Sea Monsters! The 10 Biggest Trophy Fish Ever Caught in California

Written by Cindy Rasmussen
Published: October 16, 2022
© CSNafzger/Shutterstock.com
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One look at the long coast of California and you know there has to be excellent fishing off the shores. But don’t forget about the miles of rivers and streams for trout and salmon fishing as well as hundreds of amazing lakes. Anglers in California can enjoy a day on Lake Tahoe or charter a boat out of Long Beach for some deep sea fishing, the options are endless. If you want to know the targets to beat for the top trophy fish in the state, here are the 10 biggest fish ever caught in California.

Freshwater Records

5) Striped Bass: 67 pounds 8 ounces

Striped bass
The largest striped bass in California weighed more than 67 pounds!

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Striped bass are temperate bass, different than your typical black bass like largemouth and smallmouth bass. Stripers, as they are called get much larger than black bass with some reaching weights well over 50 pounds. The biggest striped bass ever caught in California was a 67 pound 8 ounce striper caught by Hank Ferguson. This trophy sized bass was pulled from the O’Neill Forebay in Merced County on May 7, 1992.

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Ferguson’s striped bass broke the world record at the time! The current world record is just a couple pounds heavier held by James Bramlett with a 69 pound 9 ounce striper caught in Alabama. Bramlett caught his world record breaker on February 28, 2013 and that record stands today. Ferguson still holds the record for the biggest striper in California, at least for now.

4) Flathead Catfish: 72 pounds 14 ounces

Flathead catfish
Trophy-sized flathead catfish can reach around 4.5 feet long!

©M. Huston/Shutterstock.com

There are a couple of catfish on our list, starting with a trophy-sized flathead. The biggest flathead caught in California was a 72 pound 14 ouncer caught by Billy Joe Potter on the Colorado River. Potter landed this big catfish on April 22, 2003 while fishing in Riverside County. His catfish measured 53 ½ inches long (that’s almost 4 ½ feet) and it had a girth of 36 inches (three feet around!). Now that is a good sized catch!

3) Chinook Salmon: 88 pounds

Largest salmon - chinook salmon
The chinook salmon record in California dates all the way back to 1979!

©Kevin Cass/Shutterstock.com

California is known for having some of the best salmon fishing in the country. There are multiple chinook salmon runs along the western coast with salmon hatching in the rivers and streams, then swimming to spend most of their lives in the oceans, then returning to the rivers and streams to spawn before completing their life cycle.

The freshwater record for the biggest chinook salmon in California is an 88 pounder, caught by O. Lindberg on the Sacramento River. Their catch dates back to November 21, 1979. Records are also kept for coho, kokanee and pink salmon but this chinook one was the biggest by far.

2) Blue Catfish: 113 pounds 5 ounces

Blue Catfish
The largest blue catfish in California weighed 113 pounds 5 ounces

©M Huston/Shutterstock.com

Another catfish record goes to a blue catfish caught near San Diego in the San Vicente Reservoir. This is a popular recreational lake in the Cuyamaca Mountains, about 25 miles NE of San Diego. On July 24, 2008, Steve Oudomsouk was fishing off Quaide Point when he reeled in a 113 pound 5 ounce blue cat. The previous record was also caught in the same reservoir but Steve’s record crushed the previous record by 12 pounds! The old record was a 101 pound blue cat from 2000, held by Roger Rohrbouck. Having an 8-year record isn’t too shabby.

1) White Sturgeon: 468 pounds

White Sturgeon
The largest freshwater fish in California is the massive white sturgeon which weighed 468 pounds!

©CSNafzger/Shutterstock.com

Although a 113 pound catfish is impressive it comes nowhere close to the biggest freshwater fish ever caught in California. In the Sacramento-San Joaquin River system lives the biggest freshwater fish in North America, white sturgeon. Sturgeon are sometimes refered to as ancient fish due to their dinosaur-like appearance with bony plates along their back. The biggest white sturgeon was caught by Joey Pallotta on July 9, 1983. He was out fishing in the San Pablo Bay when he landed this record breaker. Just how big was his catch? 468 pounds! You can see why that record has stood for nearly 40 years.

Saltwater Records

5) Swordfish: 452 pounds 8 ounces

Fastest Sea Animal: Swordfish
Swordfish are a popular sport fish of the billfish category, though elusive. They are elongated, round-bodied, and lose all teeth and scales by adulthood.

©Stock High angle view/Shutterstock.com

Now for the saltwater records, one of the popular deep sea fish anglers are after are prized swordfish. You are probably familiar with these sword-snouted fish that look quite dangerous to haul into your boat. Swordfish average around 9 to 10 feet long so you can understand the draw. For the best swordfishing you want to head out between the mainland and the Channel Islands.

The biggest swordfish ever caught in California waters was a 452 pound 8 ounce swordfish caught by David M. Denholm while fishing by Catalina Island. The record was set on September 30, 2003 in Los Angeles County. Of all the billfish, the swordfish has the longest with some being 3 to 4 feet long, and that’s just the sword!

4) Giant Sea Bass: 563 pounds 8 ounces

Black Sea Bass
The largest giant sea bass in the world – weighing more than 563 pounds – was caught in California!

©iStock.com/KGrif

With the word “giant” in your name you have to assume you have an edge over other species and giant sea bass do not disappoint. The biggest giant sea bass ever caught in California is also the biggest giant sea bass in the world! The California record and world record is a 563 pound 8 ounce bass caught by James McAdam Jr., caught back on August 20, 1968. McAdams caught this record breaker while fishing off the shores of Anacapa Island in Ventura County. This record will have to stand because the state now prohibits the taking of giant (black) sea bass, and a few other species that need to be monitored.

3) Thresher Shark: 575 pounds

A pelagic thresher shark, Alopias pelagicus, swims by a coral reef in the Phillipines.
Thresher sharks are easily distinguished by their elongated tails.

©Shane Gross/Shutterstock.com

Purposefully fishing for sharks may seem unwise but there are multiple opportunities for shark fishing in California. You can book private charters that provide all the gear and experience needed to land a trophy sized shark. Shark that are targeted include threshers, makos, hammerheads and blue sharks.

The biggest thresher shark ever caught in California was a 575 pound thresher caught near San Diego. Daniel D. Lara caught the thresher on May 26, 2007 while fishing just north of San Diego by Carlsbad.  Watch out for the tail on thresher sharks! Take a look at a photo of one and you will understand why!

2) Blue Marlin: 692 pounds

Fastest Water Animals
Marlins are among the fastest marine swimmers, reaching ~110 km/h (68 mph) in short bursts.

©iStock.com/LUNAMARINA

Marlins are similar to swordfish, with a long bill that is round compared to the flat ones of swordfish. They are also extremely fast, one of the fastest fish in the sea. The biggest blue marlin ever caught in California was a 692 pound marlin caught by A. Hamman near the Balboa Peninsula in Orange County. This is one of the oldest state fishing records dating back to August 18, 1931. That makes this a 91-year-old record and counting!

The most recent saltwater record in California was set just a year ago on September 11, 2021. Floyd Sparks was fishing off the Tanner Banks when he caught a record breaking bluefin tuna! His rare catch weighed in at 395 pounds 6 ounces. Bluefins near the 400 pound mark are almost unheard of. Guess there are new records to be made if you just know where to look.

1) Shortfin Mako Shark: 1,098 pounds 12 ounces

Short fin mako shark swimming just under the surface, about 50 kilometers off the Western Cape coast in South Africa.
The shortfin mako shark is one of the fastest sharks in the world

©wildestanimal/Shutterstock.com

On to the biggest trophy fish ever caught in California. The biggest fish is also one of the fastest. Shortfin makos are the fastest shark in the ocean reaching speeds up to 46 miles per hour. If you can catch one they also put up a good fight. The biggest mako tipped the scales at more than a thousand pounds! A 1,098 pound 12 ounce shortfin mako was caught by Sean Gizatullin on July 24, 2010. Gizatullin was fishing off Anacapa Island (same area that the biggest giant sea bass was caught) when he hooked the record breaking mako. Catching a thousand pound shark certainly carries some bragging rights!

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The Featured Image

White Sturgeon
White sturgeon fishing catch and release
© CSNafzger/Shutterstock.com

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About the Author

I'm a Wildlife Conservation Author and Journalist, raising awareness about conservation by teaching others about the amazing animals we share the planet with. I graduated from the University of Minnesota-Morris with a degree in Elementary Education and I am a former teacher. When I am not writing I love going to my kids' soccer games, watching movies, taking on DIY projects and running with our giant Labradoodle "Tango".

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Sources
  1. IGFA, Available here: https://igfa.org/igfa-world-records-search/?search_type=CommonNameSummary&search_term_1=Bass%2C+giant+sea
  2. California Shark Fishing, Available here: https://californiasharkfishing.com/
  3. California Fishing Records, Available here: https://wildlife.ca.gov/Fishing/Records