California Corbina Fishing: Size, Limits, Range, and Fishery

California Corbina Catch and Release
California Corbina

The California corbina belongs to the croaker family and is one of the most abundant coastal species of fish in California. Spending much of their time hunting in extremely shallow water, they can be seen cruising around with their dorsal fins breaking the water’s surface. In this overview, we’ll talk about corbina fishing, some key identifying characteristics of the fish, its range, habitat, and preferred prey or bait and much more.

Common NamesCorbina, California Corbina, Whiting, King Fish, Bean, Corb
Legal Limit (#)10 Bag Limit
Legal Size (in)N/A
Record Size (in/lb)28-inches/8.5-pounds
Typical Size Range (in)10 to 22-inches
Fighting Strength (-/10)8/10
RangeGulf of California, Mexico – Point Conception, California
Habitatshallow/sandy
Baitsand crabs, mussel meat, clam meat, blood worms
All information within this chart and this page is unofficial. Refer to the Department of Fish and Wildlife for official numbers and regulations.

Identification of the California Corbina

With a grey-colored body and a white underside, to the untrained eye, the corbina could be confused with it’s relative (the yellowfin croaker). Its head is longer and more triangular in shape though and it lacks yellow coloration. Corbina mature at a length of 11 to 13-inches at about 2 to 3-years old.

Scientific Name: Menticirrhus undulatus

Corbina vs. corvina… a corvina is a different fish than a corbina. The corvina is more commonly caught in bays, but occasionally caught in the surf. Coincidentally, they are both part of the croaker family, but the corvina is more closely related to the white seabass.

Range

Corbina naturally occur from Point Conception, California to the Gulf of California. Although, Southern California is where the they are most abundant in numbers.

Habitat

These fish enjoy flat, sandy areas where sand crabs are plentiful. In the summertime, most sandy beaches hold corbina in good numbers. Come winter, many retreat out deeper and into bays and estuaries where the water is calmer and warmer.

California Corbina Size

The California corbina grows to around 23-inches on average although anglers will report one or two catches per year in the 24-to-26-inch range. The biggest fish to date was 28-inches long and that stands as the record for now. Since the first 28-incher, there have been 3 or 4 more anglers to record catches at that mark.

On a typical day of fishing for corbina, you can expect to catch them in the 10-to-18-inch range. Once they cross the 16-inch mark they start to fight very well.

Surf Fishing for Corbina

Along the beaches of California, corbina will scour ultra-shallow waters looking for sand crabs and clams. These fish will roam the shallows more frequently than their fish counter-parts in the yellowfin croaker. They are known for their elusiveness as they have a tendency for inconsistent bite patterns. Sometimes, they timidly pick away at your bait without fully inhaling your hook, other times they show no hesitation as they slam your hook surely taking you for a ride!

These fish are not an easy catch. Don’t get me wrong, if you learn the right techniques and follow the guidelines below and on this page, you’ll have those 20 plus fish days. But, for a beginner, corbina fishing can easily frustrate an angler, especially if you attempt sight-casting.

Gear and Tackle for Corbina Fishing

If you’re at all confused or questioning the gear that I use, here’s my page on why I use the gear that I use. This includes why I use 15-pound test instead of 6-8lb as you’ve likely read elsewhere.

Sight-Casting for California Corbina

Corbina Fish
23″ Corbina

As mentioned above, these fish have inconsistent bite tendencies. They don’t usually gobble up your bait immediately. Hook-sets are key, and if you don’t pay close enough attention, you’ll likely lose more fish than you catch. That’s why corbina fishing can be frustrating at times. Stay focused and pay close attention to the feel of the bite.

The best method for setting the hook, is to wait until you feel multiple taps in a row and start to feel the weight of the fish pulling. It’s best to not set the hook upon the first feeling of a bite.

During the summertime, it truly doesn’t take long to spot California corbina cruising the surf. But, you must learn to spot them and cast in front of them without spooking the fish. Use polarized sunglasses as these will allow you to see into the water by minimizing reflections and glares. With this advantage, you can spot fish in the surf from further away, thus, not spooking them.

Once you’ve spotted your target, the easy part’s over. Next, you have to present your bait in a manner that will catch the corbina’s eye, without spooking it.

The Most Important factor of Sight Fishing

There are a few general recommendations to follow when sight-casting for corbina (and spotfin croaker and other surf species). You want to cast in front of the fish. This doesn’t mean the fish has to see the bait enter the water, and in most cases, it’s best that they don’t. After you get a sense of the trajectory of the fish and predict where it will be, cast there. When possible, cast where and when a wave is about to break as it will mask the sound/vibration of your weight hitting the sand. If you can get all that down, you’ll have a good amount of success in the surf.

The most important factor of sight fishing is to spot your target from as far away as possible. Over the years, I’ve learned a great deal about this species. I began surf fishing with the underlying assumption (influenced by what I had read and heard) that corbina were extremely line shy. The more I fish, the more I question or even deny this theory… in general.

Corbina Are Not Line Shy, But a Lighter Weight Will Help

I’ve fly fished for trout and (obviously) sight casted for corbina and bigger spotfin croaker. I’ve come to believe that fish (in general) aren’t “line shy”. I think the theory holds some merit, but I think the wording is off. I’ll be dedicating an entire article to this theory of mine in the coming weeks for an in depth analysis.

My bottom line: I believe that anglers have come to the conclusion that corbina are “line shy” because they don’t do a good job of hiding themselves and presenting bait.

This brings me back to my “most important factor of sight casting”- to spot your target from a far and to cast from a far with a solid lead. You WILL see great improvements in your success rate if you focus on this factor. Fish won’t bite if they see you or know that you’re there. They will however, if they don’t see you… even if you’re using 20 lb fluorocarbon as your leader.

Along with staying out of their line of sight, corbina have what’s called a barbel. This sense vibrations in the sand and helps them hunt sand crabs. It also senses the movement of your feet and the weight hitting the sand, So, lighter steps and lighter weight will help you here.

California Corbina Diet

corbina fishing light tackle surf fishing
corbina fishing

California Corbina are known to consume small crustaceans and mollusks including sand crabs, muscles and clams. Additionally, they’ll go after smaller bait fish. I’ve tested many different baits for the purpose of fishing for corbina and the most productive baits are sand crabs, clams and mussels.

Best Bait for Corbina Fishing

Sand crabs are the best bait for California Corbina fishing. These fish tend to swim the shallow waters here in Southern California and you’ll often find fish in troughs and scallops in just inches of water! They swim through these troughs waiting for sand crabs to be unearthed when the current sweeps through. Check out what gear works best here. For techniques and information on how to catch the California Corbina I promise the tips on our home page will help you increase your hook up rate.

Selecting soft-shelled crabs will also increase you’re hook-up rate. Fish tend to prefer these crabs over the hard-shell crabs. Also, don’t pick the biggest crab! The best size sand crabs are finger nail-size as these are the universal perfect size for all fish in the surf. After choosing the perfect size and texture of sand crab for your bait, it’s important to understand what time of year to head out for a surf fishing session. Corbina are most plentiful along the surf from the months of June through August as they move into deeper waters when the temperature drops. See the chart at the bottom of the page for details.

It’s imperative that you understand their tendencies. Sure you might get lucky and hook up here and there, but that’s not going to work all the time. Understand that corbina fishing in Southern California can be a very active style of fishing and it should be! You might take sight-casting for granted at first but you’ll begin to realize its value as time goes on.

How to Find and Hook Sand Crabs Video

Is Corbina Good Eating?

Corbina is a great tasting fish. In fact, they’re one of the cleanest white fish you’ll catch in the surf behind halibut. It’s a white, flakey meat that does well with lemon, butter and other herbs. Although, many other preparation styles bode well too. Beer-batter is one other popular way to prepare and cook corbina.

Some of the best methods to prepare corbina for eating purposes include beer battered, pan seared, baked, and grilled. For some of the best fish recipes, check out my recipes page.

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Best time of year to catch California Corbina
Best Time of year to catch California Corbina (2019)

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