Surf Fishing Safari For SoCal Anglers

corbina fishing
20 incher caught by my Surf Sensei, Randy Toji

In May of last year, I wrote an article about Hunting Big Beans, otherwise known as the California Corbina.  One of my favorite SoCal summer fishing options is chasing these fish in the skinny water at the beach’s edge.  I revel in pulling a big one out of the water near unaware beachgoers.

corbina fishing
PB 23 inch fish from 2019

One of the key insights of that article, something that allowed me to level up and start landing the bigger fish, was adding a length of mono between the braid and the fluorocarbon leader.  The mono acts as a shock absorber, helping the angler withstand the violent fight that ensues upon hooking into this legendary surf fish.  After writing that post, I enjoyed the fruits of that knowledge for the rest of last summer.  Getting a 20-inch fish or better happened eight times as I set my sights higher for a 25-incher.  It felt like it was only a matter of time before it would happen.  By August though, the crab started to dry up on the beach and the corbina mostly went with them.

I did get a shot at a 25 inch (maybe better) fish.  I targeted this one particular fish for at least 30 minutes before I coaxed it into biting my offering.  I was so focused on catching it, that I didn’t stop to change my leader after a knot formed in it.  When that fish bit and took off on it’s first run…POP!  Thanks for playing.

That experience has haunted me now for close to a year.

So I’ve been itching bad to get back out there.  I was stuck in Seattle when the corbina started showing up on the beaches of Southern California again.  I belong to a surf fishing group on Facebook, West Coast Surf Fishing.  I was struck with deep fishing envy as other members started posting their catches this year.  I vowed that as soon as I got back to SoCal, I’d make the most of it and hit the beach as often as possible.

I want to say that I went 7 times, at 4 different beaches (from Malibu to the South Bay), over the two weeks I spent in SoCal on this visit.  Doing that amount of fishing, concentrated on a single style/target, isn’t something I often get to do.  So despite the short amount of time, I feel good about sharing this information with you all.

First, let me mention that I caught all these fish on either my long light surf rod (9’6” Phenix Trifecta rated 6-12, ¼-3/4 oz.) paired with a Shimano Nasci 2500; or my new little Lamiglas Black Inshore (6’11” rated 6-10, and 1/8-5/8), paired with an older Shimano Stradic 1000.  The long rod is better to throw longer and the little rod is perfect for sight fishing in the really skinny water.  The reels are spooled with 30# braid to a longish topshot of 10# mono.  I Carolina rigged with a 1/8 to ½ ounce sliding sinker, plus a bead on the mainline, to a swivel, then a 4# leader of fluorocarbon to either a size 8 or 10 Owner Mosquito hook.  If I can get away using the bigger hook, it’s easier to remove.  But if the water is really clear, you may need the smaller hook to get bit.

Here are a few key takeaways from this visit…

This year they want the big crab

corbina fishing
Bigger is better…this year (R. Kyo picture)

Previously, I mistakenly thought that when it comes to sand crabs, bigger was always better.  Last year (or maybe the year before) one of the things I learned was sometimes that rule didn’t always hold true.  I think it has to do with what is the prevailing forage in the area they’re feeding.  There were times where the big crab didn’t get bit, but once I changed to a smaller size, or a double medium or even a bunch of tiny crabs…that’s what they wanted.  This year though, based on what I saw and from what other surf anglers have told me, bigger does seem better right now.

The most productive areas have both bait and structure

surf fishing
Pulled this one out of a hole in front of a crab laden beach

It sounds basic, but sometimes we need reminders.  Plus, when you’re in the middle of fishing, it is easy to run into some fish and linger too long in a spot that doesn’t satisfy these criteria.  At one spot up in Malibu, I found an area that had a hill full of big sand crabs.  Off sand crab hill,  receding waves washed out crabs through a little gulley.  The gulley runoff emptied into a trough submerged in frothy, brown water.  I got several bites just pitching a bait into that outgoing wash.

My favorite time is early in the incoming tide

For a couple of reasons.  It’s just easier to fish because you can keep your bait in the right zone without as much weight.  Less weight has the added bonus of making it easier to sight fish corbina (a big splash disperses them).  Also, from the fishes’ perspective, they seem to feed more opportunistically.  Going back to the “crab hill” area I referenced before, early in the tide it was great.  Later in the tide, I watched fish ride the higher waves up the hill and do headstands as they burrowed their nose in the sand…ignoring my easy to eat bait on a hook.

So how did it go, Joe?

surf fishing SoCalI had several multi-bean sessions and managed to pull 4 fish 20-inches or better over the course of my visit.  On my final session last Saturday (July 18), I had a chance to fish with my buddy, Randy Toji (left). We hit my favorite South Bay spot during the outgoing tide through most of the incoming tide.  I didn’t see the same amount of fish there as I had gotten used to seeing last year.  The ones we did see were roaming far and wide as there were few exposed crab beds.  The bite was scratchy…at least it was for me.  Toward the end of our session, Randy was stomping me 5 to 1.  I wanted to fish one last spot, hoping that the crush of beachgoers weren’t making it impossible to fish.  I received a lucky draw when I found that the lifeguards had flagged off the area next to a jetty that I call, Crab Corner.  Sure enough, I observed fish in the spot.  In quick succession, I got two fish to bite.

The second and last fish of the day turned out to be special.

surf fishing SoCalI got picked up right next to the rocks.  Immediately, I ran away from them and pulled the fish away from that danger.  The fish complied and took off in the opposite direction toward the crowd of people in the water.  I ran in the opposite direction back toward the jetty to pull it away from them.  It revealed itself in the trough, and I tried to pull it up the beach with the next big wave.  I couldn’t move it.  It was facing away from the beach and the line was pinned underneath its body, leading me to believe I had it foul hooked.  As it turned out, it wasn’t foul hooked, it was just a big fish and wasn’t ready to be caught just yet.  I finally got it in, measured it, and found that I had a new personal best 23 and 1/2 inch fish!

It’s the height of corbina season now.  Hopefully, this information helps you catch a few.  Good luck if you get out there.

Joe Sarmiento is the founder and primary writer of the So Cal Salty blog. The blog covers saltwater fishing, primarily aboard the many sportfishing boats of Southern California. In addition to writing his blog, Joe's writing has appeared in Western Outdoor News, The Log and Griffin Media. Joe is ...