The 8 Best Fish to Catch in California this Summer

Written by Cindy Rasmussen
Updated: October 10, 2022
Image Credit Kevin Cass/Shutterstock.com
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When it comes to variety of fishing, California really has a lot to offer. Are you up for some deep sea fishing? Maybe some fly fishing along the cool streams off Lake Tahoe? You can’t overlook Salmon fishing in Northern California or trying to catch a trophy Tuna in Southern Cal. Grab your gear and a cool drink, here are the 8 best fish to catch in California this summer.

Marlin

Black marlin swimming at the Great Barrier Reef
Marlins can be more than 500 pounds and have a swordfish-like snout.

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You may think of fishing for Marlin in Cabo, but deep sea fishing for Marlin off the coast of southern California is also quite popular. Marlins are a long torpedo-shaped fish with a swordfish-like snout. They have a sailed dorsal fin and put up quite a fight when trying to reel one in. Blue and striped marlins are some of the largest of their species and you clearly need special fishing equipment to bring in a 500+ pound fish. There are multiple sport fishing charters in the San Diego area and the Los Angeles coast. The California record for the largest blue marlin was a 692 lbs. marlin caught by A. Hamman back in the summer of 1931!

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Rainbow, brown and brook trout

What Do Trout Eat - Rainbow Trout Bursting from Surface
Rainbow trout are popular fish in northern California.

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Some of the best trout fishing is in Northern California in the San Francisco Bay area, but you can also find amazing trout fishing in the streams around Lake Tahoe. The Truckee River which flows out of Lake Tahoe is great for rainbow, brown and brook trout. Not far from Lake Tahoe in Markleeville you will find the East and West Carson Rivers where the fly fishing is excellent for trout.

Halibut

Fisherman in yellow slicker carries a large halibut on his shoulder
One of the best fish to catch in California this summer is halibut!

Alexey Savchuk/Shutterstock.com

All along the coast you will find a wide range of halibut that you can fish from shore, one of the piers or take out a charter. The Pacific Halibut are in the waters off the northern shore of California, while California Halibut are along most of the coastline. Halibuts are large flat fish, almost a diamond shaped fish that is fished for its tasty meat. Pacific Halibut can get to be 8 feet long, 5 feet wide and weigh 500 pounds. California halibut are smaller, closer to the 50-100 pound range with the two record breaking California Halibuts being caught off Santa Rosa Island. Maybe a good place to start!

Yellowtail Amberjack

A popular catch in Southern California is the Yellowtail Amberjack (or Yellowtail for short). They are blueish fish with yellow tail and bronze-colored stripe along their body. They don’t seem to be picky eaters and are attracted by a variety of bait making them a little easier to catch. Yellowtails can get to be 8 feet long and weigh 80 pounds or more. The largest yellowtail on record in California was caught off Santa Barbara Island, just like the largest halibut. Sounds like a lucky fishing spot to me. Definitely one of the 8 best fish to catch in California this summer!

Bass: Largemouth, smallmouth, spotted and redeye

Largemouth Bass from Lake
The largest largemouth bass caught in California was a whopping 21 lbs. 12 oz.

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Some of the best bass fishing in California is on Clear Lake, the largest inland lake in the state. There you can find a variety of largemouth, smallmouth, spotted and redeye bass. Most bass are freshwater fish that can hide in deep waters along the edges of lakes. They also like to hang out around dams and reservoirs. Some of these dams are where the deepest waters are providing optimal conditions for bass fishing. The largest largemouth bass on record was caught on Castaic Lake in Los Angeles and weighed 21 lbs. 12 oz. Great Bass fishing lakes include:

  • Clear Lake
  • Castaic Lake
  • Casitas Lake
  • Lake Murray
  • Bullard’s Bar

Striped Bass

Striped Bass
Stripers live mostly in the ocean but migrate to the freshwater rivers and streams to spawn.

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Another favorite bass to fish are stripers or striped bass. They spend most of their life in the ocean but come into the rivers to spawn. They are most abundant in the summer along the Sacramento River and California Delta. There are also some stripers that live in landlocked lakes and reservoirs, so fishing those areas are also great options. Average Stripers can get to be 5-10 pounds and are easy to recognize with their striped bodies. They spend the winter in the San Francisco bay area but move to the river and Delta in spring so they should be plentiful by summer. The largest striped bass in California is a 67 lbs. 8 oz striper pulled from O’Neill Forebay which is landlocked reservoir in central California.

Tuna

Happy angler holding big tuna fish
One of the best fish to catch in California this summer is Tuna. There are Yellowfin, Bluefin and Albacore Tuna off the southern coast of California.

Piotr Wawrzyniuk/Shutterstock.com

Now we are talking about some California specific giant catches that are definitely one of the 8 best fish to catch in California this summer. Deep sea Tuna fishing is an exciting adventure and land some pretty good sized trophy fish. Southern California is known for its Yellowfin tuna but you may also come across Bluefin or Albacore Tuna. Because tuna like warm waters, summer is the best time to fish for them off the shores of California. Here are the record breaking Tuna from California:

  • Yellowfin: 265 lbs., Oceanside, San Diego, 2015, Bo Scanlon
  • Bluefin: 395 lbs. 6 oz., Tanner Bank, Los Angelese, 2021, Floyd Sparks
  • Albacore: 90 lbs, Santa Cruz, 1997, Don Giberson

Chinook Salmon

A fisherman with a Chinook Salmon caught in Canada. They typically measure about 3 feet long and 30 pounds in weight.
An average Chinook Salmon is 3 feet long and around 30 lbs.

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The number one best fish to catch in California this summer is the Chinook Salmon! Early summer, June and July, you can catch them in the Oceanside saltwater. Then they migrate to the freshwater streams in late July early August. Chinook salmon are the largest of the Northwest salmon and can get to be 2-3 feet long and weigh 10-50 pounds, but some get quite a bit larger. When they return to the rivers to spawn they change from a silvery blue color to a variety of yellowish to reddish. The San Francisco Bay area has some of the best saltwater fishing and the Klamath River and the Russian River for freshwater fishing. The record for the largest Chinook salmon in California was a 88 pounder pulled from the Sacramento River back in 1979 by O. Lindberg. That is a lot of salmon fillets!

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Chinook salmon has a long, tapered body with a blue-green back, a silver sheen on their sides, and a white belly.
Chinook salmon has a long, tapered body with a blue-green back, a silver sheen on their sides, and a white belly.
Kevin Cass/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".

FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions) 

Where are the best places to fish for trout in California?

Some of the best trout fishing is in Northern California in the San Francisco Bay area, but you can also find amazing trout fishing in the streams around Lake Tahoe.

Where is the best bass fishing in California?

Some of the best bass fishing in California is on Clear Lake, the largest inland lake in the state. There you can find a variety of largemouth, smallmouth, spotted and redeye bass.

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