The Complete Guide to Fly Fishing in San Diego
May 17, 2019 | 7 minute read
Reading Time: 7 minutes

So you’re thinking about trying the fly fishing San Diego anglers have boasted so much about, but aren’t too sure about the ins and outs of it all? No worries, we’ve got you covered! Keep on reading for everything you need to know to prepare for a memorable day of fly fishing in “America’s Finest City.”

Why San Diego?

The real question here is: why haven’t you been already? Located in Southern California, right on the Pacific Ocean, San Diego is known for its warm climate, beaches, bays, and friendly people. There are plenty of local guides ready to take you out for a great day of fishing.

San Diego is well worth the visit. There’s a lot to do here, from visiting the docked USS Midway Museum (the longest-serving aircraft carrier, used in Desert Storm, and now the largest aircraft museum) to learning to surf on one of the beautiful beaches. You can visit the San Diego Zoo or even take in a baseball game (Go Padres!). The possibilities are endless and will provide entertainment for the whole family – when you’re not on the water, of course.

The Unconditional Surrender Statue in front of the USS Midway Museum
Unconditional Surrender Statue in front of the USS Midway Museum

When it comes down to the fishing available here, you’ll find fly fishing on inshore waters is great fun. You’ll be targeting some elusive species, some that can only be found in these waters. You’ll get complete bragging rights when you reel them in.

Offshore fishing is also off the charts. Head out and catch some epic predators that are not traditionally associated with fly fishing. Book an overnight trip to make the most of your time on the water.

What can I catch while fly fishing in San Diego?

The fish you can target will vary depending on when you decide to visit. The species below are just the tip of the iceberg of the wide ranging and awesome species you can target while here.

Ghosts of the Bay

Hard to find, but worth the wait. Read on for some great catches that won’t make it easy for you to find them!

Shortfin Corbina

If you’d rather fish the surf and shallow bays, nothing beats trying to target the elusive Corbina. The Corbina also goes by the name of the California Kingcroaker, the California Whiting, and Kingfish – not to be mistaken for Atlantic King Mackerel, who shares the same nickname. You may have also heard it called the “Poor Man’s Permit,” but this truly doesn’t do the quest for the Corbina justice. The top name has to be the “Ghost of the Coast,” which sums up clearly how hard it is to reel in one of these bad boys.

Corbina being held up
An angler with a Corbina

The Corbina is only found in Southern California and only during warm weather. This fish offers the rare opportunity for anglers to sight cast in San Diego, so if fishing from a boat, make sure it has a platform. The Corbina will give you a good fight, if you can find it.

Cortez Bonefish

San Diego is the only place on the West Coast to have a population of Bonefish in its local bay. Head to the shallows of Mission Bay for the chance to catch this fish. When you find these secretive fish, the fight is as exciting as it is unexpected. Bonefish are likely to be a bycatch rather than your intended target.

Angler with a Bonefish
It is possible to catch the elusive Bonefish!

Unexpected Big Game

Think bigger and better when offshore fly fishing in San Diego.

Mako Shark

One of the top species you can fly fish for in San Diego is Mako Shark. Yep, you read that right. You don’t need to travel far from shore to find them, making this prestigious catch available to those who haven’t quite got their sea legs yet. The Mako Shark loves flies that are red, orange, chartreuse, and yellow. Choose a 10 wt, 12 wt, or 14 wt saltwater fly rod for the best chance of reeling in your catch.

Close up photo of a Mako Shark
A Mako Shark

Yellowfin Tuna

The warm waters of San Diego make this a great fishery for Yellowfin Tuna. If you’re ready to gain an unusual vice, then fly fishing for Tuna will become your next addiction. Although the Yellowfins usually weigh 15–40 pounds, some have been caught in the 80 lb range. These fish are one of the most powerful game fish pound for pound that you can hook up, so catching them on the fly is an exhilarating adventure from start to finish. Tuna migrate 100 miles from shore, so you’ll need to book an overnight trip. Pack your seasickness medication and you’ll have a great time out. You might think you’re used to fly fishing, but this could not be more different from fly fishing on the lakes!

An angler at sea holding a Yellowfin Tuna
Angler holding a Yellowfin Tuna

Where should I fly fish in San Diego?

Lake Fishing

For the traditional angler, head to one of the many lakes found in San Diego. Each month offers a new fish the time to shine, providing year-round fishing for any fly enthusiast. The species you’ll be able to target include Largemouth Bass, Black Crappie, Bluegill, and more. Some lakes are even stocked with Trout. These lakes are great to cast your line in, whether you wish to wade or fish from a boat. Have some change on you, as there is usually an entrance fee, and check the opening times before heading out.

Pier Fishing

Not only are there lakes to fish on, there are plenty of piers, too. You can fish here without a license but should be aware of bag limits and size regulations. Top catches from piers, such as Shelter Island Pier, include Sand Bass, Pacific Mackerel, Yellowfin Croaker, and more.

San Diego Bay and Mission Bay

These bays are less than 15 miles apart and offer anglers a huge array of species to fish. It’s best to fish from a boat in the bays, but a kayak can also prove fruitful. The bays are especially great for beginner anglers, as the waters are calmer than the open ocean. Top species to target include Yellowfin Croaker, Corbina, Calico Bass, Bonefish, Barracuda, and many more.

Aerial view of Mission Bay
Great fishing inside of Mission Bay

Inshore

If you’re from the East Coast, inshore fishing here isn’t quite what you’re used to. “Inshore” waters extend well past the bay and up to 10 miles from shore. This is a top spot for kelp beds, which are a cornucopia of activity. Within the kelp beds are the likes of Dorado (Mahi Mahi) and Yellowtail. Kelp beds are living forests under the water and are like a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow for anglers. Don’t be surprised if they get crowded during the summer, as they make excellent fisheries. Inshore fishing is also great for targeting Sharks, in particular for Mako Shark. This offers anglers the rare opportunity to fly fish for a catch that can easily be over 100 pounds without heading crazy distances offshore.

Fish in the kelp forest
Many fish call the kelp beds home

Offshore

If you want to test your skills, line, and sea legs, then you’re going to want to target Yellowfin Tuna offshore. This is the true test of your fly fishing skills, so be ready for an epic fight. You’ll need to head far offshore, up to 100 miles, so book an overnight trip to make the most of your time on the water.

Top Tips Before You Go

It’s time to dot the i’s and cross the t’s. Keep reading to find out what else you’ll need to make the most of your fishing charter.

When should I go fly fishing in San Diego?

San Diego has a temperate climate that holds a steady temperature throughout the year, making it a great fly fishing destination. The peak of summer will see highs of 77°F and in winter lows of 50°F. May is the start of the tourist season, so expect prices to go up from here and continue into the summer. To avoid the crowds, early spring and late fall are great times to visit, although you’ll be able to catch a range of species year round.

Sunset view of San Diego
It’s never a bad time to go fly fishing in San Diego

Do I need a fishing license to fly fish in San Diego?

Yes! Everyone on board over 16 will need to buy a fishing license for the trip, best bought before the day. If you book an offshore trip that will take you into Mexican waters, you’ll also need to bring along photo ID (a passport is perfect) for everyone on board. If fishing 12 miles from the coast of Mexico or any of their islands, you’ll need to also have a Mexican Tourist Visa. Don’t panic, your captain will let you know in advance what paperwork you should bring.

What gear should I bring?

If you’re bringing your own gear along, match the rods to the water you’ll be fishing in. Lake fishing will need a 5 wt rod, compared to the offshore fishing that will need up to a 14 wt rod. You can leave the specialized flies at home – bring along flies with orange and pink tones, or chartreuse and white. Gray polarized sunglasses will give you that extra edge when out on the water, to help cut through the glare of the sea and see your prey below the waves.

There’s no better time to test your angling skills. Offshore fly fishing in these productive waters is a treat like no other – take the bait and come see for yourself!

Have you been fly fishing in San Diego? What did you think and did you catch one of the elusive fish? Let us know in the comments, we’d love to hear from you!

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