Fishing at Catalina Island Guide
Fishing at Catalina Island, sitting just shy of 30 miles off the coast from Long Beach, CA, is an unforgettable adventure any angler will want to experience. Many anglers take a fishing charter to Catalina, since visiting here requires an ocean-worthy boat. Others who have the gear and the knowhow could make the trip on fishing machines available via Santa Catalina Island boat rentals.
However you get there, however, one thing is for sure: you’re in store for some red-hot angling action.
Where to Fish Off of Catalina Island
While there certainly are fish available in the island’s harbors, they’re often quite crowded with sailboats, cruisers, and day-trippers, so most anglers heading here will be fishing in the open ocean or around the coves and points created by the island’s shorelines. The drop-offs around the island are quite sheer and rocky, and much of the year they hold good numbers of fish. Fish are also attracted to the kelp forests and reefs around the island.
Keep an eye out for Marine Protected Areas (MPAs)
It’s important to note that there are multiple Marine Protected Areas, or MPAs, including some with no-take zones, located around Catalina Island. Before fishing at Catalina Island every angler should check this Catalina Island fishing map to ensure that they don’t stray into waters where fishing isn’t allowed.
Choose your location based on your target species
Just which Catalina Island fishing spot you’ll choose depends a large degree on the species you want to target. Some never stray far from the kelp, others prefer rocky habitat, and free-swimming pelagics will be oriented more to the presence of bait as opposed to physical structure.
Use the Top Species List (below) to help decide exactly where you’ll choose to fish.
What to Fish for at Catalina Island: Top Species List
Here are the top species to fish for near Catalina (listed alphabetically), and the type of environment you’ll want to fish in order to target them:
- Barracuda – Although they tend to stay in and around relatively shallow waters, barracuda are schooling, free-swimming fish that can pop up just about anywhere.
- Blue Perch – Blue perch can be found both around rocky bottoms and near kelp, usually in relatively shallow waters.
- Cabeizon – This rather unusual-looking species is generally found on rocky bottoms, often at sheer ledges and drop-offs.
- Calico Bass – These fish are normally caught around the edges of kelp forests.
- California Sheepshead – Since they like to feed on crustaceans this species is caught where their prey lives, mostly around rocks and reefs, but they may show up near kelp as well.
- Dorado – These pelagics aren’t normally caught right around the island but are sometimes found in nearby open waters. Also known as mahi-mahi or dolphinfish, the dorado can be found just about anywhere there’s deep, open water, and generally congregate near flotsam (including floating kelp) on the water’s surface.
- Halibut – Halibut at Catalina Island are commonly caught over sandy bottoms in relatively shallow waters of 120 feet or less.
- Lingcod – A bottom feeder, lingcod are usually caught fishing close to rocky bottoms.
- Marlin – Two marlin species, striped and blue marlin, may appear in the offshore waters near Catalina. Striped marlin are known for being found near Avalon Bank, but blue marlin are considerably less common in the area and are a rare catch.
- Rockfish – Also called snapper or red snapper, these fish favor rocky bottoms and are generally caught in deep, rocky waters of 100 feet or more.
- Sand Bass – Sand bass are, although their name implies otherwise, usually caught over rocky bottoms and most often in depths under 100 feet.
- Tuna – Both bluefin and yellowfin tuna can be caught near Catalina during the summer months, and these species may show up just about anywhere there are deep, open waters.
- White Sea Bass – One of the most prized catches in these waters, white sea bass may show up at the edges of kelp forests, over rocky bottoms, and especially where these two types of environments meet. When squid spawn, these fish often congregate nearby.
- Yellowtail – Yellowtail are commonly found near flotsam, especially floating kelp, but they may also show up around kelp forests, reefs, or anywhere large schools of bait are present.
When is the best time to go fishing at Catalina Island?
Although some level of fishing takes place year-round, it’s generally best to go fishing at Catalina Island in the spring, summer, and fall.
- During spring, the bottom fish and the species thriving in the kelp forests begin to wake up and bite and will continue to do so through the fall months.
- The summer brings with it an influx of pelagic species, like the dorado and tunas.
- During the winter months, most of the action will be limited to calico bass and blue perch, though white sea bass, halibut, sheepshead, and even yellowtail may show up in the right conditions.
Just as important as the level of fishing activity, when considering when to fish at Catalina Island, one also needs to think about the weather. With such a long cruise through the open ocean, it’s important to time winter trips with good weather reports, and don’t press your luck especially if you’ll be in a relatively small boat or if you are renting a boat and thus aren’t very familiar with its individual quirks and/or operation.
Ready to go fishing at Catalina Island?
The tactics you’ll want to apply while fishing here will vary by species, but when it comes to catching many of these different fish, bait fishing with squid is the go-to method.
- Most of the fish found on rocky bottoms or in the kelp beds love to eat squid, and it’s usually readily available for purchase as bait.
- Another favored tactic, especially when fishing the edges of the kelp beds, is casting jigs.
- Still, many anglers will tip the hooks of their jig with a strip or chunk of squid for some added appeal when fishing for certain species, like rockfish. Jigs and jigging spoons may also be employed in deeper waters, particularly when fishing for species like yellowtail.
- For pelagic species, many anglers will fish with live baitfish like sardines.
- Chumming or live-bait chumming is often employed at the same time, especially by boats with enough livewell capacity to haul lots of extra bait.
- If the fish can be teased into a feeding frenzy by chumming or live bait chumming, many anglers also enjoy trying to fool them into striking jigs or poppers.
So: are you ready to point the bow west, and try fishing at Catalina Island? We certainly hope so. Because no matter what type of fishing you usually enjoy and no matter what waters you commonly cast in, fishing at Catalina belongs on every angler’s bucket list.
With over three decades of experience in marine journalism, Lenny Rudow has contributed to dozens of boating and fishing publications and websites ranging from BoatU.S. Magazine to BDOutdoors.com. Rudow is currently the Angler in Chief at Rudow’s FishTalk, he is a past president of Boating Writers International (BWI), a graduate of the Westlawn School of Yacht Design, and has won numerous BWI and OWAA writing awards.