Saltwater Fishing in San Diego

San Diego, otherwise known as “America’s Finest City,” boasts over 70 miles of coastline to explore! Are you a piscator? Or, in other words, do you like saltwater fishing? Do you prefer to fish from piers or jetties? From shore or out in the ocean? San Diego’s peak fishing season begins in April until November.  Would you like to learn more about saltwater fishing in San Diego?

–>The Beaches of San Diego County<–

What makes San Diego extraordinary is that the coastline is so varied. There are miles of sandstone bluffs located in North County San Diego (San Onofre, Carlsbad, Encinitas, Del Mar). While down in South County San Diego, sandy beaches rule (Pacific Beach, Mission Beach, Ocean Beach, Coronado, Imperial Beach.) Whether you prefer to fish from the beach, jetty, pier, boat, or by a chartered vessel, San Diego has it all!

piscator definition mackerel fishing pole

A Piscator Page, You Say?

I thought it would be a good idea to have a distinct page on my website with all of the San Diego saltwater fishing information in one place. A piscator page!

So down below, I have compiled complete lists of all San Diego saltwater fishing piers, saltwater sportfishing (half-day/full-day) party and charter boats, boat launch ramps, lobster fishing spots, the 2021 grunion run schedule, a few fish lists, as well as several noted shore fishing locations.

As a bonus, I have also included all harbor and bay cruises offered out of Oceanside Harbor, Mission Bay, and San Diego Bay for those of you that have no desire to fish but still yearn to be on the water.

To experience San Diego to the fullest, you must get on the ocean, breathe in all the negative ions, and let the saltwater spray on your face. Believe me; you will thank me later. Also, don’t forget to pack a sweatshirt as it sure can get chilly out on the water.


San Diego Saltwater Fishing References

(Click on each photo for the direct link)

Here is all the information compiled in one place, making it that much easier for you to come down and experience the San Diego coastline like a local.

I have also included a couple of California Department of Fish and Wildlife regulations and identification pages

–>Current California Ocean Recreational Fishing Regulations<–

–>California Marine Sportfish Identification<–

List of all San Diego Fishing Piers

oceanside pier underneath san diego salt water fishing

Do you like to fish off of piers? San Diego has ten fishing piers to choose from. I have taken a closer look and provided for you what the underwater environment looks like and what amenities are available at each.  See which pier would be most suitable for your special fishing day!

April 15 Update- Ocean Beach Pier is closed until further notice due to structural hazards.

San Diego Sportfishing Party Boats

New Seaforth Sportfishing san diego saltwater fishing

Here is up-to-date information for the entire San Diego Recreational Sportfishing Fleet. Select from six different landings; two out of Oceanside, one out of Mission Bay, and three out of San Diego Bay. If you are interested in a private charter, that information is included as well. All half-day, 3/4 day, full-day, and multi-day trips are also listed.

San Diego Saltwater Boat Launch Ramps

South Shores Ramp-Mission Bay

I have showcased each San Diego County boat launch ramp from Oceanside Harbor, Mission Bay, and San Diego Bay.  Take a look and see which one would be best for your next San Diego fishing trip.

North County San Diego has only one boat launch ramp over at Oceanside Harbor. Mission Bay has five launch ramps to choose from, while San Diego Bay has four. Please keep in mind that usually, the ramp closest to the bay entrance will be the busiest.

So for Mission Bay, that would be Dana Landing. Simultaneously, the Shelter Island launch ramp is always the most congested at San Diego Bay over at San Diego Bay.

Here’s a list of all artificial reefs found offshore of Southern California-Artificial Reef Coordinates.

Lobster Fishing in San Diego

CA spiny lobster san diego salt water fishing

Historically, the California Spiny Lobster season begins on the first Wednesday in October, so this year’s (2021) Opening Day will fall on October 2nd at 6 am and end on March 18, 2022.

Discover the difference between a North American lobster, otherwise referred to as the Maine lobster, and the California spiny lobster.

Find out tips on where and how to find these elusive ‘bugs’ in San Diego.

Grunion Run Schedule 2021-San Diego

Grunion run fish silver sand

The 2021 Grunion Run Schedule for San Diego County takes a closer look at which beaches have the greatest chance of hosting this annual event.

As a rule, grunions prefer a dark sandy beach with a slight slope.

Did you realize that biologists have noticed an uptick of great white shark sightings on the coast of San Diego when the grunion is running? Take a look at the link below and see how many shark sightings occur, especially in April and May.

>San Diego Shark Sightings<–


What Kind of Saltwater Fish Are Anglers After in San Diego?

fishing oceanside pier scaled fishing pole two people
Oceanside Pier

Now that we have all of the lists presented, let’s take a look at what type of fish are seen in the waters of San Diego.

Down below, I have listed which fish are most likely to be seen and caught close to shore and according to season.

As you can see, fishing in San Diego is always ‘in season.’

All Year

  • California halibut- Paralichthys californicus (minimum size 22 inches)
  • kelp bass- Paralabrax clathratus
  • barred sand bass- Paralabrax nebulifer
  • spotted sand bass- Paralabrax maculatofasciatus
  • California scorpionfish (sculpin )- Scorpaena guttata
  • rockfish- Family Sebastidae
  • lingcod- Ophiodon elongatus
  • halfmoon- Medialuna californiensis
  • white croaker- Genyonemus lineatus
  • black croaker- Cheilotrema saturnum
  • cabezon-  Scorpaenichthys marmoratus
  • opal eye- Girella nigricans
  • Pacific bonito- Pelamys chiliensis
  • topsmelt- Atherinops affinis
  • jacksmelt- Atherinopsis californiensis
  • surfperch- Family Embiotocidae

Winter

  • white sea bass- Atractoscion nobilis (minimum size limit 28 inches)

Spring

  • California barracuda- Sphyraena argentea
  • yellowtail- Seriola lalandei

Summer

  • California barracuda- Sphyraena argentea
  • yellowtail- Seriola lalandei (minimum size 24 inches)
  • white sea bass- Atractoscion nobilis
  • spotfin croaker- Roncador stearnsii
  • sargo- Diplodus sargus
  • longfin sanddab-  Citharichthys xanthostigma
  • Pacific sanddab- Citharichthys sordidus

No Take

  • giant sea bass- Stereolepis gigas
  • great white shark- Carcharodon carcharias

What is a Finfish, Pelagic Fish, or Coastal Pelagic Fish?

fish art colored tiles la jolla

It is important to distinguish between fish types if you are anywhere near a Marine Protected Area (see map down below). For instance, over at La Jolla Shores Beach, you can fish from shore but can only keep the coastal pelagic species. So I thought it would be a good idea to give you all a few definitions to understand the regulations better.

Shore-based anglers– anyone fishing from the piers, jetties, beaches, breakwater, docks, or any other man-made objects

Boat-based anglers– a fisherman angling from boats or any type of floating vessel (float tubes, kayak)

Divers– scuba or free diving with or without spearfishing equipment

Finfish– any bony fish or cartilaginous fish (sharks, skates, and rays)

Pelagic Fish– any fish that lives within the water column, away from the shore

  • California or northern anchovy- Engraulis mordax
  • California barracuda- Sphyraena argentea
  • billfishes- (Family Istiophoridae)
  • common dolphinfish (mahi-mahi)- Coryphaena hippurus
  • Pacific herring- Clupea pallasii
  • Pacific jack mackerel- Trachurus symmetricus
  • King salmon- Oncorhynchus tshawytscha
  • Pacific sardine- Sardinops sagax
  • blue shark- Prionace glauca
  • shortfin mako shark- Isurus oxyrinchus
  • Pacific common thresher shark- Alopias vulpinus
  • Pacific bonito- Pelamys chiliensis
  • tunas (Family Scombridae)
  • Pacific chub mackerel- Scomber japonicus
  • swordfish- Xiphias gladius
  • yellowtail- Seriola lalandei
  • Marlins are not allowed for commercial take- Family Istiophoridae

Coastal Pelagic Fish– any fish that lives within the water column close to shore

  • California anchovy- Trachurus symmetricus
  • Pacific sardine- Sardinops sagax
  • Pacific chub mackerel- Scomber japonicus
  • jack mackerel- Trachurus symmetricus
  • market squid

What Type of Fish are Boats out of San Diego Going After?

lore of sportfishing cover san diego saltwater fishing

I thought for fun I would use this amazing book that I was able to procure recently- The Lore of Sportfishing, by Tre Tryckare, E. Ganer, and American Consultant Frank T. Moss. I found it at a thrift store in pristine condition for only 2 dollars!

It was originally written in 1976, but I am certain that the information is still relevant today.

Down below, I have listed for you some of the top deep-sea fishing targets that anglers go after out of San Diego. Also included is the preferred water temperature (in Farrenheit) that each species aligns with and the favored bait.

  • Albacore- Thunnus alalunga
    • 56 to 61 F
    • live anchovies
  • Barracuda- Sphyraena barracuda
    • 68 to 82 F
    • trolling lures, small live bait
  • Mahi-Mahi- Coryphaena hippurus
    • 72 to 88 F
    • strip bait, squid, yellow lures
  • Blue Shark- Prionace glauca
    • 68 to 85 F
    • live or dead bait; herring, squid, or any cut fish
  • Mako Shark- Isurus oxyrhynchus
    • 64 to 80 F
    • strip bait, squid, herring, tuna, mullet
  • Thresher Shark- Alopias vulpinus
    • 60 to 75 F
    • small fish baits or chumming live baits; mackerel, herring, squid
  • Yellowfin Tuna- Thunnus albacares
    • 60 to 80 F
    • trolling or bait fishing with chum while drifting
  • Big Eye TunaThunnus obesus
    • 60 to 80 F
    • trolling or deep bait fishing from drifting boat
  • Bluefin Tuna- Thunnus thynnus
    • 56 to 84 F
    • kite fishing, trolling or chumming with live bait-herring, squid, mackerel, eel, whiting, mullet
  • YellowtailSeriola lalandei
    • 70 to 84 F
    • live bait, casting, trolling, sometimes deep jigging

What Type of Fish do You Catch From the Shore in San Diego?

Carlsbad fishing salt water fishing san diego

Here is a list of a few of the species that are caught from shore on the beaches of San Diego.

  • surf perches
    • silver surfperch- Hyperprosopon ellipticum
    • rubberlip surfperch- Rhacochilus toxotes
    • barred seaperch- Amphistichus argenteus
    • shiner perch- Cymatogaster aggregata
    • walleye surfperch-Hyperprosopon argenteum
  • croakers
    • California corbina- Menticirrhus undulatus
    • white croaker- Genyonemus lineatus
    • spotfin croaker-  Roncador stearnsii
    • yellowfin croaker- Umbrina roncador
    • white sea bass- Atractoscion nobilis
  • shovelnose guitarfish- Rhinobatos products
  • round stingray- Urobatis halleri
  • bat ray- Myliobatis californica

—>Common Surfperches of California-A Field Guide<—


Where are the Best Places For Surf Fishing?

swamis marine protected map

Now I am no expert in fishing, and the only knowledge that I have is observing where the anglers prefer to set up on each beach. I am sure that you can catch fish from any beach in San Diego, that is, short of the Marine Protected Areas (click here to see where).

For example, noting the sign above, over at Swami’s State Marine Conservation Area, you are permitted to fish with hook and line from shore or spearfish, but no fishing from a vessel is allowed.

Please check the regulations because each MPA has different rules.

#I found this cool phone app to tell you if you are within a Marine Protected Area. Click on the link for more information.

–>San Diego Marine Protected Area Interactive Map<–

Let’s now go and take a look at a few saltwater shore fishing spots!


Two Spot at San Onofre State Beach

The Point fishing san onofre state beach
Fishing at The Point

Oh, how I love San Onofre State Beach! Now surfing is the number one activity over here, but there are two prime locations for surf fishing. The first is found north of Old Man’s Beach at what is referred to as The Point.

The second location is located south of Trail Six, down below the San Onofre Bluffs Beach Campground. Each time I visit over here, there is always someone fishing.

fishing trail 6 san onofre bluffs beach
Fishing South of Trail 6

Further Information on the Area-


Saltwater Fishing- Oceanside

fishing loma alta creek oceanside CA
Loma Alta Creek-South Oceanside

There are several areas to fish over at Oceanside. First of all, there is Oceanside Harbor, where you can launch your fishing boat.

Found just south of the harbor is Oceanside Pier, where you can fish without a fishing license.

There is also the Oceanside Harbor Small Craft Pier, which again needs no license. What is so great about this pier is that the bait barge is located just across from it.

Another great spot is over on the rock jetties at the opening of the harbor. If you are surrounded by water on three sides, you do not need a fishing license.

Oceanside beaches, especially south of the pier, are extremely narrow and usually become wet during a high tide, so please consider it.

There is an artificial reef located just north of the Oceanside Pier

Looking for a unique experience? Do you have a tube? Well, one day, I actually saw two guys fishing in the Loma Alta Creek. I am not sure how I feel about this, as the water is not the cleanest here.

Further Information on the Area


Salt Water Fishing Carlsbad

Agua Hedionda Lagoon

agua hedionda lagoon beginning of trail carlsbad
Fishing at Agua Hedionda Lagoon

In North County San Diego, Agua Hedionda has to be the most popular shore fishing spot. There would easily be at least 25 anglers fishing at the lagoon’s western edge in the day.

Another great spot would be on the Tamarack State Beach jetties in front of the Agua Hedionda Lagoon Inlet.

In fact, there was a recorded sighting of a great white shark attacking a seal within this inlet.

Fishing South Ponto Beach

Carlsbad fishing salt water fishing san diego

South Ponto beach always seems to have a few people fishing when I am visiting over here. It could be that the location is prime because it is close to the entrance of Batiquitios lagoon. There is a huge paid parking lot with restrooms.


Fishing The Beaches of Encinitas

Surf fishing on the beaches of Encinitas is hit and miss for sure. I have to say the most popular places where I see anglers the most would have been either at Beacon’s Beach or over at Boneyards.

Beacon’s Beach has a limited parking area with less than 8 spots, and I would suggest trying this spot later in the afternoon as it is a trendy surfing area.

Fishing Boneyards encinitas shore fishing
Boneyards

Boneyards would be the best bet, but it is a bit of a hike to get over here. There are two ways: parking at Moonlights’ free parking lot and walking south for about a mile. The second option would be parking at Swami’s and walking north for about a half of mile. What makes Boneyards so special are the reefs found close to shore and the fact that hardly anyone is ever on this beach.

It should be noted a Marine Protected Area begins around here and reaches all the way down to San Elijo Lagoon, but fishing from shore is permitted.

Cardiff Dorymen

Just south of Swami’s State Beach in Cardiff State Beach, the infamous Cardiff Dorymen would launch small wooden ships from this beach searching for fish. Can you imagine just how hard it would be to fish without any instruments, but just a motor and two oars in case of an emergency?


Fishing Torrey Pines State Beach

torrey pines state beach la jolla 2017

Back when I would have to find saltwater shore fisherman, Torrey Pines would always be my number one place to find the most anglers. Though I recall my adventures from over twenty years ago, the number one spot at Torrey Pines is just south of the southern parking lot. I remember that there would be at least 15 anglers lining the beach south of the lifeguard tower back in the day.

Fishing Naked at North Black’s Beach?

Do you like to fish naked? Black’s Beach, San Diego’s only ‘official’ nude beach, is located about two miles south of the Southern Parking lot.

In fact, back in the day when I was looking for anglers to survey, I witnessed this guy fishing over at North Black’ Beach. I couldn’t tell until I was a bit closer, but the only thing he was wearing was an extra-large Vietnamese conical hat. I stopped in my tracks and considered my options. Should I approach him?

blacks beach south flat rock torrey pines
North Black’s Beach

Fishing Around La Jolla’s Marine Protected Areas

La Jolla otherwise referred to as ‘the jewel,’ is one of California’s most beautiful cities! I may be biased, but really you have to see this place in person to appreciate the absolute beauty.

La Jolla has three different Marine Protected Areas (MPA), so rather than pointing out where you can not fish, let’s also point out where fishing is permitted.

ho chi minh trail blacks beach
Ho Chi Minh Trail at Black’s Beach

The first MPA, San Diego-Scripps Coastal Marine Conservation Area, begins at Box Canyon, where the Ho Chi Minh Trail is located. The trail sticks out by having a large rope hanging down from the cliff.

Here is where the border begins, so anywhere north of the rope, you are allowed to fish. But take note that this is where the nude beach begins. Now you are allowed to fish south of the Ho Chi Minh Trail down to the Ellen Browning Scripps Memorial Pier, but you are only permitted to keep coastal pelagic fish.

The second, Matlahuayl State Marine Reserve, starts midway at La Jolla Shores Beach and ends at La Jolla Cove. There is NO fishing allowed here at all.

south la jolla no take MPA sign
Law Street Beach, Pacific Beach

Continuing down the coast, we come upon the third MPA-South La Jolla State Marine Reserve, which begins at Palomar Ave and spans down to Diamond Street in Pacific Beach. So to keep yourself safe from any type of fishing ticket, make sure to fish south of Diamond Street.

Where You Can Fish in La Jolla-A Summary

  • North of Ho Ch Minh Trail fishing is permitted at North Black’s Beach-Torrey Pines State Beach.
    • On all beaches South of Ho Chi Minh Trail down to the Scripps Pier, only coastal pelagic species are allowed to be taken.
  • South of the Scripps Pier all the way to Point La Jolla SMR= NO FISHING
  • Point La Jolla to Palomar Ave all fishing allowed
  • Palomar Ave to Diamond Street in Pacific Beach-SMR= NO FISHING
    • South of Diamond Street, all fishing allowed

 


Salt Water Fishing Spots- Mission Bay

Missionbeach Pacificbeach sandiego
Prime fishing spots are marked in red
Credit-Wikimedia Commons

Mission Bay has over 27 miles of shoreline to explore, but not everywhere is prime for fishing.  Down below are a few spots where I would always find anglers.

As you can see, the most popular places to fish in Mission Bay are the areas towards the bay entrance and underneath bridges. I hear that is where the halibut like to hang out.

After quickly looking up the best spots to fish online, I found that Mariner’s Bay, Quivera Basin, and the Mission Bay Channel all have an average depth of 20 feet, while the rest of the bay has an average depth of 12 feet at high tide.

Mission Bay has a sandy bottom, so eelgrass and man-made structures, such as bridge pilings and boat docks, stand out as the best bet for finding fish.

Fish That Are Seen Most in Mission Bay-

  • spotted bay bass
  • shortfin corbina
  • California halibut

Sunset Cliffs Fishing

Fishing Sunset Cliffs san diego salwater shore

Another great place for fishing is over at Sunset Cliffs, but you really have to know what you are doing as the water can be a bit rough over here.


Fishing San Diego Bay

San Diego Bay sunset

San Diego Bay is 1 to 3 miles wide and 12 miles long and is the third-largest natural Bay in California, after San Fransico Bay and Humboldt Bay.

The Bay is separated into two sections-North and South.  The Northern Section has an average depth of 60 feet which allows the military ships to maneuver. Comparatively, South Bay’s water level may sometimes be only a few feet deep.

All in all, the average depth of the entire Bay is 20 feet.

Where to Fish? North or South?

downtown san diego 2010 fishing san diego bay
View of Downtown San Diego from Coronado

First off, it must be noted that there are five different piers in San Diego Bay; three in the Northern Section and two in the Southern section. Each has its own bit of charm, but in my opinion, Shelter Island is the best place to fish in San Diego Bay. It is mainly because it is so close to the entrance to the ocean, and the water in the channel is very deep.

The most prevalent fish caught in San Diego Bay would be the spotted sand bass, followed by the barred sand bass.

Fishing North San Diego Bay
shelter island boat launch shorebased fishing
Shelter Island Boat Launch

I have wracked my brain to remember where I would see anglers fishing on the rocks, and again, Shelter Island comes to mind. The most popular spots on the rocks are to the left of Shelter Island launch ramp, But seriously,  all up and down Shelter Island is a good bet.

Another favorite place is Harbor Island which is always lined with anglers on the rocks.

I hear that there is a good chance to catch halibut underneath the Coronado Bridge, but obviously, you would need a boat.

Fishing South San Diego Bay
sweetwater river channe san diego bayl
Sweetwater Marsh and Sweetwater River Channel

Another prime spot for fishing in South San Diego Bay is near the Sweetwater Channel at Pepper Park in National City.

Pepper Park offers both a boat launch ramp, as well as a fishing pier.

The Sweetwater Marsh is a part of the San Diego Bay National Wildlife Refuge, so stay clear of the marsh, but the waters outside are ok to fish in.

Many fish species use the Sweetwater Marsh as a nursery, and again, you might catch something out of the ordinary over here.

Two Favorite San Diego Bay Fish

Down in South Bay, because the water is relatively shallow and considerably warmer than North Bay, you may find some interesting species like Cortez bonefish. These highly sought-after fish are caught here year-round but really peaks in late February to early June.

A good way of knowing that you have caught a bonefish is that it is covered in a thick slime coat. I also hear that ghost shrimp are their preferred bait. 

The underwater topography in South San Diego Bay is pocketed with holes 20 to 30 feet wide and 20 to 30 feet deep. Bonefish like to stay near the edges of these holes, and this is where the term ‘fishing the edges’ comes about.

One more warm water lover is the shortfin corvina, a coveted species in the San Diego fishing community. They are strong fighters that can be caught with artificial lures. It is important to note that the shortfin corvina follows the water to the sandflats to feed during an incoming tide.

Because the shortfin corvina looks similar to the juvenile white seabass, it is always a good idea to catch and release.

All in all, San Diego Bay has terrific fishing with a wide variety of fish to target.

Fish Commonly Seen in San Diego Bay-

  • spotted sand bass- Paralabrax maculatofasciatus
  • kelp bass- Paralabrax clathratus
  • barred sand bass- Paralabrax nebulifer
  • California halibut- Paralichthys californicus
  • shortfin corvina- Cynoscion parvipinnis
  • Cortez bonefish- Albula gilberti
  • Pacific bonito- Sarda chiliensis
  • yellowfin croaker-  Umbrina roncador
  • lingcod- Ophiodon elongatus
  • Pacific barracuda- Sphyraena argentea

More San Diego Saltwater Tours!

Have you ever thought of going sailing, or how about a sunset wine cruise?

Before I leave you, I wanted to share a few other posts that I have done if you are interested in getting on the water, but you would rather not fish. Down below, I have provided for you many of the boat tours that are offered throughout San Diego County.

#Click on photo for more information

Oceanside Harbor Cruises-Get on the Water!

2014 sunset oceanside harbor sunset pink water

Mission Bay Cruises-Get on the Water!

bahia resort mission bay cruises two paddleboats

San Diego Bay Cruises-Get on the Water!

cabrillo 2010 harbor cruise vessel san diego bay

San Diego Whale Watching Tours

san diego whale watching tours schedule mission bay

 


References

California Department of Fish and Wildlife-Ocean Sportfishing

Fishing for San Diego Bonefish | Salt Water Sportsman

San Diego Bay Fishing | Risen Tide Sportfishing (risentidefishing.com)

 

 

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