San Diego is known as “America’s Finest City,” and judging by its fishing charters, the name is completely justified. Combine its year-round pleasant weather with mind-bending amounts of fish to go for, and you’ve got a no-brainer for any fisher’s bucket list. However, unless you’re an experienced local angler, getting to know this fishery can be a little complicated. Here’s everything you need to know about fishing in San Diego.
In this guide, we’ll cover some of the signature local species, where you can catch them, and how. We’ll also cover the types of fishing San Diego is known for, as well as the fishing regulations you should know about.
Fish Species in San Diego
If we’re talking variety, San Diego is arguably the best fishery on the entire West Coast. No matter the time of year, chances are something’s biting in these waters. From calm bay waters to offshore underwater canyons, the list of species around San Diego is endless. Here are some of the most iconic fish you can catch.
If you’re looking to catch a tasty fish, but don’t want to spend the whole day doing it, California Halibut are the perfect choice. Not to be confused with Pacific Halibut, these delicious flatfish inhabit the bays and inshore waters of Southern California.
To catch Halibut, you need to look no further than San Diego Bay. These guys like to hide along rock piles or edges of eelgrass beds. You can catch them year-round, but May through October is when Halis are at their best. A typical Halibut weighs between 4 and 10 pounds, but if you’re lucky, you’ll find a 40 lb behemoth!
There are many different types of Rockfish around San Diego. Whichever you happen to find, you’ll be in for a lot of fun – and most of the time, a tasty treat, too. Rockfish are the perfect choice for beginners because they tend to school up. This means that if you catch one, chances are you’ll have a whole group of fish to fight.
As their name suggests, Rockfish like to hang out near structure, especially rocks. To find them, look around rocky bottoms 150 feet deep. If you’re feeling ambitious, you can try to catch Rockfish in even deeper waters. This is where you’ll find bigger fish, but keep in mind that they’re a lot harder to catch! The two most common types of Rockfish are Starry and Vermillion Rockfish. You can catch the former from October through December, while the latter is in season from March to June.
Another Californian staple fish, White Seabass is actually not a Bass, but a type of Croaker. That makes these guys close relatives to Redfish, Black Drum, and California Corbina. Much like their relatives, White Seabass are tasty fish, but unlike most of them, they can get very big. An average White Seabass will top out at 20 pounds. The largest White Seabass ever caught weighed in at a massive 93 pounds!
San Diego anglers have been catching White Seabass for years. The great thing about them is that you can catch one pretty much wherever you look. From pier fishers, to kayak anglers and offshore hunters, everyone gets a piece of this pie. The best time to target White Seabass is during the spawn season, which is between mid-March and June.
If we had to crown one fish as San Diego’s favorite, it would no doubt be Yellowtail Amberjack. Yellowtail’s appetite is only matched by their explosive fighting spirit, making them the ideal game fish for beginners and experts alike. With their white meat and sweet taste, Yellowtails also happen to be prime table fare.
There are two types of Yellowtail Amberjack around San Diego. There are the smaller “firecrackers,” usually weighing in around 12 to 25 pounds. And then there are the larger “mossback” Yellowtails, which often reach sizes of 40 pounds. There’s an ongoing belief that the further south of San Diego you go, the bigger Yellowtails get. But more on that later.
We saved the best for last. No matter how experienced you are, catching a Tuna is an angler’s dream. These offshore fighters will test every inch of your line, every grain of patience, and every bit of skill you have. Fighting a Tuna is simply the ultimate fishing experience.
It so happens that San Diego offshore fishing owes its legendary status precisely to these fish. From feisty Yellowfin to giant Bluefin, this is what big game angling is all about. To catch a Tuna, you’ll be heading to the Catalina and San Clemente islands.
If you want to step it up a notch, hop on a multi-day charter, and head down to warm waters of Mexico. July to October is when experienced anglers come to cut their teeth, and where Tuna fishing is at its absolute best.
Types of Fishing in San Diego
The waters of San Diego are vast and plentiful. In fact, you’d be hard-pressed to find a fishing technique or method that local anglers haven’t heard of. From kayak anglers to spearfishers and big game fanatics, San Diego has it all. Let’s take a look at some of the most popular types of fishing in San Diego.
Pier fishing in San Diego is one of the locals’ favorite pastimes. It’s also a popular activity for tourists and visitors new to the line and reel. Wetting a line from one of the local piers could earn you anything from Surf Perch, California Corbina, and Queenfish, to Mackerel and Halibut.
The best part is, you don’t need a fishing license to fish from a public fishing pier in San Diego. To learn more about pier fishing in San Diego, check out our in-depth guide.
Similar to fishing from a pier, kayak fishing in San Diego will give you a chance to catch some of the most popular local species. However, unlike pier fishing, moving around in a kayak will allow you to test multiple productive fishing spots.
There’s a good number of kayak fishing guides around town. Between your guide’s expertise, and the sheer number of fish swimming in these waters, you’ll be in for an arm workout as well as a full cooler.
If you like your fishing up close and personal, you know that there’s nothing quite like spearfishing. Not only is this fishing technique a lot of fun, it’s also the most sustainable way to catch a fish. Spearfishing in San Diego comes in many shapes and sizes, at least when it comes to the species you can catch. Depending on where you’re spearfishing, you can catch anything from Bass and Sheephead to Yellowtail and Tuna!
As you’d expect, the local hotspots are a guarded secret. Thankfully, local fishing guides will be happy to show you the most productive honey holes. As long as you’re not in one of the local marine protected areas, you can spearfish pretty much wherever you want. That means that all the fish San Diego has to offer are within your grasp.
As any serious angler will tell you, nothing compares to an experience on a fishing charter. For one, you’ll have an expert captain to show you all the little tricks you need to land “the big one”. Second, all your bait and tackle will be provided on the boat. And once you’re done fishing, the crew will gladly clean your catch for you, so you can enjoy it over a tasty dinner.
And then, there are the boats themselves.
San Diego fishing guides take great pride in their vessels: this is, after all, one of the best charter fleets in the country. A good boat means you’ll waste no time reaching the fishing grounds. And that means less time boating, and more time fishing!
Many of the town’s charter vessels are moored in one of the local boat landings. Some of the most renowned ones are Fisherman’s Landing, Point Loma Sportfishing, H&M Landing, Seaforth Landing, and Helgren’s Sportfishing.
By now, you might be thinking that fishing in San Diego is the best thing since sliced bread. And you’re right. But hold on to your hat, because we haven’t even gotten to the best part. What truly makes America’s Finest City stand out in the angling world is an experience on one of its iconic long-range fishing trips.
These are still fishing charters, but they are so different and superior to any other type of fishing that they deserve their own mention.
Lasting anywhere from three days to three weeks, a trip on a San Diego long-range fishing trip has one sole purpose. That’s to provide you with the best fishing experience the Pacific has to offer. You’ll be heading as far south as Puerto Vallarta, visiting some of the most productive fishing grounds on the way. From huge Yellowfins to massive Tunas and monster Sharks, it doesn’t get any better than this.
Hauling all those monsters can be tiring, and that’s why long-range fishing vessels offer all the creature comforts you can think of. From 5-star chefs to relaxing lounge areas, you’ll want for nothing on these trips. You will be in international waters, so don’t forget to bring your passport!
Fishing Spots in San Diego
Whether it’s right in town, or hundreds of miles away, San Diego has more fishing spots than you can ever hope to explore. Let’s cover some of the best areas to wet a line in San Diego.
San Diego Bay
Stretching over 12 miles, San Diego Bay presents a world of options for the inshore fisherman. With a range of species to catch and countless access points for both shore and boat fishing, the bay can keep you fishing for days on end.
Spots like the Embarcadero Park and Marina and the nearby pier are awesome for Spotted Bay Bass, Halibut, and Bonefish. To the north, Shelter Island and the area off Coronado Cays are two other spots you should check out.
Just a few miles north of downtown San Diego, you’ll find the protected waters of Mission Bay. These waters are the centerpiece of Mission Bay Park, which offers 27 miles of pristine shorelines to explore. Most of these are accessible to anglers, so you’ll find no shortage of spots to cast your line from. These skinny waters will serve you with Halibut, Spotted Bay Bass, and Corvina.
There are loads of recreational facilities around the park, including campgrounds, fire pits, playgrounds, protected swimming areas, and more. Needless to say, this place is perfect for fishing families.
La Jolla is notorious for its year-round fishing. Whether you’re fishing the kelp forests from a boat, or angling from the shore, there’s always something on the bite around here. You’ll have a field day catching the likes of Calico Bass, smaller Yellowtail, Lingcod, Halibut, and Barracuda.
Keep in mind that this area is bordered by two marine protected reserves. These are the Matlahuayl State Marine Reserve north of Point La Jolla, and the South La Jolla State Marine Reserve south of Palomar Ave.
Catalina and San Clemente Islands
Catalina and San Clemente are two of SoCal’s favorite offshore fishing spots. Anglers come from far and wide to try their hand in fishing here. With huge Yellowtails, Dorado, Calico Bass, and Tuna, these two islands certainly live up to expectations.
The islands are located around 70 miles offshore, so you’ll need a full day trip to make it worthwhile. Thankfully, there are plenty of offshore fishing charters in San Diego, so you’ll have no trouble finding someone to put you on the fish.
For anglers set on catching the fish of a lifetime, a visit to the Coronado Islands is a must. Just over the Mexican border, the islands are a veritable fish magnet, as testified by pretty much every angler that’s ever visited this beautiful place.
Giant Yellowtails, huge Dorado, and Yellowfin and Bluefin Tuna are all on the menu. The Coronado Islands are typically the first stop on a long-range fishing trip out of San Diego.
Any angler age 16 or older must buy a California fishing license to fish in San Diego. That excludes any ocean fishing piers, but not inland cays and docks. Either way, you’ll still need to follow the state bag and size limit regulations. To learn how to get your CA fishing license, read our full guide.
A Bucket List Fishery
Needless to say, fishing in San Diego is one of those once-in-a-lifetime experiences. Unless you’re a local, in which case we’re infinitely jealous and want nothing to do with you. All jokes aside, this fishery is unique and exciting, and most importantly, it offers something to every type of angler out there. And that’s precisely why it should be on your bucket list.
Do you have a question about fishing in San Diego? Or a fishing story you’d like to share? Let us know in the comments below!
Sean is an optometrist who left his day job to write about fishing. He calls himself a lucky angler because his favorite fish, Mahi Mahi, can be found almost anywhere – even though he’s lost more of them than he’s willing to admit. Obsessed by all forms of water sports, you’ll find him carrying one of three things: a ball, a surf board, or his fishing rod.