Calico Bass (Paralabrax clathratus)

Calico Bass

  • Size 1-5lbs
  • Food Value Excellent
  • Game Qualities Good
  • Habitats Inshore, Nearshore, Reef
Calico Bass are one of the Eastern Pacific’s favorite inshore fish, and it’s easy to see why. This kelp-loving omnivore is as fun to catch as it is good to eat, and Calico Bass fishing is a favorite pastime of anglers all along the West Coast. They are known by a variety of names including Kelp Bass, Rock Bass, Sand Bass, Kelp Salmon, and Cabrilla. Whatever you call them, they’re a staple of the California fishing scene, and definitely one to add to your list if you’re visiting the West Coast.

Calico Bass Size

Calico Bass are very slow growing. It takes them at least 5 years to hit spawning size (around 12”) and large fish can be over 30 years old. Most fish are around 14-15” and weigh 1-2 lbs. Anything over 4 lbs is considered a serious trophy in California, with bigger fish caught down in Baja California. The IGFA all-tackle record stands at 14 lbs, 7 oz.
Family fishing trip catching Calico Bass
A great Calico Bass caught out of Dana Point, CA

When and Where

Kelp Bass can be found along the west coast of America, from the Columbia River in Washington to the Magdalena Bay in Baja, Mexico. As the name implies, they mainly live in or near kelp beds, but can also be found around reefs, rocky structure, and jetties. They normally live in bays, but have been found as deep as 150’. Calico Bass are non-migratory, so they can actually be caught year-round. The best time to try is during their spawning season from May through September.

How to Catch Calico Bass

Calicoes are hard, aggressive fighters that make for great fun on light tackle. You can catch them in a variety of ways, from drifting and still fishing to trolling and fly fishing. They go for a variety of baits such as anchovies and sardines. If you’re more into using artificials, jerkbaits and metal jigs are the go-to lure for these feisty fish. Adding whole squid to your jigs makes them irresistible to hungry Calico Bass. Large streamers are the fly of choice, with Clouser minnows and Lefty’s deceivers regularly finding their way onto Calico Bass fishing trips.
Calico Bass caught on a jerkbait
A keeper Calico Bass caught with lures and light tackle

Good to eat?

Absolutely! Their flaky, white meat is mild in flavor and low in oil, making it perfect for the fryer. They can also be great sauteed or baked with oil or butter. Many fish-lovers even eat them raw or use the meat to make ceviche if they’re fresh enough. Their mild flavor might be underwhelming compared to more traditional sashimi favorites, though.

Regulations

In California, Calico Bass are open for harvest year-round, although bag and size limits apply. In Mexico, there is no minimum size or closed season, but there’s still a limit on how many you can keep per day. However, many anglers advocate catch-and-release for Calico Bass, as their slow growth, nonmigratory nature, limited range, and great taste puts them at risk of overfishing.
 

Top Calico Bass Fishing Charters

Top Calico Bass Fishing Destinations