Spotted Bay Bass Fishing: Everything You Need to Know

For many avid Southern California anglers, Spotted Bay Bass, commonly referred to as spotties, were the gateway drug that led them into a lifelong passion for fishing. Being readily accessible, easy to fish for, and just plain fun; spotties are the perfect way to both be introduced to saltwater fishing and hone your skills. However, do not fool these fish as a simple pastime in comparison to other more labor-intensive species.

Fishermen who have spent years understanding the behavior and eating habits of spotties continue to show their prowess and skills in Spotted Bay Bass tournaments held throughout the year. I believe the best way to describe spottie fishing is: “easy to learn, hard to master.”

Habitat

In contrast to many popular Southern California gamefish such as yellowtail, bluefin tuna, and largemouth bass, which can be found throughout the world, spotties inhabit a relatively small geographic area. They can be found throughout the bays and estuaries of Southern California and scattered across the Baja coast. As ambush predators, they prefer to live in areas that provide ample cover so that they can effectively feed on unsuspecting bait. Rock structure, docks, grass beds, and seawalls all provide the ideal habitat for them to flourish.

Due to their proximity to hard structure, it is essential to match the proper line weight to the conditions you encounter. Despite only growing to a couple of pounds, the first rush of energy that spotties get when hooked is plenty to pull you into rocks or dock pilings and break you off. If you are fishing around rock structures or seawalls, I would suggest a 15-17lb leader minimum. For docks, a 12-15lb leader will suffice. And finally, for grass beds, an 8-12lb leader works well.

Spotted Bay Bass caught on dark sleeper

Gear

Fishing gear is one area where it is quite easy to rack up a considerable sized bill at any local tackle shop. Thankfully, spotted bay bass fishing does not need to be too expensive (although there is something great about fishing high-end specialized gear). I recommend starting with a 7′-7’6″ medium power fast action rod either in spinning or casting. I much prefer casting rods for this style of fishing but if you are unfamiliar with using a baitcaster, they can rapidly frustrate the learning process when dealing with constant backlashes.

For reels, you can either find a good cheap reel at a local shop for roughly $50-80 and plan on replacing it every year or two as the saltwater erodes at it. Or spend a little more at first ($150+) on a sealed and/or saltwater-rated reel that you can care for over many years. Whichever route you take is perfectly acceptable and is bound to get the job done.

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Lures

Now, this is the fun part. What I love about spottie fishing is the incredible variety of lures that you can use to catch them. Swimbaits, crankbaits, jigs, tailspins, A-rigs, underspins, jerkbaits, texas-rigs, metal jigs, glidebaits, double-rigs, and the list goes on… As you can see, they will eat just about anything. From fishing micro soft plastics to large expensive glidebaits, if there is a type of lure you want to fish for spotties, chances are they will eat it. What this also means is that you can learn how to fish a variety of lures when fishing for spotties.

When I first began I had a few lures I would use that I was told would work. As I caught fish and gained more confidence in them, I branched out to try new lures. Once again gained confidence in those and began the process over again. As you experiment, tweak and spend more time on the water, you will understand how certain lures outperform others in different conditions and environments. This is the key to becoming a better spottie fisherman.

If you are just getting into spottie fishing and want a few lures to start with I would recommend the Damiki Axeblade in 3/4 oz (found at most SoCal tackle shops and online), a 3/8 to 1/2 oz jighead with a 3-4″ swimbait on the back (I like Warbaits jigheads and MC Swimbaits), and the Megabass Dark Sleeper (I like the 1/2 oz version in either Donko or Haze color) as a slower presentation.

Spotted Bay Bass Lure Picture with Damiki Axeblade, Megabass Dark Sleeper and MC Swimbait

Conditions

What can make or break a session of spottie fishing is often the conditions. Water temperature and tidal movements often have the most notable impacts on spottie fishing. For the more experienced fishermen, moon phase, wind, and cloud conditions will also change how one fishes for spotties.

By understanding how these conditions affect the behavior of the fish, you can make almost any day a good day on the water. For this article, I will just briefly touch on my experience with water temperature and tidal movements as in the future there will be a more in-depth analysis of conditions in relation to spottie fishing.

Water temperature greatly influences the activity level and metabolism of fish. As the water cools off, the fish slow down. To account for this as a fisherman, I put down most of my fast-moving baitfish imitations and opt for slower crustacean baits. Jigs and slowly retrieved swimbaits will excel during the winter and early spring months as spotties hunker down in the colder water.

Spotted Bay Bass release splash

Late spring to fall is my favorite time for spotted bay bass fishing. With warm water and lots of bait, spotties are up in the water column and love to chase down a fleeing crankbait, jerkbait, or A-rig. If you are able to find spotties feeding on a concentrated ball of bait during these seasons, you can experience the closest thing to a bluefin tuna foamer in the bay with spotties fighting against one another to crush your lure.

Tidal movement typically has a very important impact on fish behavior and spotties are no exception. When looking at potential days to go fishing, I try to find a day with a moderate to large tidal swing (4-6 feet). With both smaller tides and very large tides, I find that spotties become lock-jawed. Despite exceptions that occur, as a general rule of thumb, this is what I have found.

When choosing which side of the tide to fish, I have always had my best luck fishing the incoming tide. I will generally start at the low slack and notice the bite steadily pick up as the water begins to move and the fish bite consistently throughout the swing. However, it is definitely worth being said that if you have free time to fish, go fish! Not everyone has the luxury to perfectly pick the days and times to fish so go whenever you can and who knows, you might discover something new!

Ira was born and raised in Portland, Oregon where he first found his love of fishing with trout, salmon, and steelhead. Over the years he grew to target any species he could find in the Pacific Northwest including albacore, musky, and sturgeon. After graduating high school, Ira moved to San Diego to...