White Croaker

Fish Of the MonthSpecies: Genyonemus lineatus; from the Greek words genys (lower jaw) and nema (barbel) and the Latin word lineatus (striped).

Alternate Names: Tom cod (southern California), kingfish (central and northern California), Pasadena trout, roncador or ronkie (Santa Barbara), and tommy croaker.

Identification: Very similar to the yellowfin croaker, however, the white croaker has a black spot under the upper base of the pectoral fin. It also has several tiny barbels under the lower jaw. Their coloring is a metallic gray or brassy back, fading to a white or silver belly; fins are yellowish.

Size: To 15 inches. In southern California and along the central Coast, up to Cayucos, most white croakers caught off piers are under 10 inches in length. At more northern piers, fish of over a foot, and many approaching the maximum size, are common.

Range: From Magdalena Bay, Baja California, to Vancouver Island, British Colombia. Rarely taken north of San Francisco.

Habitat: Found in shallow-water areas both in the ocean and in larger bays.

Piers: Common year-round on California piers north to Bodega Bay. Best bets: almost every oceanfront pier in southern and central California lists white croakers as the number one fish caught at the pier (or at least in the top five).

Bait and Tackle: White croaker will hit almost any bait, but the best is a small strip or chunk of anchovy; second best would be bloodworms or pile worms. Typical gear is a high/low surf leader rigged with size 4 to 2 hooks. White croaker like to hit the bait as it is descending after a cast or at soon as it hits bottom. The best technique is to reel the line taunt as soon as the cast is completed; you will often feel the croaker hit almost immediately. Fish for these fish from midway on the pier to the deepest water.

Food Value: A mild-flavored fish that is popular with many ethnic groups. However, because of their diet (worms), the fact that they primarily eat on the bottom, and the fact that they often congregate around sewer outfalls, white croaker are the main fish banned in certain areas. Although the toxins in their flesh can be removed (to some extent) by certain methods of cooking, it is better to simply throw the fish back. This is primarily true in southern California areas, especially in bays, and in the San Francisco Bay Area. Most of the white croakers caught at oceanfront piers in central California are fine to eat (and they tend to have a firmer flesh than white croakers caught in the warmer waters of southern California).

Comments: White croaker are disliked by many anglers! They are too easy to catch, steal bait intended for more desirable fish, give little fight, and often are loaded with isopods (sea lice) or other parasites. In addition, as mentioned, they are unfit to eat in many areas because of local pollution. However, since they are also highly regarded by some fishermen, are sold in considerable quantities by commercial fish markets, and often provide action when nothing else seems to be biting, it may be more a problem of attitude and education than a problem with the fish. Whereas the common approach by many in the 1960s was to slam a "tomcod" down against the pier's surface and then disgustedly kick it over the side, today more and more anglers are keeping the fish and putting them to use, or releasing unwanted fish. Recent studies show that white croaker, along with several species of surfperch, are showing a high decline in numbers along several areas of the coast.