Pier Fishing in California

Resources :: California Fish

Giant Kelpfish

Giant Kelpfish


Heterostichus rostratus; from the Greek words heter (different) and ost (extra bone), and the Latin word rostratus (beaked or hooked).

Alternate Names

Kelpfish, eel, iodine fish, butterfish, and kelp blenny.


The body is long and compressed. The dorsal fin is very long and continuous with many more spines than soft rays. The caudal fin is deeply forked (rounded in spotted kelpfish and striped kelpfish). Their coloring varies from light brown to green to purple depending on the habitat. Apparently these fish can change colors rapidly, at least juvenile fish, with browns and greens seeming to be the preferred colors. Adult females also have the ability to change from red to brown to green, however, it takes them a little longer than the kids. Alas, the adult males seem to have forgotten how to perform this party-pleasing trick.


To 24 inches long; most caught off piers are 10 to 14 inches.


From Cape San Lucas, Baja California, to British Columbia.


Shallow-water areas near rocks or kelp.


Found at piers which have a heavy growth of kelp or seaweed. Best bets: Ocean Beach Pier, Green Pleasure Pier (Avalon), Paradise Cove Pier, Gaviota Pier, and Berkeley Pier.

Bait and Tackle

Light to medium tackle and small, size 8 to 6 hooks. The best bet is to tie the hooks directly onto the line. Preferred baits appear to be small crabs, pieces of shrimp, live bloodworms or pile worms, and fresh mussels (although I did catch some on small pieces of abalone).

Food Value

Some people report they are fair eating. I’ve never tried them myself but would expect them to taste good fried.


Although generally considered uncommon north of Point Conception, I have caught a number of these pretty fish while fishing inshore at the Berkeley Pier. The fish were caught right in among the shoreline rocks and the usual bait was small pieces of pile worm. Two related species, striped kelpfish and crevice kelpfish are also common at Bay Area piers; both have rounded tails and their coloring is different from giant kelpfish.