Time to Hit the Road, two Summer Surf Fishing Road Trips

When it comes to summer, I like to pack the car and skedaddle out of town on a surf fishing road trip.  The dilemma I’m always presented with is whether to go north or south.  Summer offers great fishing in both directions with a better shot at slab perch up north while there’s always an eight-pound corbina waiting for me down south. 

We’ll look at four of my favorite summer surf fishing trips and everything they have to offer.  Today, we’ll follow the swell and start down south with one of my favorite surf fishing spots in Carlsbad, then move north to discover Santa Barbara County’s Carpinteria State Beach. 

South Carlsbad State Beach

South Carlsbad State Beach is just one of the many great surf fishing spots in San Diego County.  This state park offers year round fishing.  Located in Northern San Diego, Carlsbad features swimming, surfing, skin-diving, fishing, camping and picnicking. The large bluff top campground is very popular, especially in summer. Stairs lead to the beach. 

Located at 7201 Carlsbad Blvd. in Carlsbad, California, this State Park offers bluff top campsites with beautiful views of the Pacific.   

You’ll find great fishing here for barred surfperch, walleye surfperch, corbina, halibut, both spotfin and yellowfin croaker, sharks and corvina.  This spot is mostly sand beach with a few small rocks.  A light action 8’ rod matched with a 6lb – 8lb spinning reel makes for a good setup. 

For bait, look on the beach between the access stairs during high tide periods.  Many times the crabs will be located near areas of rocks.  Other baits like lug/ bloodworms, ghost shrimp, mussel and clams work well here for bait.  Use the Carolina rig with a 3/4th ounce egg sinker and a 20” fluorocarbon leader.  A sharp, #2 Owner mosquito or Gamakatsu split shot hook, with a slow retrieval toward shore is what gets you bit. 

When fishing, the best idea is to stroll the beach and fan cast for fish.  There is very little structure here so most fish will be in holes or the inshore trough.   

Many times you will encounter kelp here.  So much in fact, you won’t be able to effectively fish.  But don’t fret!  Fish this area from low tide to high tide.  I like to start about one hour after low tide (especially in the early morning) and fish as the tide rises.  That way most of the kelp is still on the beach.  Both the rising tide which attracts fish to the crab beds on the beach and the reduced amount of kelp and eel grass make this a fun place to fish.   

Try casting to both the inshore trough at medium and high tides and to the outside trough at peak low tide.  A good place to get a view of the beach is from the cliff-side campgrounds above.  Take a few minutes during low tide and scan the beach from above.  Look for troughs and holes then line those spots up with something above the cliffs so you may go back at high tide and fish right in that trough.  Some of the biggest surf fish on the coast will be found here. 

And one last thing: Just south of the campground is Ponto Jetty.  Although the inside of this estuary is closed to fishing, the outside jetty provides some great fishing for perch and corbina.  This spot is also known for kicking out a few orangemouth and shortfin corvina commonly taken on Lucky Craft Flash minnows, Rapala X-Raps or Krocodiles.  If you’re really lucky you’ll encounter one of the dozen or so striped bass taken here every year.

Carpinteria State Beach

Carpinteria State Beach is just south of Santa Barbara.  This is one of my favorite places to camp and fish.  It’s the only place I’ve ever camped where you don’t need to take a lick of food.  Within a short walk from the park you will find Linden Ave.  This is the “main street” of Carpinteria where you’ll find dozens of restaurants, galleries and stores all laid out on a beautifully landscaped avenue.  Sports bars, food establishments and entertainment are just a short walk from the campgrounds. 

The park itself is large and has over two hundred campsites.  Camping here is great for both motor homes and tent campers.  The park offers interpretive programs weekly where you can learn about both the history and the environment of the area from park rangers.  As with most of our State parks, camping fills up quickly and a reservation is required. 

Carpinteria State Beach is located between the Salt Marsh Reserve to the north and the Cliff Bluff Open Space area to the south.  The beach that runs between these ends offers three miles of great surf fishing for perch, bass, shovelnose guitarfish, seabass, corbina and an occasional silver salmon. 

Fishing here is great for a variety of surf fish.  The beach is made up of both rocks and sandy areas.  Fishermen hike in both directions from the park to look for fish along miles of beach.  To the north near the Salt Marsh you will find good fishing for both perch and halibut.  The estuary opening to the ocean is an especially good place to target halibut at peak low and peak high tide.  Use a Krocodile, Rapala or Lucky Craft here. 

To the south there are many places to find good fishing.  Just in front of the campground you’ll find excellent perch fishing.  Throughout the summer, early morning and late evening can be spectacular perch fishing with a bite almost every cast.  The beach here is generally loaded with sand crabs which make great bait for perch.  Also, due to the large number of sand crabs you’ll find quite a few corbina, especially in late summer. I’ve been surprised by the size of some of the corbina I’ve seen here, so be prepared for anything.

Farther to the south and around the point (which can be identified by the massive amount of coal tar that covers it), you will find a series of rocks and an active oil pier.  Both provide fantastic habitat for perch.  If you are really searching for a trophy perch, this is where you will find barred, calico and walleye perch. 

I would use natural baits in this area (although halibut do hit the lure here) like ghost shrimp, sand crabs and various worms to target the largest perch.  Find rock areas just off shore and exposed by the tide.  Cast just in front of these areas with a 1/4th ounce sliding sinker on the Carolina rig and a short 12” leader.  Perch use the eddy circulations around these rocks to find food.  Search for the big fish here but be ready to reel fast or they will take you into the rocks. 

Great fishing spots are north, south and in front of the campground.  Take time during low tide to walk the beach.  Look for the numerous rock piles to the south and estuary features to the north.  Find rock clusters at low tide, line them up with a landmark on the cliffs or shore and return at high tide to fish there.   

When you encounter kelp, walk until you find where it ends.  There will usually be a break between clumps of debris.  Fish in between these masses of kelp and along their edges.  This is where you’ll find the fish!