Species: Menticirrhus undulates (Girard, 1854); from the Latin words menticirrhus (chin barbel) and undulatus (waved, referring to the wavy lines on its sides).
Alternate Names: Whiting or California whiting, king croaker, corbie, corvina, bagre and the favorites of many—bean and beanie. In Mexico called berrugata californiana. In the late 1880s and early 1900s corbina were simply called surf in most SoCal newspapers although at times they were called surf fish; small corbina were often called nippers.
Identification: California corbina have a long, slender, cylindrical-shaped body with a barbel on the tip of the lower jaw. Dorsal fin appears divided by a deep notch but remains connected by the membrane. Their coloring is a dark metallic blue or sooty gray on the back fading to lighter sides, with wavy diagonal lines, and a whitish belly.
Size: Up to 28 inches and 7 pounds, 4 ounces (although an unverified 8 1/2 pound fish was reported); most off piers are 16-24 inches in length. The California record fish weighed 7 lb 1 oz and was taken from Newport Harbor in May of 2005. A fish weighing 11 Lbs. 2 Oz. was reported from Redondo Beach in 1904 (see below).
Range: Bahia Magdalena, southern Baja California and the Gulf of California to Point Conception.
Habitat: Prefers shallow-water, oceanfront surf in groups of two or three or small schools; sometimes found in bays. Found down to 45 feet but usually in water 3-18 feet deep.
Piers: Common at sandy beach piers in southern California with best fishing occurring during the summer months, July to September. Best bets: Crystal Pier, Oceanside Pier, San Clemente Pier, Belmont Veterans Memorial Pier, Hermosa Beach Pier, Manhattan Beach Pier, Malibu Pier, and Goleta Pier.
Shoreline: One of the main catches by sandy shore anglers in southern California. All sandy beaches between San Diego and San Pedro are considered good corbina beaches; San Onofre is considered one of the best.
Boats: Rarely taken from boats.
Bait and Tackle: Corbina dine almost exclusively on sand crabs so this is by far the best bait—especially soft-shelled sand crabs. Many, however, are also caught on bloodworms, lugworms, clams, fresh mussels, and even small pieces of shrimp. If you can find them, innkeeper worms are also considered one of the best baits for corbina. Light to medium tackle is best with a high/low leader and size 6 or 4 hooks. The bait and hook should be totally covered by the bait, and the bait should be slowly reeled in, a foot or so at a time. Corbina like to eat in very shallow water (at times the back will nearly be out of the water), so fish as close to shore as possible. (This is one fish in which pier fishermen are at a disadvantage: because of the angle and wave action it is sometimes hard to hold a spot without using too large a sinker). Corbina are another croaker that often bites far better at night.
Food Value: A very good, mild-flavored fish suited to almost any type of cooking. Unfortunately, due to its bottom eating nature, it may ingest toxic creatures like worms and thus develop low levels of toxicity itself. In some areas, people are warned to restrict their intake of food from corbina. Such is life in modern day southern California.
Comments: Many fishermen consider corbina the number one surf fish in Southern California because they reach a good size, are good eating, and they’re one of the hardest fish to catch without the proper know-how. Corbina have been illegal to take by net since 1909 and illegal to buy or sell since 1915.
I ran across a pretty interesting story while researching fishing at the Redondo Beach Pier given that the state record fish is only 7 Lb. 1 oz.
Boss Corbina Breaks Record—Eleven-Pounder Is Caught By A Redondo Angler
At last the great, great grand-daddy of the Corbina tribe has been gathered to his fathers and a nine days’ sensation among fishermen ended. After long years of piscatorial vicissitudes in which more than once he had formed temporary but entangling alliances with the leaders of briefly lucky bait butchers; after countless sessions of intermittent chase of the succulent sand-crab varied by occasional séances with the secretive clam, this silver-scaled giant last week fell a victim to the wiles of A. White of Redondo in the still waters of the night and under the seductive light of the full moon.
His weight at capture was eleven pounds and two ounces, which is by far in excess of all known records for corbina in this vicinity.
The Sunday preceding Harry Slotterbeck perceived a huge fish of some sort groveling slowly on the bottom; searching for food after the manner of corbina. From its excessive length, which he estimated to be three feet, at least, Slotterbeck fancied he was watching a shark, but a white flash from the side caused him to look closer and hardly believing his eyes, he recognized a corbina of most phenomenal proportions. Calling a friend, he too pronounced it a grand “surf” fish. The pair tried to catch the prize but he was wary and cared nothing bait. They quit in vain.
The moonlight and the quiet night helped Mr. White two days later, and in triumph, he carried away the huge fish after a prolonged, nerve-racking tussle in the breakers. The big fellow put up the tremendous fight that might be expected from a seasoned veteran, strong and well schooled by time in all the arts and wiles that make corbina popular with fishermen. Mr. White had a twenty-minute tussle with his prize and nearly fell off the wharf when he got to look at it. He describes the catch as having a head the size of a man’s and bearing all the evidences of extreme age, though it was strong enough in the water. How old a fish of such extreme size must be left to conjecture.
Corbina of small size and ravenous appetites were plentiful Sunday at all points from Del Rey and Redondo to Huntington Beach. F. Seeberg caught nearly a dozen fine sized ones off the beach in Santa Monica the largest weighing 4 ½ pounds. At Redondo Harry Slotterbeck caught nearly two dozen “nippers.”
—Los Angeles Times, August 30, 1904