San Diego Deep Sea Fishing: All You Need to Know
Apr 10, 2021 | 8 minute read
Reading Time: 8 minutes

It’s no wonder that San Diego is considered one of the best fishing destinations in the world. With great year-round weather and the largest sport fishing fleet in the world, it’s got a lot going for it. And while there are plenty of fishing types to try, there’s some special to be said about deep sea fishing in San Diego. 

An aerial view of the Pacific Ocean and San Diego's coastline.

To put it plainly, it’s fantastic. Whether you’re heading out on a legendary long-range trip or a full-day adventure from dawn till dusk, you’re going to encounter monster fish. Their size is matched only by the magnitude of the vessels here. Step into any of the marinas along the coast and you’ll find expert captains with top-notch gear ready to take you out. 

In this blog, we’ll highlight some of the top catches in San Diego’s deep sea waters, how you can hook ‘em, and where to go. We’ll finish it off with a few rules and regulations to make sure you’re fishing lawfully, and you should be ready to go!

What can I catch on A San Diego deep sea fishing trip?

San Diego’s mild climate means there’s always something biting offshore. If you’re after a specific fish, however, seasonality is something to keep in mind. Below, we’ll look into some of the top catches and the best times to fish for them.

Tuna

A man holding a large Yellowfin Tuna caught while Tuna caught in Southern California.

Fishing for Tuna is the ultimate experience for any angler. Luckily for you, San Diego’s deep sea waters are brimming with more than one variety. In fact, Yellowfin, Bluefin, Bigeye, and Albacore Tuna play a huge role in San Diego’s legendary sport fishing reputation. On longer trips, you could even dip your rod into Mexican waters to hook these fish!

There’s no such thing as a bad time to go fishing in San Diego, but Tuna do have peak seasons. If you’re after monster Bluefin, head out between March and October. For delicious Yellowfin, April–September is peak season. Finally, for Bigeye and Albacore, hit the waters during the summer months. 

Yellowfin Tuna are the most common catch. These fish usually come in at around 15 pounds, but trophies can reach close to 50 pounds. Bluefin are a rarer catch and much, much bigger. These brutes are the ultimate trophy, with some fish hitting well over the 300-pound mark. Once you’ve located a school, draw them in with chum and get your heavy tackle ready.

Marlin

A Striped Marlin being held by the bill and released back into the ocean.

Big game fishing in San Diego doesn’t end at Tuna. You can also target Marlin! And not just any, but massive Blue and beautiful Striped Marlin. While these fish are less frequently caught than Tuna, there’s still a good chance you’ll come across them from June–October. In fact, California’s largest Blue Marlin, weighing in at over 600 pounds, was caught off the coast of San Diego in 2015.

A Marlin’s speed, strength, and fight all contribute to why hooking one is a career highlight for so many anglers. Striped Marlin ranks in the top three fastest fish in the world so make sure you don’t run out of line! In general, it’s best to gear up with live bait like Skipjack Tuna or Bonito. Heavy, braided tackle is a must and a fighting chair would do you good, as well.

Sharks

A young Mako Shark being released back into the ocean.

The ocean’s fiercest predators – as well as some of the largest – also call San Diego’s waters home. If you’re new to Shark fishing, it might sound scary. If you’ve tried it before, you know it’s one of the most exciting experiences you can have in deep waters. Blue Sharks, Threshers, Hammerhead, and most notably Mako Sharks are all possible targets. 

San Diego has one of three known Shortfin Mako nurseries in the world. In the summer months, adult Makos regularly come in at between 80 and 200 pounds. Some monsters even hit the 1000-pound mark! Makos are fast and ferocious, putting up a real fight both in the water and on the boat. Have plenty of oily bait and your heaviest tackle at the ready.

These fish are a thrill to catch, but they’re also slow to grow. Most female Makos hit sexual maturity at 18 years old. This puts them at great risk for overfishing. If you catch a mature and healthy Mako, we strongly recommend releasing it. This way, we’ll get to experience this incredible fishery for many more years to come.

Yellowtail Amberjack

Two anglers holding large Yellowtail Amberjacks caught off the coast of Catalina Island.

These fish aren’t strictly a deep sea target, but they’re widespread throughout all of Southern California. Yellowtail Amberjack are worthy of your attention for a few reasons. First off, if you’ve ever ordered “Hamachi” at your local sushi restaurant, you know they’re delicious! Secondly, they give a great fight, and thirdly, they’re available year-round. 

Yellowtails typically come in at between 10–30 pounds. They’re both fighters and deep divers. Gear up with some 30–80 lb braided line to ensure your line doesn’t get cut. And remember, no slack allowed! Use anchovies, small mackerel, or squid for bait, and you’re likely to be having sashimi for dinner.

And More!

A group of anglers each holding a Rockfish aboard a charter boat.

Believe it or not, the fish listed above aren’t the only ones you can catch! Mahi Mahi, for example, are another pelagic fish you can add to your target list. Likewise, while you’re out there, you might want to do a little bottom fishing. In that case, you could hook into various Rockfish, Lingcod, and Bass.

How can I deep sea fish in San Diego?

First things first. To get to productive and deep waters, you’re going to need a boat. Luckily, there are a ton of big deep sea fishing charters available in San Diego. Once you’ve reached your spot, there are a few different techniques you can employ. We’ll dive deeper into those below.

Trolling

Trolling rods and reels set up for big game fishing.

Trolling is one of the easiest and most effective ways to get your hands on the fish we mentioned above. As such, when you head out on a San Diego deep sea fishing trip, you’re going to be trolling for at least some of the time. When your targets are strong fish like Tuna and Marlin, having the boat to do some of the work is more than welcome.

You’ll have multiple lines in the water, rigged with bait, lures, or feathers, that drag behind the boat as you move forward. This allows you to cover way more ground and access varying depths as you head towards your fishing destination. When trolling, it’s a good idea to have a knowledgeable captain with you. 

Speed is the most crucial factor here, with different bait speeds being enticing for different fish. For the fish you’ll be targeting in San Diego, 10 knots is a good starting point. You may need to go through some trial and error before getting it just right, though.

Bottom Fishing

An angler on a big game fishing trip, reeling in a fish from the boat.

On most deep sea fishing trips, you’ll head towards the islands (more on that later). After trolling towards your fishing grounds, you’re probably going to want to stop and take a break. This is one of the best times to do some bottom fishing. Rock pilings, reefs, and wrecks are home to a whole slew of delicious fish.

Most notable are California Rockfish. There are over 50 varieties you can catch and nearly all live in very deep waters. A conventional spinning setup should work well here, but you’ll need heavier weights to access those deep pockets. This is where the bigger fish are, so a braided line is also a must. Both lures and bait work fine when bottom fishing. Most often, the hardest part is locating these elusive fish.

Spearfishing

A spearfisher in full gear, holding a Tuna underwater.

Deep sea spearfishing trips are somewhat unique to San Diego. But this technique isn’t for the faint of heart. If you don’t have any spearfishing experience, it’s best to give it a try in inshore waters first. For seasoned spearos, Yellowtail Amberjack, Mahi Mahi, and Yellowfin and Bluefin Tuna are all possible deep sea targets. 

To get them, you’ll need to free dive. Once you locate your school of fish and determine what direction it’s traveling in, approach slowly. Have your gear lined up and be ready to dive – these fish are fast and you don’t want to let them get away. Remember, different fish are found in different parts of the water column. Do ample research before heading out and enlist a guide to help you out.

San Diego Deep Sea Fishing Spots

The waters 20–40 miles off the coast are incredibly productive. Any given spot on any given day could be a goldmine. That said, most San Diego deep sea fishing charters head towards the islands. We’ll take a look at the most notable below.

A lighthouse overlooking the California coast and Catalina Island.
  • Catalina Island: According to many, Catalina Island is the birthplace of modern sportfishing. This is due in large part to the incredible numbers of Yellowfin Tuna that congregate here. You can also target big Yellowtail Amberjack and Striped Marlin.
  • San Clemente Island: Located even further off the coast of San Diego, the 33-mile stretch between Catalina and San Clemente Island is a great spot to target big pelagic fish. Make this your starting point for Yellowfin and Bluefin Tuna, as well as Blue and Striped Marlin.
  • Coronado Islands: Let’s head on down to Mexico! If you’re after big Bluefin Tuna, this is where you want to go. And that’s not all, there’s YTs and Mahi Mahi too. The biggest draw of heading south is the fact that the fish stick around for much longer. Winter fishing, here you come!

Anything else I need to know?

There are a few things to keep in mind before you head out on your San Diego deep sea fishing trip. First off, remember to purchase a fishing license for anyone over the age of 16. This applies to anglers heading out on their own or with a charter captain.

If you plan on fishing in Mexican waters, bring your passport and a Mexican fishing license. In some cases, your charter captain will provide it for you. In others, you’ll need to buy your own. 

Summer is typically the best time to fish for San Diego’s deep sea treasures. For most of the fish we listed above that’s open season, meaning you won’t have to worry about breaking any rules. That said, bagging limits for pelagic species are usually much tighter. Make sure to look to the California Department of Fish and Wildlife for any updates.

The Best Deep Sea Fishing in California

Sailboats pictured in the water alongside San Diego's water front and skyline

San Diego deep sea fishing is legendary. With Tuna galore, Marlin, Sharks, Yellowtail, as well as delicious bottom fish, there’s something for every angler. Hop aboard one of the incredible charters in San Diego’s fleet for the day (or multiple days!) and cross this bucket list deep sea destination off your fish list.

Have you gone deep sea fishing in San Diego? Did it live up to its reputation as the best of the West Coast? Let us know in the comments – we love to hear from you!

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