The Central California Coast has many places where you can fish right from shore (scroll down to see a list). There are several ways to fish at these beaches including dropping a line from rocky areas, fly-fishing, and casting live bait right into the waves. The central coast is also great for fishing from piers or launching a boat or kayak to fish offshore.
To make it happen you need to do a few things first. Find a location you want to fish, pick the dates of your trip, get the required permits, and start packing. The information below will help you plan a beach fishing trip.
Fishing license / permit
Shore fishing anywhere in Central California counties (Ventura, Santa Barbara, San Luis Obispo, Monterey, and Santa Cruz) requires a fishing license for those who are 16 or older. Start online by getting a “GO ID” and you can easily get a permit after that.
Remember that fishing from California’s public piers doesn’t require a permit.
When to fish
- After low tide (best during an incoming tide)
- Always check California tide tables
- Early in the morning or an hour before dusk
- Calm surf (avoid heavy surf)
- Fish year-round
Species fished for in Central California
- Barred surfperch
- Walleye surfperch
- Calico surfperch
- Silver surfperch
- Redtail surfperch
- California halibut
- Sand dabs
- Starry flounder
- Petrale sole
- Red snapper
- Yellowfin croaker
- White croaker
- Black croaker
- California corbina
- Shovelnose guitarfish
- California scorpionfish
- Pacific barracuda
- Striped bass
- Barred sand bass
- White sea bass
- Kelp bass (calico bass)
- Pacific bonito
- Surf smelt
- Night smelt
- Pacific chub mackerel
- Pacific sardine
- Leopard Sharks
- Bat Rays
- Bag or cooler for fish
- Fish bonker
- Tape measure
- Needle-nose pliers
- Fish net (optional)
- Stripping basket if fly-fishing
- Rods and reels: In the Socal surf you can usually get by with a light to medium weight setup like a 9 foot rod and 6 to 12 lb test line. Go to a heavyweight setup if using larger baitfish lures and plugs.
- Bait or lures: Use a sinker, small hooks, and try live bait (or frozen), small lures, sand worms & blood worms, green peas, and small chunks of shrimp or clams/shellfish. Using a Carolina rig is typical while trying things like worms and live sand crabs. Do some research for fishing tactics based on what you intend to catch.
- Fishing permit
- Sunblock & sun hat
- Jacket & extra layers
- Polarized sunglasses (to see into the water better)
- Water shoes or waders
- PFD (personal floatation device) if wading
- Water & snacks
- Wallet & cell phone in a sealed bag/container (don’t leave valuables in the car)
Where to cast
- Look for channels in the sand where fish move through.
- Try flat sand bars and the edges of them
- Try white wash areas for corbina
- Cast into areas of feeding birds (areas with bait fish)
- Cast off rocks and look for sand crab beds
- Drop a line off of a fishing pier (try mid-pier first) to get into deeper water, shallow reefs, and even kelp beds
The best beach fishing spots in Central California
You can catch fish year-round just about anywhere in the surf along the Central California shoreline. The key is to avoid crowds and stay out of the Marine Protected Areas (MPAs). CaliforniaMPAs.org is a good source for locating these restricted areas. The map on this page is particularly useful. Note that some MPAs have restrictions, but still allow taking fish recreationally. The main places to avoid are Campus Point in Santa Barbara, Vandenberg Air Force Base, Piedras Blancas, parts of Big Sur (near Big Creek and Point Sur), Point Lobos, and Point Pinos (between Monterey and Carmel).
Check the California OEHHA fish advisory map for where you’ll be fishing to know what species can be eaten and which should not (or should be limited).
The beaches below are great for surf fishing and are legal. Now all you need to do is get out there and start casting.