Spotfin Croaker Fishing: The Forgotten King of the Surf

About The Spotfin Croaker

ln this article, we’ll talk about spotfin croaker fishing, some characteristics about the species, and how to catch spotfin croaker with the best baits and best tackle. If you want to learn even more, I’ve outlined a section filled with common questions people ask about the species.

spotfin croaker fishing
23.5-inch spotfin croaker

Identification

Easily identified by a large black spot at each base of its pectoral fins, the spotfin croaker is another common coastal species of fish in Southern California. It is much taller and more robust in comparison to both the corbina and yellowfin croaker.

Range

They occur from Mazatlan, Mexico to Point Conception. The bulk of the fishery appears to be from LA, south through Baja.

Habitat

Spotfin croaker are quite possibly the most exciting and adrenaline pumping catch on light-tackle set-ups. They hit like tanks and well… they are tanks! While the length of these fish tends to be in line with its relative, the corbina, it’s girth and stoutness is a different story. These fish are strong and powerful and they’re highly sought after by surf fishermen along the coast.

Legal Limit (#)10 Bag Limit
Legal Size (in)N/A
Record Size (in/lb)27-inches/14 pounds
Fighting Strength (-/10)10/10
RangeMazatlan, Mexico – Point Conception
HabitatShallow/Sandy
All information within this chart and this page is unofficial. Refer to the Department of Fish and Wildlife for official numbers and regulations.

Common Questions

All statistics in this segment are according to a study published by Williams, Jonathan & Claisse, Jeremy & Pondella, Daniel & Medeiros, Lea & Valle, Charles & Shane, Michael in 2012.

How big are spotfin croaker at birth?

Spotfin croaker are actually born from free-floating eggs and go through a larval phase as they remain mixed in with sea plankton. After a period of rapid growth from larva to fish, at 1-year-old, they are roughly 200 mm long (or 8-inches).

What is a spotfin croaker’s growth rate like?

All statistics in this segment are according to a study published by Williams, Jonathan & Claisse, Jeremy & Pondella, Daniel & Medeiros, Lea & Valle, Charles & Shane, Michael in 2012.

Age (in years)Approx. Male Length (inches)Approx. Female Length (inches)
512″13″
1014″15.75″
1515.75″17″
201719.5″
2517.75Not enough data to represent
Spotfin Croaker Growth Rate

The authors of this article noted that the estimates of age/length ratio had some inconsistencies. It’s important to understand the variation that occurs from fish to fish. I’ve caught these fish up to 23.5-inches and I’ve seen (and heard of) some up to 27-inches. As to how old these specimens might be, we don’t know with 100% certainty.

Maximum life-span?

According to Williams, Jonathan & Claisse, Jeremy & Pondella, Daniel & Medeiros, Lea & Valle, Charles & Shane, Michael (2012), spotfin croaker’s maximum lifespan was determined to be “atleast 24-years“.

Size: How big do spotfin croaker get?

It’s said that spotfin croaker can reach a maximum length of up to 27-inches and weigh some 10 plus pounds!

These fish tend to range in length from 14-22-inches. On a typical day of surf fishing, you can expect top catch them in this range. Anything bigger or smaller than the given range would be considered less common.

Spotfin Croaker
Spotfin Croaker (21.5″)

Spotfin Croaker Fishing


Important! Spotfin croaker have a tendency to be extremely active at dusk. I keep detailed logs of every fish I catch from the surf and my logs have shown that more than 80% of our spotfin have been hooked right around sunset.

Spotfin croaker have a reputation for being more active during the dusk hours. Like corbina, they have been seen scouring ultra-shallow waters hunting for sand crabs and other food sources. Although they’re known to feed in ultra-shallow waters, you can expect to catch them with deeper casts as well.

Most of my biggest fish have come while sight casting in just inches of water. The linked video shows a really good example of what these fish look like when they’re feeding in the shallows. It also shows my personal best spotfin.

Gear and Tackle

Bait For Spotfin Croaker Fishing

For light tackle surf fishing, you won’t find a better, more practical bait than sand crabs. And again, with sand crabs you can certainly hook up on some seriously big spotfin croaker. Clams are also a popular bait for spotfin croaker fishing. They’ll actually eat clam siphons and even whole clams as their deeper “throat teeth” grind up the clams on the way into their stomach.

You can find clams at low tide along some beaches here in So Cal. Many Asian markets and other shops sell frozen clam meat which works well too. Personally, I’ve never gone out to a beach specifically to go clamming, but I’ve come across some big 6 inchers just lying on the beach a few times. Almost every time I’ve put fresh clam meat on my hook, I’ve at least had bites. And yes, I’ve hooked into some big spotfin with that meat… but you’ll definitely get corbina, croaker, and surfperch as well.

Usually, when fish are scouring the shallows in the surf, they’re looking for sand crabs and sometimes those small clams that are mixed in with them. And it’s a sight to see when a spotfin is hunting in the shallows. It’s back, almost 100% of the time breaks the water surface as it darts around preying on crabs. If you’re lucky, you’ll see a tail pop out of the water as it angles its head down, feeding on sand crabs.

Golden Croaker

Have you ever heard of a “golden croaker”? It refers to an adult male spotfin croaker primed to breed. One look and it’s undeniable beauty will dazzle your eye. You’ll also notice that it almost looks like a cross between a yellowfin and a spotfin croaker. Nonetheless, these fish are not a different species nor an offshoot. Some anglers used to believe the “golden croaker” to be a different species. Later down the line, it was discovered that these are their mating colors.

Are Spotfin Croaker Good Eating?

Spotfin croaker are quite good eating. You’ll get one fillet of white flakey meat off either side of these fish and the meat goes well with lemon, butter, herbs and some other similar flavors. It’s mild in flavor and clean in taste.

When I say these things are tanks, I mean it! If you’re catching to keep, one 18-inch spotfin croaker could feed two or maybe even three people. A typical corbina of the same length would provide about 75% of the meat that the spotfin would.

How to Fillet a Spotfin Croaker

As many things go, sometimes a video is just much easier to follow. So, I’ve made this video for you guys on how to fillet a spotfin croaker. Either a tail-up fillet or a fin-down fillet works well with these fish. Usually, you’ll need to cut out the rib cage as it certainly gets in the way of a good meat section. Aside from that, the bones are pretty straight forward and easy to avoid.

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References:

Williams, Jonathan & Claisse, Jeremy & Pondella, Daniel & Medeiros, Lea & Valle, Charles & Shane, Michael. (2012). Patterns of Life History and Habitat Use of an Important Recreational Fishery Species, Spotfin Croaker, and Their Potential Fishery Implications. Marine and Coastal Fisheries. 4. 71-84. 10.1080/19425120.2012.661392.: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/…

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