Back in 2020, I was lucky enough to play a role in a catch of a lifetime. I was guiding a father/son duo in San Diego county and we were targeting leopard sharks. We were not fishing for yellowtail from shore, but, somehow, some way, we hooked into the beauty of a fish shown above. To this date, that fish stands as the largest yellowtail caught from a beach. Ever since that fish, I’ve wondered if it’s possible to go fishing for yellowtail from shore in Southern California with at least some regular success.
Surf Fishing for Yellowtail Works in Cabo… Why Not So Cal?
Surf fishing for yellowtail is more common in other areas like New Zealand, Japan (different terrain though) and Mexico as we’ve seen from cabosurfcaster down in Cabo.
You might think, “well it makes sense that they catch them in Baja etc. because the water’s warmer and they have all the other tropical species like rooster fish etc., but stop yourself for a moment.
Yes, Baja California has more species of big game fish targetable from the surf, and yes, the water is warmer. But that has nothing to do with yellowtail being reachable from the shore. We have yellowtail here, just like Cabo has them. And if they spend time close to shore in Cabo… why wouldn’t they spend time close to shore in Southern California?
Yellowtail Have Been Caught from Shore Before
Yellowtail have been caught in the surf in San Diego, Orange County, and LA on numerous occasions. If that isn’t evidence enough, I don’t know what is. It’s just a matter of tracking the patterns, putting in the time, and figuring out why, where, and when yellowtail feed in the surf.
Spotting Yellowtail Close to Shore is a Regular Occurrence
In Southern California, we have numerous beaches that feature a shoreline of bluffs. These bluffs make for fantastic views of the ocean and on clear days with low surf and low wind, you can spot all sorts of marine life. I’ve seen leopard sharks, seals, sealions, dolphins, great whites, bait balls, bat rays, and even yellowtail from various different over-looks.
Drone Footage of Yellowtail Close to Shore
The other day, I went out with my buddy on my first session from land (a jetty though) that I deliberately went surf fishing for yellowtail (I skunked). He had mentioned he saw yellowtail chasing his lure and swimming around in the surf line and I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to target them/capture some drone footage of yellowtail chasing bait.
While I’m not 100% sure that the fish in this video are yellowtail chasing my buddy’s lure, I’m about 85% certain I saw at least one yellowtail cruising the surf line. I will admit that I’m 100% certain I saw a handful of mullet riding in the waves that day as those can be seen cruising through waves at every beach this time of year (August-September). In fact, I saw at least twenty mullet riding the waves while fishing Del Mar at 20th Street today. I know mullet can get pretty big but one of the fish I saw from the jetty was easily 20 pounds and I don’t think mullet get that big.
The fish in the video could be small yellowtail or mullet. Mullet (often seen riding waves close to shore) are near impossible to catch with hook-and-line as they’re said to feed on vegetation for the most part.
Bottom line, this footage (possibly), and footage from well-known drone photographers like Scott Fairchild, Trystan Snodgrass, and Carlos G. (themalibuartist) frequently shows yellowtail coming in close to shore.
Ask Divers, Spear Fishermen, and Kayak Fishermen
Do you know any hardcore divers, spear fishermen, or kayak fishermen in So Cal? I don’t do much fishing aside from surf fishing, but I’ve taken a kayak out with my brother a handful of times and we’ve caught a few yellowtail using lucky craft jerkbaits no more than 200 yards off the beach.
We didn’t actually intend to fish so close to shore that first time we caught yellowtail from our kayak. But, as we were paddling out, we stopped to chat with a spear fisherman and he mentioned there was a school of yellowtail that he couldn’t get close enough to take any clean shots. What would you expect us to do? We fished there and we caught 3 yellowtail that first time out.
Nobody Tries to Target Them
My last point isn’t necessarily evidence that yellowtail can be caught from shore with consistency. Rather, it’s a fact of the matter that should be noted.
Nobody really tries to catch yellowtail from the beach. And if they do, they’ve kept it on the down low. I’ve developed relationships with some of the most motivated and hard core surf fishermen in Southern California and even they seem to give up so quickly at the thought of putting in the time to figure out the species.
I’m guilty of this too. I’ve been talking about surf fishing for yellowtail with buddies for two years now but putting in the countless hours of hucking surface irons from shore with such uncertainty in your methods sounds a bit intimidating. It doesn’t help that you’d likely look like an absolute idiot until it eventually works… if it works.
Somebody has to put in the time. If random anglers can catch a fluke yellowtail once a year while they aren’t even trying to catch yellowtail. It can certainly be done by someone deliberately targeting them.
How Would I Fish for Yellowtail from the Surf?
If I were to seriously commit to targeting yellowtail from shore, I’d probably try my best to follow the bait and I’d use my same lure throwing setup, but maybe up the rod a foot or two for the added casting distance. I think everything else would remain the same except I might change my lure to a Daiwa SP or a Tady Surface Iron and I might bump the leader down to 30 (thinking about that anyways).
One other thing I might try to take advantage of is a grunion run. These can be major draws for larger predators to come into shallow water and it doesn’t always have to mean that you have to go surf fishing at night. You can time the morning low, or even go in the afternoon. better yet, hit the sunset high tide the day or to before the run starts.