Best Fishing in San Diego: What, Where and Why?

Where is the best fishing in San Diego? It’s safe to say that when people think of “San Diego fishing”, they think of the offshore scene. They think yellowtail, dorado, bluefin tuna, etc. Believe it or not, most people even think of bass fishing, catfish fishing, trout fishing, and even bay fishing before they think about wetting a line at the beach… before they think about surf fishing.

What is the Best Fishing in San Diego?

For a guy like me, the answer is simple. The best fishing in San Diego is at the beach. It’s surf fishing. If you hadn’t guessed by now, I’m going to make the case that surf fishing is the best fishing in San Diego.

What Is Surf Fishing?

So what is surf fishing? What can you catch? And why is it the best fishing in San Diego? To put it most simply, surf fishing is just the act of fishing from the beach or shoreline, into the “surf” or the waves. This can take the form of many different styles like lures, bait, and flies.

What Can You Catch?

Our local surf fishery offers a large variety of species to target. Some of the most common species of fish in San Diego include the California corbina, spotfin croaker, barred surfperch, yellowfin croaker, white seabass, California halibut, calico bass, leopard shark and many others. Click the common species link above to learn more about each species.

Why Is Surf Fishing The Best Fishing In San Diego?

Surf fishing ranks number one on my list for a multitude of reasons. From the limitless potential and unknowns of what you might catch, to the achievable consistent catches, the environment, scenery, and accessibility of it all, you really can’t beat it.

Unlimited Potential and Mystery

When you fish a lake, the potential of your catch is literally limited to what might naturally be in that lake… or worse, what was stocked there. I’m not a big fan of man-made fisheries. Not that I wouldn’t support the idea of them or use them if that’s all I had access to, but I just like the idea of hunting/catching fish that are truly “wild”.

In the surf, the fish you catch are wild. They don’t know captivity. All they know is the big, beautiful, mysterious ocean filled with things we’ve yet to discover. Sure, there are some programs in place that reintroduce certain species back into the wild in an effort to rekindle or strengthen populations. This could mean that some fish you catch are raised in captivity, but you literally never know what you might catch when you fish the surf.

Just a couple years ago, I was out fishing with clients at a beach I’d fished hundreds of times before. We began the day hoping for leopard sharks and by the end of it, we’d notched a land-based record yellowtail from the surf. The thing was 53.5 pounds! Talk about limitless potential.

yellowtail fishing from shore in San Diego
53.5 pound yellowtail from caught from shore

Common Catches

So yes, the potential is pretty crazy. Technically, you can catch anything in the ocean while surf fishing. But, what you can expect to catch is still pretty cool. I mentioned a few common species earlier, but different methods are required to catch different species on that list.

Light Tackle

Light tackle surf fishing with sand crabs can yield you things like corbina, yellowfin croaker, spotfin croaker and all sort of other species.

best fishing in san diego
Spotfin Croaker is a common catch in San Diego and So Cal

Click on of those species links to learn about how to target each, but as far as gear and tackle goes, you’ll need the following:

Lure Fishing

Lures are another route that will yield different types of fish. With lures, you can catch things like halibut, white seabass, calico bass, and more.

lure fishing san diego
California halibut caught on lures while surf fishing

In order to start fishing for halibut like this and all the other species you can catch while fishing San Diego, you’ll need the gear listed below:

You’ve actually got a handful of options in terms of the types of lures for surf fishing. You can take the swimbait route or the jerkbait route. I’ve published a lot of content on these two types of lures. If you don’t know the difference between a jerkbait and a swimbait, you should read the linked article. I actually like to use a different setup for jerkbaits than I do for swimbaits. Just a lighter rod and a little lighter line. Below are some other articles you might find helpful:

Shark Fishing

Shark fishing is another option. Some of the best fishing in San Diego is leopard shark fishing. There are a few other species you can target like soupfin sharks and sevengill, but below is the gear and tackle you’ll need.

leopard shark fishing San Diego
Leopard Shark Fishing in San Diego


Continuing on with the list of why surf fishing is the best type of fishing in San Diego, we have accessibility. Along our beautiful coastline, we have locations where you can park and walk no more than twenty or thirty yards before you can start fishing. So there’s that – physical accessibility. But there’s also the ease of the activity.

Surf fishing requires no boat. Just yourself, a rod, and the right tackle. Check out my exact set up for each style of surf fishing, or check out the 16 essentials for surf fishing gear. Once you have the right gear and tackle, you’re pretty much good to go. Bait is free in the summertime if you’re fishing with sand crabs and you can actually work your way up the food chain by catching yellowfin croaker or surfperch and using them as bait to catch sharks.

If you get off work at 5pm, the summertime allows you 3 more hours of daylight to wet a line on your way home from work. You can also go surf fishing at night successfully for both sharks and other predatory species like white seabass and calicos if your game for fishing during grunion runs.

Beach Scenery

The scenery is second to none in my opinion. But I will admit, I’m a beach over mountains kind of guy. So there’s that. As mentioned earlier, there are spots that are extremely accessible. But, there are also spots along our coastline in San Diego and especially further north that aren’t so accessible where you can find yourself alone on the beach with no one to be seen for miles.

The sunsets are stunning, the sea life and terrain can be so mysterious and so incredible to experience. Check out some photos I’ve taken just over the past few years.

San Diego fishing
san diego sunset
best fishing in san diego

If images don’t quite convince you that San Diego’s surf scene is legit, head on over to my YouTube channel and check out some of my videos like “Sight Casting For Spotfin Croaker” and “We Caught 7 White Seabass from Shore!


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