Southern California has a reputation for being almost too perfect. The sea is bluer, the sun brighter, and the sand softer than anywhere else. It certainly seems true in Dana Point, but that’s not why you should visit. The real reason to go is that Dana Point fishing is some of the best you could ever ask for. Big words, we know, but completely deserved.
In this article, we’ll break down what makes Dana Point so special for anglers. You can learn about the top species and fishing spots, as well as the main styles of fishing, seasons, tournaments, and more. Essentially, the what, where, when, why, and how of Dana Point’s fishing scene. There’s a lot to cover, so let’s jump in!
Why Dana Point?
The first thing you’ll hear local anglers talk about is the sheer variety of fishing grounds on offer. Sandy surf, rocky reefs, and giant kelp beds line the shore. Past that, bluewater seamounts and deep ocean trenches scar the sea floor. Then there are the islands – “fish magnet” doesn’t even come close. You’re never short of options when it comes to wetting a line here.
You’re not short on ways to do it, either. Dana Point is nestled around a huge harbor with a quality charter fleet and long, rocky jetties. Cast from shore, hire a boat, or take to the sea in a kayak. Whatever you do, you’re in for a day of world-class angling and a fishy feast at the end of it.
What to Target: Dana Point’s Best Fish Species
Variety really is the name of the game in Dana Point. In fact, there are so many different fish here that it can be tough to know where to start. To keep things simple, we’ve narrowed down SoCal’s “most wanted,” starting in the shallows and working out to the big game monsters offshore.
They may not look like much, but Calico Bass are one of California’s absolute favorite catches. Also known as Kelp Bass, they’re one of several similar species that live around the kelp beds near the coast. If you’re fishing the bay or from shore, this is what you’re hoping to catch.
What’s so good about them? For starters, they’re delicious. Calico Bass are loved by recreational anglers and commercial crews alike thanks to their mild, clean taste. For the sporting crowd, Calicos have another big draw: They’re aggressive hunters that will take baits, jigs, and spoons with gusto. They put up a serious fight and can be a riot on light tackle.
While you’re hunting the kelp for Calicos, there’s one more species you should keep an eye out for (other than sea otters). White Seabass live around deeper reaches of kelp beds, as well as sandy areas nearer the surf. They’re big, tasty, and fun to reel in. This makes them a staple catch for anglers looking maximize their fish counts.
There’s only one problem with White Seabass: their name. They’re often more grayish brown than white. Then there’s the fact that they’re not actually a Bass. They’re a type of Weakfish, more closely related to Seatrout that “true” Bass species. Heck, at this point you’d be forgiven for questioning if they live in the sea at all.
What do you get when you cross the premium meat of a Halibut with the inshore accessibility of a Flounder? California Halibut, of course. Known locally as ”flatties,” these are the tastiest fish in the bay. Most people catch them by drifting over sandy bottoms close to land. You can also hook Halibut from shore if you find water deep enough.
California Halibut don’t grow as large as their northern cousins. A thirty-pounder is considered a trophy. They can get much bigger than that, though. The current record is a jaw-dropping 67 pounds. What’s more, it was only set in 2011, so the next record-breaker could still be out there. Think you’ve got what it takes to catch it?
With so much action inshore, why would you ever go farther out? Simple, because the fish there are even better! SoCal’s staple offshore catch is Yellowtail, Amberjack’s cool West Coast cousin. These guys have an explosive strike and don’t let off the gas all fight. You can hook them on jigs, but most people use live baits – sardines and mackerel both work well.
As with most species on this list, the fun doesn’t stop once you catch them. Yellowtail are a full-flavored fish that’s fantastic when it’s fresh, so get the grill ready before you head out. Even better, serve it up raw. “Hamachi” is one of the most popular kinds of sushi in Japan, second only to Bluefin Tuna.
Speaking of Tuna, the waters off Dana Point are the summertime home of several big, tasty Tuna species. Bluefin tops the bill, followed by Yellowfin, Albacore, and the occasional Bigeye. They first show up around the islands, then make for the seamounts and canyons as they chase bait north.
A wise man once said “the best technique is the one that works.” Similarly, Tuna tactics vary with where the fish are and what they’re doing. Two of the most common ones are chumming and casting live baits, or trolling and kite fishing around structure. Take your captain’s advice if you’re on a charter. Ask around local tackle shops for up-to-date info if you’re not.
Tuna fishing is the main event, but nothing gets the adrenaline going like fighting huge Sharks. Blue, Mako, and Thresher Sharks live here almost year-round. Even small Sharks put up a serious fight, and the fish in these waters have topped 500 pounds in the past. You need some serious equipment and nerves of steel to take Dana Point’s Sharks.
Blues are the entry-level catch – slower, smaller, and less intelligent than the rest. Threshers look cool, put up a real fight, and show up very close to shore. Makos fight with a strength and intelligence that makes them nothing short of the ultimate killing machine. Apparently, they taste great, but they’re also endangered, so we recommend always releasing them unharmed.
How to Catch It: Top Styles of Fishing in Dana Point
So you know what you can catch, but how do you do it? The three main ways to wet a line in Dana Point are on a fishing charter, on a kayak, or on your own two feet from shore. Here’s a rough summary of what to expect with each one.
Fishing charters are the most reliable way to catch a monster. That’s just a fact. On a boat, you have the whole of the Pacific as your playground. You can enjoy deep sea battles against Tuna and Sharks or hit remote reefs and kelp to reel in Bass and Halibut. You’ll also have quality, well-maintained tackle and whatever bait is working best at the time.
That brings us to the most important piece of the puzzle: the captain. Having a seasoned local at the helm saves you days of trial and error. They have their finger on the pulse of the local fishing scene, and know where and how to catch each species. Of course, all this comes at a price. Charter fishing costs several hundred dollars or more. But if you can afford it, it’s worth every penny.
Kayaks are a fun way to get beyond the breakers and catch a wider mix of fish. You need to bring your own tackle, but you can rent fishing kayaks pretty cheaply at Dana Point Harbor. If you’re a beginner, fish the local waters for Bass, Halibut, and Rockfish. Experienced ‘yakers may venture farther out in search of Seabass, Yellowtail, and even Tuna.
The main thing to be aware of with kayak fishing is just how physical it is. You need to paddle out to the fishing grounds and haul your catch back once you’re done. Fighting fish sitting down is also no joke. To stay safe, never head out on your own. The SoCal kayak fishing community is pretty friendly, so finding a buddy shouldn’t be hard if you don’t have one already.
Not big on boats? Kayak fishing sound too exhausting? No worries! You can have plenty of fun from dry land. Just grab your favorite rod and head to the shoreline. You’ll find plenty of rocks, jetties, and beaches to cast from. Dana Point jetty fishing is especially productive, thanks to how deep the water gets here.
Don’t expect to reel in a monster if you’re fishing from shore. The most common catches are Corbina, Croaker, Mackerel, and small Sharks. You might also land the occasional Bass or small Halibut if you can cast to deeper water. However, if all you want is a few hours of relaxation and a tasty meal to show for it, this is a fun way to fish on a budget.
Where to Fish: Dana Point Fishing Spots
The seafloor around Dana Point is a mess of trenches, mounds, and steep contours. Close to shore, kelp, rocks, and man-made structure add to the already long list of fishing spots. You could spend a lifetime here and still find new places to fish. Here are a few local favorites to get you started.
Shore Fishing Spots
- Doheny State Beach. A great surf fishing spot right in town. The beach has a good mix of sand and rocks with kelp farther out. The most common catches here are Corbina, Croakers, and Mackerel. You can also land Calicos, Halibut, and even small Seabass if you’re lucky.
- Dana Cove Park. This is the best place in town for rock and jetty fishing. Work the rocks at the beginning of the breakwater, or cast to more distant structure off the end. It holds the same mix of species as Doheny Beach, but with a better chance of Calicos and Rockfish.
Kayak Fishing Spots
- The Pipe. A spill pipe running from the mainland to a depth of 90 feet. The best bite is in around 30–50 feet of water. Start near the marker buoy at the tip of the harbor and work your way out. You’ll find Kelp Bass, Rockfish, and Seabass, as well as Halibut on the sand nearby.
- Salt Creek. This large kelp bed stretches for a mile or so along Salt Creek Beach in 50–70 feet of water. Explore it in a boat or a kayak to reel in big Calico Bass, as well as Seabass and Halibut at the deeper edges. Be prepared to lose some tackle to snags, though.
Boat Fishing Spots
- 14 Mile Bank. A large seamount that sits 14 miles off Newport Beach, or around 18 miles from Dana Point. The seafloor here rises from 2,000 feet to just 350 feet, making it an iconic Marlin, Swordfish, and deep-water Rockfish spot. It does get pretty busy, though.
- Santa Catalina Island. There are dozens of fishing spots around the island. The easiest ones to reach are Ship and Bird Rock, near Two Harbors on the near side of the island. These are amazing places for Seabass, Yellowtail, Barracuda, Bass, and sometimes Tuna.
- San Clemente Island. This is where the real big game action happens. The best spot is “The Head,” a pyramid of rock at the southeastern tip of the island. Expect world-class angling for Tuna, Marlin, Yellowtail, Mahi Mahi, and more. It’s a 60-mile run to get there, though.
When to Visit: Fishing Seasons and Local Events
You’re almost ready for your SoCal fishing adventure – you just need to pick a date. To help you decide, here’s a breakdown of the main fishing seasons in Dana Point, as well as the top tournaments you can take part in.
Dana Point Fishing Seasons
Summer is the best time of year to fish in Dana Point. Bluefin Tuna explode onto the scene in early June, followed by Yellowfin, Albacore, and other deep sea predators like Marlin and Sharks. This is also the prime time for Yellowtail, White Seabass, Calico Bass, and Barracuda.
What about the rest of the year? Spring and fall are the best times to take on Halibut, which head to deeper waters during the hot summer months. You can also find Groundfish like Lingcod, Rockfish, and California Sheepshead year-round, although you can’t target them in January or February. Lastly, Lobster are closed in summer, but they’re amazing the rest of the year.
Looking for the best time to catch a certain species? Maybe you want to know every fish you can target in March. Either way, you can find a full breakdown of Dana Point’s seasons on our fishing calendar.
Fishing Tournaments in Dana Point
The fish put up a real fight in this part of the world, but for some anglers, that’s not enough. If you feel like taking on the Dana Point sportfishing crowd, there are a few competitions you can join each year.
The main event is the Dana Point Halibut Derby. It runs from November 1 until March 31 each year. Just buy a ticket, head out, and weigh in your biggest Flatfish over the course of the season. This laid-back format lets you really focus on the fish, without keeping one eye on the clock.
If you prefer a more conventional tournament format, Dana Angling Club runs over a dozen events each year. They target anything from Bluefin Tuna and Marlin to Seabass and Lobster. However, you need to have at least one member per team in order to take part.
Dana Point Fishing: Almost Too Perfect
Dana Point has something for every angler. Looking for big game battles? Head offshore for Bluefin Tuna and Mako Sharks. Prefer to relax on land? Hit the beach or climb the rocks to hook a range of inshore species. And between the two, you have the unique angling opportunities of the kelp beds. Dana Point fishing is almost too perfect. Almost.
Have you ever been fishing in Dana Point? What did you catch, and how did you do it? Share your stories and fishing tips in the comments below. We always love to hear from you!