No bite is identical when it comes to the feel of a fish picking up your bait, but it’s safe to say each species has its own tendencies. Many seasoned anglers can actually identify the type of species they have on their line just by the feel of the bite and the fight. Can you?

Yellowfin Croaker

We’ll start with the most obvious (in my opinion). Yellowfin croaker have a tendency to hit way harder than their size, but they lack fighting strength. They often show no hesitation in taking your bait and they absolutely crush it! After a good initial pull, you may feel like the fight’s over as you reel in a little bit of weight with a few headshakes here and there. Sometimes, there’s a last-minute burst as they enter the shallows, but even the bigger models that can run a little but seem to never actually engage your drag. It’s just “borderline” running when they run.

Spotfin Croaker and Corbina

Spotfin Croaker are a bit trickier. Sometimes they hit like yellowfin croaker and then fight like… well, like spotfin. And by that, I mean they run like there’s no tomorrow. But, while sometimes they’ll hammer it, more often than not, they’ll feel around a little bit as they suck your hook up, before going on a really good run. They’re bite and fight are very similar to corbina.

If it’s a corbina that’s smaller than 13 inches, it’s possible to mix them up with a surfperch or yellowfin croaker. But, once it passes that 14-inch mark, it’s almost unmistakable that you don’t have a surfperch or yellowfin croaker on.

If I had to distinguish a difference in the fight of these two fish (corbina and spotfin), it’d have to be that corbina may be a little more sporadic while spotfin make slower but stronger movements, whether it be head shakes or runs. But, I still have trouble distinguishing between these two until I get a visual.


Surfperch are an interesting bite to decipher. More than anything, it’s a seasonal thing. When I’m catching the larger models. I tend to know what I’m catching because it’s winter or early spring, and surfperch are all that’s biting (aside from halibut for the most part).

But, when the smaller ones are out (both winter and summer), the most tell-tale way to identify a surfperch is by all the tiny bites you missed prior to finally hooking up. Surfperch don’t have the biggest mouths, and they can be pretty investigative toward what they put in their mouths. So, if you notice you’re getting lots of small taps that never fully take your bait and hook, my bet would be you’ve got a lot of small surfperch having a feast.


This is one of the easiest to identify. Many of the stingrays that I’ve caught have gone unnoticed until I need to tighten my line. Not most of them, but many of them – certainly more than any other species. They will tend to cruise along the bottom and sometimes sit in one place. So, if they find your bait, they might be content to just suck it up and sit back down. Then, when you decide it’s time to check your bait, you either feel the dead weight with a little bit of movement or sometimes they put up a little fight for you. Rarely do you feel anything that might resemble a headshake, but I have been fooled a couple of times before.

Sharks vs. Rays

I won’t talk about light tackle for these guys as the baby leopard sharks will rarely be your first guess when you hook up on a sand crab. But, if you’re sharking, you should be able to quickly identify whether what you have on your line is a shark or a ray.

If you hook up on a shark, your rod will likely be bouncing pretty hard and sporadically. You’ll feel a lot of head shakes and even some surface-breaking action. Soupfin sharks are especially known to go airborne and change direction on a dime. This is where it’s imperative you keep tension and allow them to run when they want to.

Bat rays will be a much smoother fight and often a very direct and powerful hit. They’re also likely to be much stronger and have more endurance than a shark might. When you cross the 40-inch mark and especially the 50” mark in terms of wingspan, these guys can absolutely wreck you. They can go on runs that just don’t seem to stop. Shark runs, again, will be much more sporadic, typically in bursts, and won’t last as long as bat rays.

The one ray that might confuse the heck out of you is the shovelnose guitarfish. You could go an entire 10 minute fight thinking you had a 5-foot leopard only to get it within a few inches of water and realize you still can’t see whatever you have. That’s because it has all the power and sporadic movements of a leopard shark, but it’s flatter build allows it to fight in just a few inches of water. These things can also grow just as long as leopard sharks.


Halibut also have a very unique bite and fight. Usually, when you target halibut, you’re fishing with lures, so I’ll speak on that. They’ll often strike very quickly and sit right back down where they hit. If they’re heavy enough, it’ll feel like your lure got stuck on a rock until you feel a head shake or two, followed by a massive run. If they’re a bit smaller, sometimes you feel that quick strike and then you feel like you’re reeling in some kelp as it slowly comes your way. Either way, the mellower you can keep that fish, the better. If you keep it smooth, they’ll glide right in, but one wrong move and boom! Headshakes everywhere, surface action, runs, and all sorts of movement that commonly results in a spat hook.

The surf line isn’t always sand, rock outcroppings near shore can house some trophy-sized Calicos

Sandbass and Calico

Sandbass and calico are like the yellowfin croaker of lure fishing. They’ll hit with a lot of power and make a solid initial pull. This pull, however, is straight down into the rocks or whatever structure they can find. They often snag a couple of times on their way in (depending on where you’re fishing), and while they don’t run much, they certainly feel like they’re fighting a bit better than yellowfin croaker just with their headshakes etc.

White Seabass

White seabass will hit similarly to halibut, but once you settle into the fight, it’s much different. It’ll be a quick and decisive strike, followed by a little lull, and then an all-out run for dear life! Sometimes it’s straight out, other times it’s down and out or side to side. It can actually be compared to a really good spotfin or corbina after the initial hit, but with more capability of runs that go straight out to sea.

Get out there and get on some of our surf species.

– Nick

Nick has been an avid angler in the surf of Southern California since 2014. A hobby that quickly became a passion. In 2019, he created the website: centered around surf fishing in Southern California, and he began blogging every week. Since that time his expertise has grown s...