5 Most Exciting Fish to Catch in San Diego’s Surf

san diego fishing

Surf fishing is still somewhat of a hidden gem in San Diego as the offshore scene overshadows the surf scene. Is it because offshore fishing is better? Or is it just because there’s more money to be made offshore? Either way it’s fine by me. I’ll stick to the surf any day of the week. So what are the 5 most exciting fish to catch in San Diego’s surf?

#5 – California Corbina

California Corbina Fishing
California Corbina – 24 inches

The California corbina is quite possibly the most widely sought after fish in San Diego and Southern California when it comes to surf fishing. To 28 inches and nearly 9 pounds, corbina can be absolutely thrilling to catch!

What’s All the Hype About?

In the summer months, corbina can be spotted in just inches of water as they cruise the ultra-shallows hunting for sand crabs. If you live in San Diego and you’ve walked the shoreline letting the waves roll behind you, you’ve likely come within feet, or even inches of touching a corbina.

While corbina can be caught relatively easily by using a simple Carolina rig, sand crabs, and a blind cast, most of the hype is around a certain tactic. Anglers across So Cal will partake in a more challenging and adrenaline-pumping style of surf fishing called “sight casting” or “sight fishing”.

Sight-fishing requires that an angler scans the water searching for his target. Upon successfully spotting a corbina, the angler must then stalk his prey until he can time a cast ahead of the fish without spooking it. This is easier said than done, as you can’t be seen nor sensed in any way. You see, the corbina has a keen sense of both sight and vibration – any careless or wrong move will result in the fish darting away.

For more on the California corbina and how to catch them, read the linked article.

#4 – Soupfin (and Leopard Shark)

Soupfin Shark – 73 inches

Shark fishing often gets a bad reputation, but it’s made this list for a reason. For anyone who has yet to catch a leopard shark from the surf, it’ll likely make your bucket list after seeing how pretty they are. The reason I mention leopard sharks is one, because they’re stunningly beautiful, but two, because when you’re targeting soupfin sharks, you’re likely to catch a leopard shark first. So let’s talk about why soupfin sharks made the list of the most exciting fish to catch in San Diego.

What’s All the Hype About?

Soupfin are some of the most exciting fish to catch for two main reasons. They’re powerful and they often put on a stunning aerial performance.


Let’s talk about the power. When you’re shark fishing, it’s a waiting game, but when the wait is over, you’ve got some work to do. You might hook a 150-pound bat ray that could take you for an hour long ride, but somehow, that’s not what all the hype is about. While bat rays will overwhelm you via their endurance with strong and steady runs, soupfin don’t exactly know how to conserve their energy… or so it seems. They’ll take you on blazing runs and bursts of speed as they dart in different directions, often turning 180 degrees before jumping out of the air. The combination of these two factors actually makes them a difficult catch.

Aerial Performance

It truly is a sight to see. I recall the first time I caught a soupfin. It made me realize that I’d lost at least a handful prior to this one. The entire fight, I just couldn’t keep up with it. The initial take went full bend before going absolutely slack. Luckily, I decided to pick up the rod and as I cranked in the slack, my rod just about jumped from my hands!

The ever so deliberate and intentional changes in direction are nearly impossible to keep up with, so keeping tension throughout the fight is a challenge. I realized this when I saw my first go airborne. When I saw it, I was confused. I thought to myself, “what is that miniature dolphin doing jumping 10 yards ahead of whatever’s on my line”. Then I quickly realized what I had on my line and how much catching up I had to do. They might surprise you with how gracefully they exit and re-enter the water.

The combination of these two factors is only amplified when you fish for them at night as these fish are often caught after dark. Try feeling a fish going 25 mph west before taking a sudden turn back east toward the sand, only to exit the water going south in a matter of seconds… while you can’t see a thing!

For more on the soupfin sharks and how to catch them, read the linked article.

#3 – California Halibut

halibut fishing inn San Diego
California Halibut – 31.5 inches

I realize some people are going to disagree with the order of my rankings here, but at the end of the day, it’s all subjective and I love targeting all 5 of these species… and all the other common species of fish in San Diego’s surf. Bottom line, halibut are without a doubt on the list of the most exciting fish to catch in San Diego.

What’s All the Hype About?

The California halibut is one of the most challenging species of fish to target in San Diego because they’re tough to find, tough to hook, and sometimes, they’re even tougher to keep on your hook. A buddy of mine put it best when he compared halibut fishing to disabling a bomb. Basically, if you’re really smooth with the fight, you might be able to float the fish in from the deep, through the rocks, and onto the sand. But, one wrong move, and halibut have a tendency to go absolutely ballistic, frequently coming unbuttoned in the process. Don’t consider a halibut “caught” until it’s on the sand. I’ve lost some in less than an inch of water as they flop around violently until a wave washes them (and your hopes and dreams) away.

Depending on whether you use jerkbaits or swimbaits while targeting halibut, your hook set will vary, and if you don’t time the hook set perfectly… the odds are against you. You’ll typically feel a sudden jolt on your lure, sometimes easily confused with your lure running into a rock, and you’ll have to decide whether to set the hook, or ease up so as to not jam your lure further into a rock, potentially resulting in a lost lure. I’ve found that jerkbaits eliminate much of the guessing game, given that you don’t really need to set the hook, but, some of the best halibut zones are much more swimbait friendly than jerkbait friendly.

For more on halibut fishing in San Diego, read the linked article or check out this video where I hooked 10 halibut in one session!

#2 – Spotfin Croaker

Spotfin Croaker - Exciting Fish to Catch in San Diego
Spotfin Croaker – 23.5 inches

Alright, so remember everything I said about corbina? All of that applies to spotfin croaker too. Why did I rank spotfin higher than corbina on this list of the most exciting fish to catch in San Diego? There are a few reasons and we’ll get into them.

What’s All the Hype About?

As mentioned above, it’s about the sight casting. But, their size and shape adds to the drama, they can be extremely active at sunset, and I think they’re a bit more powerful than corbina.

Spotfin have a powerful build. They’re taller than corbina, but often just as long. If you haven’t seen the image shown of this potential world record spotfin croaker, you’ve got to check it out. So what’s the big deal about their build? Well, these fish can show up in big numbers around sunset when the conditions are right. You’ll be looking for long period swell, relatively lower surf, and a flat sandy beach with little incline (best at a lower rising-to-high tide), with some nice sandy structure like troughs etc.

Since they’re taller than corbina, you’d think they’d be a bit more hesitant to cruise the ultra shallow, right? WRONG! These guys are a sight to see! Check out this video and you’ll see dozens of spotfin cruising the shallows, searching for sand crabs prior to myself hooking into a nice one.

#1 – White Seabass

white seabass fishing san diego
White Seabass – 34 inches

The number one most exciting fish to catch in San Diego is the white seabass. Let’s face it, it’s likely the most coveted catch in So Cal’s surf and it wouldn’t be the case if it were easy to catch them. They’ve earned the nickname “ghosts” for a reason, and from the surf, it’s a whole different level of surf fishing.

What’s All the Hype About?

It doesn’t take much to see what all the hype is about when it comes to catching white seabass from the beach. Take a look at the photo above. That’s only 6 inches above the legal mark! It’s possible to catch white seabass over 40 inches in the surf! Can you imagine that?

It requires a ton of time, a ton of effort, and a ton of skunks to have real and consistent success fishing for white seabass in the surf.

If you’d like to learn more about fishing for white seabass in San Diego, read the linked article.


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