What’s Biting in So Cal’s Surf?

You’re not alone if you think the bite is off to a slow start this summer. You’re also not alone if you think it’s off to a great start. Why are some people doing well while others are hardly catching? Well, it could be your location, your timing, your target, and/or tactics, or it could be something completely different. My bet? It’s just the unique signature every year’s seasons bring along with the fact that some fish are biting better than others at the moment.

Let’s take a moment and talk about what the bite has been like in the early goings this summer and what to expect as we dive deeper into peak season.

Some fish are certainly biting better than others right now so it pays dividends to learn how to fish for all the different species that So Cal’s surf has to offer. Lately, lure fishing has been hot while Carolina Rigging with sand crabs has been a bit on the slower side of things.

Lure fishing: Halibut, white seabass, calico, and more

The species that take on lures have been off to a hot start. Timing your sessions around the right tides, finding the right structure, and finding the baitfish have cumulatively been the ticket. I’ve had a good amount of success finding the baitfish specifically while fishing during and around grunion runs.

Now fishing with lures in the surf can be a challenge if you’re just starting out, but it’s more similar to other styles of fishing than you might think. If you’ve done any amount of bass fishing in your life, you’ll know if you find the structure and find the bait… you’ll find the fish. It’s the same in the surf.

This spring and early summer have provided one of the better halibut seasons we’ve seen in a while. Recently, I’ve fished a few outings right around grunion runs and witnessed halibut jumping out of the water, absolutely crushing bait. In fact, this behavior became so aggressive one evening that my buddy and I successfully sight fished for halibut.

Which lures are working well? 

You can’t go wrong with a Lucky Craft FM 110, but many anglers have been scoring big using swimbaits in the surf. Depending on where you’re fishing and how clean the water is (in terms of weeds), swimbaits rigged weedless are a reliable option when the LC can’t handle the conditions. 

One trusted lure for me has been the Keitech Fat Swing Impact 4.8-inch Swimbait paired with either a half-ounce Warbaits Weedless Jighead or a weighted swimbait hook rigged Texas Rig with a half-ounce bullet weight. Some other include the BioSpawn ExoSwim, the Berkley Power Swimmer, and a few others.

Corbina, spotfin croaker, and the other usual suspects

As for the usual suspects, this is where the early goings have been a little slow. There’s been no lack of sand crab presence as those little critters have made it back to the sandy beaches in some really good numbers. So, if the bait isn’t the issue, what is?

Yellowfin croaker have been the hottest biters as of late with the majority hitting on full casts and best luck being an hour before sunset through a few minutes before last light. 

The real story has been the lack of big corbina and big spotfin croaker. They’re being caught here and there, but in comparison to the last two summers, they’ve practically been MIA.

So, what’s the story on corbina and spotfin and will they show up in numbers soon?

Truthfully, I think we may be experiencing a “normal” summer. Or at least what it was like back in 2018 and 2019. In looking back at my logs, 2020 and 2021 featured abnormally quick starts for both corbina and spotfin croaker. Specifically, 2020 featured more spotfin croaker than I can remember and 2021 wasn’t far behind. 

In 2018 and 2019, it wasn’t until the last week in June and the first week in July (respectively) that big corbina started showing up in the shallows in numbers. And, during both years, spotfin arrived in numbers about 3 weeks after the big beans. 

So, what should we expect and how should we prepare?

I’d expect things to heat up nicely in early July. Keep fishing and keep your eye on the shallows. When you start seeing fish action in the shallows, you can assume we’ve entered peak season. 

In the meantime, while you’re waiting for the bite to turn on, hone your skills. Reading the surf gives you the ability to find soft structure that may change on a day-to-day basis. It’s especially valuable when fishing a sandy beach for corbina, yellowfin croaker, and spotfin croaker as it allows you to show up at any tide and fish to the structure.

For lure fishing, reading the surf comes in handy there too, but another piece of advice would be to scope out your local beach at low tide and create a mental map of the permanent structure that exists. Figure out what tides provide the best coverage and fish to the tides.

Inevitably, as you put the work in and practice your tactics, the bite will turn on. And the best part about it is the fact that you won’t be waiting for someone to tell you the bite’s hot. You’ll be there when it turns on, and you’ll know exactly what to do.

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: surffishingsocalsd.com centered around surf fishing in Southern California, and he began blogging every week. Since that time his expertise has grown s...