Fishing in San Diego: The Complete Guide
Sep 9, 2020 | 9 minute read Comments
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Reading Time: 9 minutes

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. 

California Halibut

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.

an angler holding a Halibut in San Diego Bay

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!

Rockfish

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.

smiling anglers on a fishing boat near San Diego, each holding two Rockfish

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.

White Seabass

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!

angler holding a white seabass on a boat

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. 

Yellowtail Amberjack

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. 

four anglers on a fishing boat, each with a yellowtail amberjack in hand

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.

Tuna

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.

two anglers on a boat, each holding a Bluefin Tuna

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.

a smiling angler holding a Rockfish

Pier Fishing

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.

Kayak Fishing

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.

Spearfishing

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.

Charter Fishing

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.

a fishing guide from San Diego cleaning a California Halibut on a fishing boat

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!

a luxury offshore fishing boat

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.

Multi-day Trips

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

smiling anglers holding a Bluefin Tuna on a fishing boat

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. 

anglers at the dock posing with large Tunas

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. 

The Coronado Bridge in San Diego Bay

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.

Mission Bay

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.

an aerial view of Mission Bay, San Diego

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

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. 

ocean sunset seen from La Jolla in San Diego

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 bay on Catalina Island
Catalina Island has its own charter fleet

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.

Coronado Islands

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.

a view of the Coronado Islands from a fishing boat

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. 

Licenses

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.

a smiling angler holding a Yellowfin Tuna on a fishing boat

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!

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Comments (14)
  • Joseph rister

    Mar 14, 2020

    When I was a kid my dad caught a giant king carp off a pier and watched a guy catch a sting Ray at mission Beach. My dad would take me to a lake that was on Miramar that we caught trout and buckets of bluegill. I once beat him 13 fish to 3 I’ll never forget that day

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      Sean

      Mar 16, 2020

      Hi Joseph,

      Thanks for sharing!

      That must’ve been an impressive sight! Just goes to show that you never know what you can catch from San Diego’s piers. And I bet your dad was proud when you beat him by ten fish!

      Thanks again for sharing, and tight lines!

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  • Robert Delapina

    Jul 2, 2020

    looking @ those fish in SD forget LA fishing SD here we come

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      Sean

      Jul 2, 2020

      Hope you’ll have a great time, Robert.

      Tight lines!

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  • guillermo aldrete

    Jul 15, 2020

    on the photo of a white sea bass, you put a salmon

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      Sean

      Jul 15, 2020

      Hi Guillermo,

      You’re totally right, thank you for pointing that out.

      We’ve updated the photo now.

      Thanks for reading and have a great day!

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  • Justin Mills

    Jul 17, 2020

    Will be staying at mission beach on the 28th. Looking to surf fish for leapard sharks while the family enjoys the beach. Was looking at being close to the jetty at mission bay. What do I need for a licenses, and is that a decent spot to find sharks?

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      Sean

      Jul 17, 2020

      Hi Justin,

      Thanks for reading.

      Unless you’re fishing from a public pier, you will need a fishing license. You can order one online through the California Department of Fish and Wildlife website.

      You sure can find a Leopard Shark from the surf, but you’re much more likely to hook a smaller critter. If you want to increase your odds of catching a Shark, I’d advise dropping a line from one of the nearby fishing piers. For example, Ocean Beach Pier isn’t too far away, and it will allow you to access much deeper waters.

      I hope you’ll find this helpful.

      Tight lines!

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      Justin Mills

      Jul 21, 2020

      Thanks for getting back to me. I’ll keep your advice in mind. I’ll probly still fish closer to the jetty anyways just because like I said, the wife and kids can still do beachy things while I fish. I might not mind whatever I’ll catch. It was all my 4 year olds idea. But thanks for the help.

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      Sean

      Jul 21, 2020

      Hey Justin,

      No worries, happy to help.

      Of course, staying closer to the jetty makes sense, and I think that you’ll still get to have a lot of fun.

      Tight lines!

      PS: Your 4-year-old sounds like a very smart individual!

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  • Enrique Silva

    Sep 4, 2020

    Hi, I will be in San Diego this weekend. Looking to fish off of a pier. What are the best hours you most recommend to fish?

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      Sean

      Sep 5, 2020

      Hi Enrique,

      Thanks for reading.

      Dawn or dusk are typically the best times to wet the line, because this is when the fish are most active.

      To see which pier is best for you, check out our San Diego pier fishing guide. You can also take a look at our pier fishing tips article for some useful pointers.

      I hope you’ll find this helpful.

      Tight lines!

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  • Tyson

    Sep 14, 2020

    I’m going to be in the mission area in October, would you recommend fishing mission beach or in the bay?

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      Sean

      Sep 15, 2020

      Hi Tyson,

      Thanks for reading.

      The beach and the bay can both be very productive spots, however, I’d say you’d have a much easier time catching fish if you’re in the bay.

      The waters are much calmer there compared to the beach, and you’ll have many more access points to choose from. You also won’t have to worry about surfers and swimmers. Species-wise, you can expect to catch Halibut, Spotted Bay Bass, and Corvina.

      I hope you’ll find this helpful.

      Tight lines!

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