Catalina Island Fishing: A Complete Guide
Sep 29, 2020 | 9 minute read
Reading Time: 9 minutes

Located just 28 miles off the coast of Southern California, Catalina Island is a slice of paradise. On land, it offers a welcome reprieve from the hustle and bustle of the Los Angeles metropolitan area. In the waters, however, it’s a different story. The Catalina Island fishing scene is anything but quiet, and it’s created the baseline for what modern-day sportfishing is today.

An aerial view of boats docked in the Avalon Bay on Catalina Island.

There’s just something about Catalina’s waters that seems to agree with California’s familiar cast of fish, making it the best year-round fishery in the region. So whether it’s an inshore fight or an offshore battle you’re after, we’ll tell you what you can catch, where, and how in this guide to Catalina Island fishing.

Top Catches on Catalina Island

The key difference between the fish you can catch around Catalina versus anywhere else on Southern California’s coast is size. Catalina fish are absolutely massive! As a result, you’ll find more trophies here than anywhere else. We couldn’t mention them all, but here are a few of Catalina’s top inshore and offshore catches.

Calico Bass

A male angler holding a large Calico Bass, caught off the coast of Catalina Island.

Wherever you go in Southern California you’ll find Calico Bass – and that includes Catalina Island. Don’t let that put you off, though, these year-round targets are both delicious and fun to catch. Calico Bass love to call rocky structure and kelp beds home, making Catalina’s shoreline ideal for these fish.

Another thing that makes fishing for Calico Bass in Catalina special is the sheer size they reach. Thanks to the growing popularity of catch and release fishing, the island boasts a big and strong population. Both novices and pros can target them – just gear up with a 7’ or 8’ rod and some heavy braided line. In terms of bait, Calico Bass regularly bite both swimbaits and small live bait like anchovies.

White Seabass

A young male angler happily showing off a White Seabass, caught in the waters off the coast of Catalina.

Fishing for White Seabass is a challenge. The conditions could be ideal and you won’t get a single bite. On the other hand, on a day you least expect, there could be hundreds of fish biting around the Catalina Island shore. Although these fabled California fish are unpredictable, there are a few things we do know about them.

The White Seabass fishing season typically starts in March, before hitting its peak in the summer. The average fish comes in at between 20–30 pounds but trophies can easily hit the 60-pound mark. To reel these beefy fish in, gear up with a medium-heavy rod and keep your jig or live bait slow-moving – these fish don’t like to work too hard for their meals!

Yellowtail Amberjack

A female angler holding a large Yellowtail Amberjack caught near Catalina Island.

Yellowtail Amberjacks are another iconic Southern California fish. You’ll find them up and down the coast but Catalina is home to what’s arguably the state’s best year-round fishery. Everything from water temperatures and environment, to the fish they feed on, agrees with Yellowtails in the waters surrounding the island.

If you’re hoping for the hard-fighting action big game fish provide but don’t want to travel into extremely deep waters, Yellowtails are the ideal opponents. They’re deep-diving fish who can usually be found in waters up to 120 feet deep. Ranging between 5–40 pounds, Yellowtails respond well to all kinds of bait including red crabs and sardines, as well as metal jigs.

Sharks

A ferocious Mako Shark being released off the side of a charter boat in Southern California.

Shark anglers know how easy it is to get hooked on chasing these beautiful and fierce creatures. You strap into your harness, clip on your heavy rod, and reel your heart out! Catalina is home to various Shark species, including Blue and Leopard Sharks. However, there’s one that stands out more than the others.

Equal parts fierce and intelligent, Mako Sharks are the ultimate predators. They’re fast and ferocious, primarily because they have to be! Makos are warm-blooded and have to keep moving to stay alive. Constantly on the go, these migratory fish travel based on what food is on offer, so it’s no surprise that they hit Catalina right around the time Bluefin Tuna arrive. 

Makos are really fun to catch, but they’re also slow to mature and tasty – making them a prime candidate for overfishing. If you catch a mature and healthy Mako in Catalina, our advice is to tag and release it.

Tuna

A male angler showing off a Yellowfin Tuna caught off the coast of Catalina Island.

If we had to declare a star of the show when it comes to Catalina fishing, it would have to be Tuna. Why? Well, many people call Catalina the birthplace of modern sportfishing. Some of the best offshore fishing grounds in the world are located only a few miles from shore! Once the warmer weather hits, it brings with it more than one kind of these delicious fish.

Yellowfin and Bluefin Tuna are by far the most popular catches, but Skipjack, Bigeye and even Albacore Tuna make appearances too. These fish are tough cookies and you’ll need the right gear and some muscle power to reel them in. Tunas don’t tire out easily so trolling with fluorocarbon leader and some tasty live bait is your best bet for getting these fish on the boat.

Striped Marlin

A Striped Marlin being in the process of being released off the side of a charter boat.

The big game fishing fun around Catalina doesn’t end at Tuna. There are more pelagics to pursue here, including the almighty Marlin. Between July and October Striped Marlin crowd the waters to the delight of local anglers. Earlier in the season, anglers prefer to slow troll for these billed fish, whereas September and October are reserved for sight casting.

Although they’re smaller than their Blue and White relatives, Striped Marlin can still reach pretty impressive sizes. The average fish come in at between 40–130 pounds, however, trophies can weigh up to 500 pounds and measure up to 14 feet. To find these fish, you’ll need to head into deep waters. The productive stretches between Catalina, Santa Barbara, and San Clemente islands are a great starting point.

How to Fish Around Catalina Island

Catalina is known for its productive deep waters that start just a few miles from shore and extend all the way past the horizon. As such, there are a couple of different ways to sink your line and catch some trophy fish. Below, we highlight some of the most popular methods for taking advantage of the Catalina Island fishing scene.

Catalina Island Charter Boat Fishing

A large sportfishing vessel speeding towards it's fishing grounds.

By far the most popular way to get out on the water, Catalina fishing charters offer up some of the greatest opportunities to explore the deep Pacific waters for trophy fish. Whether you’re trolling in the summertime for Tuna and Marlin or deep dropping for Rockfish and Lingcod, a charter gives you the freedom to move around and custom-make your dream trip.

You’ll also have a knowledgeable local captain on hand who can teach you about Catalina’s rich fishing history and share some local tips and tricks. They’ll also include your gear and, most of the time, bait too. Like in all Southern California fisheries, you’ll be responsible for purchasing your own fishing license.

Catalina Island Kayak Fishing

A female kayak angler paddling towards the Catalina shoreline.

Kayak fishing has grown immensely in popularity over the years and Catalina Island is a great place for outdoor lovers to give it a try. And you’d be surprised by the range of fish that can be caught! Kayak anglers in Catalina regularly go after Yellowtail, White Seabass, and Calico Bass in the island’s inshore waters.

Few methods of fishing give you closer access to your targets – not to mention that it’s much more affordable than charter fishing. We’re obliged to tell you, however, that kayak fishing is not for the faint of heart. You’re your own captain and engine after all, and a clear understanding of the waters is essential if you’re employing more complex fishing techniques.

Catalina Island Pier Fishing

A view of the Green Pleasure Pier in Avalon with colorful beach houses in the background.

There’s plenty to do onshore in Catalina and that includes pier fishing. If you came in hopes of landing some Calico Bass, you’ll be happy to know that most are caught from Green Pleasure Pier in Avalon. Alternatively, Cabrillo Mole, a pier on the other side of the island, is considered one of few in the world where you can successfully hook California Sheephead.

Alongside these notable targets, expect a healthy supply of Blue Perch and even Rockfish or the odd Yellowtail. Mussels or shellfish work well if you’re using live bait, whereas spoons and jerkbait do the trick if you prefer artificial. Best of all, both of these piers are public and therefore don’t require you to have a fishing license!

Catalina Island Shore Fishing

An aerial view of one of many coves found across Catalina Island.

Fishing from shore is a great way to see how beautiful Catalina Island really is. If you’re hoping to find a remote fishing spot, hiking and camping are probably in the cards, which is a dream in this lush and diverse landscape. If you’re staying in Avalon, the island’s main city, not to worry. Avalon Harbor is a great spot to cast from, too.

Most anglers shore fishing in Catalina come here for Calico Bass. Given that there’s kelp all over the island, this should come as no surprise. Blue Perch, Halibut, Sheephead, and even Yellowtail are in the cards too. Casting into the incoming tide brings the most success. Just be sure to bring extra lures and lines to replace those that will inevitably get lost at sea.

Catalina Island Fishing Spots

An aerial view of Avalon Harbor, where most of Catalina's charter fleet docks.

Anywhere you cast your rod around Catalina Island, chances are you’ll come across a big and feisty fish. The offshore waters are truly your playground. All you need to do is choose a direction to sail in. That said, there’s also great inshore and shore fishing on offer. Below, we’ve highlighted a couple spots you shouldn’t miss next time you’re in Catalina. 

  • Avalon Bay: Avalon is the island’s main city and aside from being a colorful tourist spot, it’s home to the Avalon Bay. It houses most of the island’s charter fleet and also provides shore anglers the opportunity to cast lines for Calico Bass, Blue Perch, and Halibut.
  • Two Harbors: Located on the “other side” of the island, Two Harbors is a city on the western tip of Catalina. On one side, fish Isthmus Cove. On the other side, cast into Catalina Harbor. White Seabass, Yellowtail, and Halibut are just some of the game fish waiting to bite your line here.
  • Green Pleasure Pier: It’s the island’s main pier, located in Avalon. Calico Bass are a common catch, as are Blue Perch, Rock Wrasse, and even Rockfish. This is a public pier and no fishing license is required. 
  • San Clemente Island: Catalina’s island sibling, the stretch between the two is deep and productive. If you came for big game Tuna and Marlin fishing, this is a great place to start your search.

Anything else I need to know?

Signage indicating fishing is allowed only in certain areas.

Before you head off on your Catalina Island fishing trip there are a few more things to take into consideration. First of all, you’ll need to get here! Then, it’s all about purchasing a fishing license and making sure you’re up to date on fishing seasons and regulations. Below, we’ve listed some tips and information to make your fishing trip as smooth as possible.

How do I get to the island?

First things first – getting to the island! Catalina is about 28 miles off the coast of Southern California, directly across the San Pedro Channel from Long Beach, Newport Beach, Huntington Beach, and Dana Point. It’s also an hour-long boat ride from the city of Los Angeles. You can get to Catalina by ferry or helicopter, or by chartering a boat from one of these cities.

Fishing Licenses and Seasonality

Catalina Islands falls under Southern California regulatory jurisdiction. As such, you’ll need to purchase a fishing license for all shore and boat anglers over the age of 16. The exception to the rule is pier fishing from a public pier, which requires no license. For more information on purchasing a license, check out our quick guide

A sign on a wooden wall advertising bait and tackle for sale.

SoCal’s fishing regulations are notoriously heavy and it’s essential to stay up to date. Fishing regulations are subject to change every year, so make sure you’re staying informed. The season for Rockfish species typically closes at the start of the year and reopens in March or April. Most other species are open to harvest year-round but may have size and bag limits.

Catalina Island: An Angler’s Paradise

An aerial view of Avalon Harbor with Catalina's recognizable landscape in the foreground and background.

There’s no doubt about it, Catalina Island’s fishing opportunities are legendary. Its diverse fishing grounds, perfect water temperatures, and generally calm environment all contribute to why it’s Southern California’s favorite fishing hole. After that glamorous California trophy fish? It probably calls these waters home. Whether you’re a novice or pro, you likely won’t soon forget your Catalina Island fishing adventure.

Have any legendary Catalina Island fishing stories to share? Drop us a line in the comments – we love to hear from you!

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