and anal fins being attached to the body. These rays are isolated finlets on the Mexican scad.

Range: Jack mackerel occur from Magdalena Bay, Baja California, to southeast Alaska, and from the surface to depths of 150 feet. Adults may be found over 500 miles offshore.

Natural History: Jack mackerel are known to feed heavily upon crustaceans and small, free swimming mollusks. Half of the 1 year old females are sexually mature and will spawn, with 90 percent spawning at age 2.  Spawning takes place from March through July, and occurs over an extensive area from 60 to 300 miles offshore. Jack mackerel regularly live 20-30 years and weigh 4 to 5 pounds. For fish with such a long life span, they become sexually mature at a very young age. They are quite common near the islands and banks off southern California up to 3 or 4 years of age, and then presumably move offshore or northward.

Fishing Information: Younger jack mackerel do not feed extensively on anchovies, do not readily bite on baited hook or lure, and thus are a much less common addition to the catch of a sport angler. They can be jigged, however, on small feathered hooks and frequently are used as a bait for larger gamefish by the experienced ocean angler.

Other Common Names: horse mackerel, Spanish mackerel, mackerel-jack, jackfish, Pacific jack mackerel.

Largest Recorded: 32 inches; a 28.5 inch jack mackerel weighed 5.25 pounds. Largest taken off California by a recreational angler: 5.5 pounds.

Habitat: Pelagic Environment

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Yellowtail


Yellowtail
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Yellowtail

 

Family: Carangidae (Jacks)

Genus and Species: Seriola lalandi

Description: The body of the yellowtail is elongate, somewhat compressed, tapering to the sharp snout and the slender tail. The head is more or less conical. The color is olive brown to brown above, with a dark streak along the side of the body. The fins are yellowish. Yellowtail are easily distinguished from other fishes by the darker horizontal stripe along the side of the body, as well as a deeply forked yellow tail.

Range: Yellowtail occur from Chile to British Columbia, Canada, including the Gulf of California, and from the ocean's surface to depths of 228 feet. Most fish landed in California are taken between Point Conception and the Coronado Islands, Baja California.

Natural History: Yellowtail feed primarily during the day and are opportunistic feeders, eating anything that is abundant in the area. Red crabs, anchovies, squid, and most small fishes are food items. Spawning occurs from June through October. Many yellowtail are sexually mature in 2 years; all will spawn when 3 years old. A 3 year old female will weigh about 10 pounds and spawn approximately 450,000 eggs; however, a 25 pound female will produce more than 1 million eggs.

Fishing Information: Prime yellowtail areas are found around the Coronado Islands, La Jolla Kelp, the area between Oceanside and Dana Point, Horseshoe Kelp, Palos Verdes Peninsula, Santa Catalina Island and San Clemente Island. Most yellowtail taken by California anglers are landed on boats which anchor at spots where yellowtail are known to aggregate and then chum the fish to the boat with live anchovies. As the fish mill about the boat, anglers then use anchovies, mackerel or squid to catch them. Small boaters may take yellowtail by trolling jigs or feathers in areas where these fish occur.

Other Common Names: California yellowtail, forktail, mossback, amberjack, white salmon.

Largest Recorded: 5 feet; 80 pounds (California).

Habitat: Pelagic Environment

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Sargo


Sargo
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Sargo

 

Family: Pristipomatidae (Sargos)

Genus and Species: Anisotremus davidsonii

Description: The body of the adult sargo is a compressed oval shape with the back elevated. The head has a steep, straightish upper profile and a small mouth. The color is metallic silvery, with a grayish tinge on the back and silvery below; with a distinguishing dark vertical bar running across the body. Occasionally, sargo are entirely bright yellow, orange or pure white. Young sargo, up to 4 inches, have several dark horizontal stripes. The vertical bar begins to appear when they are 2 or 3 inches long.

Range: The sargo occurs from Magdalena Bay, Baja California, to Santa Cruz, California, and is found inshore and in bays. Sargo occur from the surface to depths of 198 feet, but are most common in water up to 40 feet deep. They are usually found in areas with rock or combination rock-sand bottoms, around pilings or similar submerged structures.

Natural History: Examination of stomach contents indicate sargo are bottom feeders, eating different small shrimps, crabs, clams, and sea snails. Sargo spawn when they are about 7 inches long and 2 years old. Spawning occurs in late spring and early summer. The 1 inch young appear in late summer and fall in shallow water, schooling loosely with young salema and black croaker. At a length of 5 inches, when they are about 1 year old, they join adult sargo schools. All through their life they are capable of displaying the striped pattern characteristic of juveniles.

Fishing Information: Sargo are commonly caught incidentally to other fishing, primarily during the summer months. Anglers fishing from the rocks catch a few as part of their mixed fare and good runs are occasionally encountered in southern California bays. Sargo make a piglike grunting sound when pulled from the water. Almost any type of animal bait, such as clams, mussel, shrimp or pieces of fish, does well. Because of their habit of swimming a few feet off the bottom in loose schools and in shallow water, they are a prime target when spear fishing. Probably more are taken in this manner than by hook and line.

Other Common Names: China croaker, blue bass, black croaker, grunt.

Largest Recorded: 19.7 inches.

Habitat: Shallow Rocky Environment