Top Fish Species — SoCal, CenCal, SF Bay, NorCal

Ken Jones

Staff member
Hopefully this gives a little additional information in regard to the discussion on the thread titled "mackerel question."

I discuss the issue of fish species and water temperature in some depth in PFIC, 2nd Ed. Here are some old stats from the California Department of Fish and Game — 1960s.

One thing that is hard to convey is that the species can be really different at an oceanfront versus inner bay pier and a sandy-shore environment pier versus a rocky environment pier. Unless you fish a variety of piers you might not trust these numbers. In addition, there can be tremendous change year to year depending upon cold-water versus warm-water years. As the years have gone by tackle also has changed as have preferences. Whereas at some SoCal piers you see ethnic groups out on the piers every day bringing in bucket loads of queenfish and similar small species (to eat), many younger anglers today are targeting the sportfish which changes the overall numbers and mix of fish. Many factors go into what is being caught.

Main Pier Species — 1960s (CA F&G)

Southern California —

1. Queenfish
2. White Croaker (aka tomcod)
3. Pacific Bonito
4. Walleye Surfperch
5. Shinerperch
6. Jacksmelt & Topsmelt
7. Blackperch
8. California Halibut
9. Pacific Mackerel
10. Kelp & Sand Bass

The big changes here have been (1) the decrease in number of bonito (for several reasons) that were actually unusually high in the '60s, (2) the decrease in the number of halibut (due in part to piers no longer having bait shops on the piers that carry live anchovies), and (3) the decrease in number of bass (although their numbers appear to be increasing). Mackerel today are probably in the top five but their numbers fluctuate. Sardines, which almost disappeared during the '60s, also would appear somewhere, probably midway in the list today. California lizardfish for a few years would have been in the top five (during cold water years) but appear to have again dropped in numbers.

Central California —

1. White Croaker (aka kingfish)
2. Jacksmelt & Topsmelt
3. Walleye Surfperch
4. Barred Surfperch
5. Shinerperch
6. Silver Surfperch
7. Calico Surfperch
8. White Seaperch
9. Starry Flounder
10. Staghorn Sculpin

The main changes here are (1) the overall decrease in number of perch even though their rankings are probably still pretty accurate and (2) the huge decrease in the number of starry flounder. You're lucky if you catch one today. Here too the increase in the number of sardines would put them in the mix.

San Francisco Bay Area —

1. Shinerperch
2. Jacksmelt & Topsmelt
3. Walleye Surfperch
4. Staghorn Sculpin
5. Pileperch
6. Striped Bass
7. Pacific Sanddab
8. Blackperch
9. White Seaperch
10. White Croaker (aka kingfish)

The main changes here are probably (1) striped bass that are not given the support they were once given by the Department of Fish and Wildlife, i.e., hatchery fish, (2) what seems a real decrease in the number of staghorn sculpin over the past decade for some reason and (3) a possible decline in the number of white croaker (kingfish). Pacific Sanddab numbers can show great difference year to year depending upon if it is or is not a rainy season and once again sardine numbers are up. Herring can show up in huge numbers during the winter months and see huge catches by both net and rod and reel on the piers but it changes each year. Halibut, a rarely seen species on SF piers in the '60s, has become a top pier species due in large part to anglers learning the techniques needed to catch them (artificial lures and live bait). Brown rockfish do not show up on the list but I think were/are always a very common species at many piers. Not even included in the list, but I am sure always common, were/are the sharay species—brown smoothhounds, leopard sharks and bat rays.

Northern California —

1. Walleye Surfperch
2. Jacksmelt & Topsmelt
3. Shinerperch
4. Northern Anchovy
5. Kelp Greenling
6. Staghorn Sculpin
7. Redtail Surfperch
8. Striped Seaperch
9. Black Rockfish
10. White Seaperch

I think the NorCal list is still pretty accurate although I think the number of redtail surfperch, in particular, would show a decrease. One change from the '60s is that some piers that were used in that survey are no longer available.
Great info! I know this has probably been discussed before, but why the decline in starry flounder, esp. on the central coast? I thought the decline was limited to SF Bay.