Spotfin Croaker

Species: Roncador stearnsii; from the Spanish word roncador (in reference to a snorer) and stearnsii (referring to Robert E. C. Stearns, a 19th Century sea shell expert in San Francisco).

Alternate Names: Spot, spotties or golden croaker.

Identification: A heavy-bodied croaker which has a large black spot at the base of the pectoral fin; they don't have a barbel on the chin. Their coloring is metallic gray above and brassy on the sides.

Size: Length to 27 inches and 10 1/2 pounds. Most caught off piers are under 20 inches and range from one to three pounds.

Range: Mazatlan, Mexico to Point Conception.

Habitat: Shallow-water sandy areas, both in bays and along the coast.

Piers: Common at most bay and oceanfront piers north to Los Angeles Harbor; those which have a sand or mud bottom. Best bets: Shelter Island Pier, Oceanside Pier, Oceanside Harbor Pier, San Clemente pier, Huntington Beach Pier, Seal Beach Pier and Belmont Shores Pier.

Bait and Tackle: Spotfin croaker have pharyngeal (throat) teeth made for crushing heavy shells and feed almost exclusively on the bottom for clams. Therefore, the best bait is clams, but they will also bite on ghost shrimp, fresh mussels, bloodworms and innkeeper worms. Best tackle is a high/low leader with number 6 or 4 hooks fished directly on the bottom. Although spotfin may be caught year-round, the best time is late summer to fall. In addition, spotfin follow the tides, so fishermen should do the same. Fish two hours before and after a high tide, especially a late afternoon or evening tide. Late evening and night is the best time to catch spotfin croaker.

Food Value: An excellent mild-flavored fish that shares the same problems with pollution as the other croaker species. They may be unsafe to eat in certain localities.

Comments: Spotfin croaker are one of the favorite inshore fishes of southern California. In bays, spotfin croaker tend to congregate in croaker holes; when these are discovered, the anglers can often return time after time for fish. It is much harder to find these holes and depressions around piers, but it can be done. Look for spots where the surfline seems to flatten out, this often indicates a depression in the sand.