Croakers: Family Sciaenidae
Species: Atractoscion nobilis (Ayres, 1860) from the Greek words atrax (spindle) and skion (from sciaena, an old name for a European croaker) and the Latin word nobilis (noble). Called Cynoscion nobilis until the 1990s
White seabass taken at the Ventura Pier
Alternate Names: Ghost, grey ghost, biscuits, king croaker, Catalina salmon, bull tomcod, croaker, weakfish, or seatrout (young fish). Called corvina cabaicucho or corvina blanca in Mexico.
Identification: Large, elongated body with a large mouth in which the lower jaw protrudes slightly beyond the upper jaw. Unlike the shortfin corvina that has large, fanglike-canine teeth, the canine teeth in the upper jaw of white seabass are small and barely noticeable. Very young white seabass are somewhat variable in color—silvery, brownish, golden or even reddish, but as they age their color becomes more standard—silver or gray. Up to two feet in length (most of the fish seen on piers) the young white seabass have three to six broad black vertical bars on their sides and dusky yellow fins. Adults tend to be blue to gray on the back, with silvery sides and a dark spot on the inner base of the pectoral fin. Young white seabass are sometimes (somehow) confused with white croakers but the juvenile white seabass have bars on their sides and do not have a barbell on their chin. White croaker lack bars on their sides and do have a barbell. White seabass are perhaps most easily separated from other croaker by the presence of a ridge running the length of the belly.
White seabass taken by Humberto at the Newport Pier
Size: White seabass are the largest of the California croakers. To five feet and over 90 pounds; those caught off piers are usually the young “seatrout” ranging up to 24 inchs in length. The California record “angling” fish weighed 78 lbs 0 oz and was caught at the mouth of the Pajao River in Santa Cruz County in 2002. The International Gamefish Association (IGFA) all-tackle angling record is an 83-pound, 12-ounce fish caught off of San Filepe, Mexico in 1953. On May 9, 2020, a 78.2 pound white seabass was caught by an angler drifting live bait in San Francisco Bay. The ocean diving record is a fish weighing 93 lbs 4 oz that was speared by a diver near Malibu in 2007.
Range: Bahia Magdalena, southern Baja California, and the Gulf of Califonia to Juneau and the Boca de Quadra, southeastern Alaska. Considered uncommon north of Monterey Bay and rare north of California. In the late 1800s the main commercial fishery for white seabass was off San Francisco and large catches were seen in both San Francisco Bay and Tomales Bay. By the 1930s, 90% of the catch was from southern California. The reason most often given was that waters in central California had cooled and that the white seabass were unable to produce as successfully as in earlier years. A more limited polulation still existed and still exists in Monterey Bay, especially in the Soquel Cove area, which typically sees the warmest waters in Monterey Bay.
White seabass from the Malibu Pier
Habitat: White seabass migrate along the coast according to their spawning habits. Although some may be caught in southland waters year-round, they tend to move north in the spring and south in the fall, spending the winter months in Baja California. The best fishing is usually June to September. They’re most common around offshore islands. Typically schools over rocky bottoms from 10-40 feet feeding on squid and small fish.
Piers: Commonly taken at southland piers, although rarely if ever caught in numbers approaching that of 40-50 years ago. Runs of the smaller sea trout do occasionally occur in late summer and fall, however, these are usually fish that are under the legal size and must be returned to the water. Best bets: Crystal Pier, Oceanside Pier, San Clemente Pier, Seal Beach Pier, Hermosa Beach Pier, Malibu Pier, Paradise Cove Pier and Ventura Pier. The last decade has seen quite a few taken from the Seacliff Pier and Capitola Wharf.
Large white seabass caught at the Imperial Beach Pier in 2014
Shoreline: A favorite but infrequent catch by southern California shore anglers.
Boats: One of the most prized species for boaters in southern California.
Bait and Tackle: Unlike other California croakers, white seabass prefer the pelagic habitat rather than inshore areas. They prefer to feed in mid-depth areas rather than on the bottom like most croakers. They’re favored meals appear to be squid, pelagic crabs, and small fish As a result, anglers should seek them from the deepest waters of the pier and be willing to try different depths. In addition, the early morning hours have traditionally been the best time for white seabass. Tackle should be medium to heavy with at least 20-pound test line and size 2 to 2/0 hooks fished near the bottom. The best bait is live bait: anchovies, smelt, queenfish or shinerperch. Next, would be frozen anchovies, sardine or mackerel strip bait, or squid. If specifically seeking these fish, try using a live bait sliding leader and cast out a considerable distance from the pier. At the Hermosa Beach Pier, and other piers where artificial reefs have been constructed, a favorite ploy is to cast out a live jack mackerel as close to the reef as possible.
Typical “seatrout-size” white seabass taken from the Goleta Pier
Food Value: Excellent, mild-flavored meat that can be prepared in many ways. Unfortunately, it tends to discolor rather rapidly and there’s traditionally been a limited market for the frozen form.
Comments: Large white seabass are one of southern California’s top partyboat gamefish. Unfortunately, the numbers of these fish decreased markedly in the 1970s and 1980s. However, with an increased legal size, a decreased daily limit, and efforts by several groups to pen raise juvenile white seabass, a comeback is being made. It is important that all sportsman, and especially pier fishermen who catch the small illegal “seatrout” adhere to the existing laws. If so, large white seabass may once again be a common catch of pier fishermen.
“Unofficial” records of large white seabass — Most, but not all, large white sea bass are taken from boats although a tremendous number were caught from the Ocean Park Pier and the Newport Pier in the ‘20s and ‘30s.
83 Lbs. — Newport Pier, 1920s
Source: Personal communication, Patrick Kennedy, Baldy’s Tackle (1990)
61 Lbs. — Newport Pier, Roger Jackson, December 1, 1927
Source: Santa Ana Register, December 1, 1927
50 Lbs. — Imperial Beach Pier, “Oyuki”, October 2014
Source: sdfish.com (October 28, 2014) and Oceanic Angler (oceanicangler.com), November 11, 2014
48 Lbs. — Newport Pier, June 1, 1934
Source: Santa Ana Register, June 2, 1934
47 1/2 Lbs. — Belmont Pier (Long Beach), October 28, 1959
Source: Long Beach Independent, October 30, 1959
47 Lbs. — Redondo Wharf, Charles McGehee, May 19, 1914
Source: Los Angeles Times, May 19, 1914
45 Lbs. — Capitola Wharf, September 2000
Source: Capitola Wharf Bait Shop
45 Lbs. — Seacliff State Beach Pier, August 2000
Source: Capitola Wharf Bait Shop
45 Lbs. — Avalon Pleasure Pier, Pat Casey, May 5, 1936
Source: Catalina Islander, May 14, 1936
45 Lbs. — Redondo Wharf No. 3, August 5, 1919
Source: Los Angeles Times, August 8, 1919
42 Lbs. — Santa Monica Pier, 1957
Source: Santa Monica Pier Bait Shop, Newspaper & CA DF&G
42 Lbs. — Wharf No. 1 (Redondo Beach), J. V. Henry, May 18, 1914
Source: Los Angeles Times, May 18, 1914
42 Lbs. — Wharf No. 1 (Redondo Beach), N. Row, August 31, 1890
Source: Los Angeles Times, August 31, 1890
41 ¼ Lb. — Pacifica Pier, July 1992
Source: Pacific Bait Shop
41 Lbs. — Balboa Pier, Snagger, June 15, 2017
Source: PFIC and Verona Fath
41 Lbs. — Point Mugu Pier, Charles S. Leonard, August, 1959
Source: Oxnard Press-Courier, August 5, 1959
≈ 40 Lbs. — Monterey Wharf No.2, October 2009
40 Lbs. — Balboa Pier, Frank Lopez, July 19, 1959
Source: Los Angeles Times, July 23, 1959
40 Lbs. — Avalon Pleasure Pier, A. E. Eaton, July 3, 1916
Source: Catalina Islander, July 4, 1916
40 Lbs. — Hueneme Wharf, Charlie Chambers, October 1895
Source: Los Angeles Herald, October 27, 1895
36 ½ Lbs. — Balboa Pier, Ed Steif, May 30, 1928
Source: Santa Ana Register, May 31, 1928
35 Lbs. —Wharf No. 1 (Redondo Beach), Harold Rempe, June 3, 1909
Source: Los Angeles Herald, June 6, 1909
32 Lbs. — Hueneme Wharf, Charlie Chambers, October 1895
Source: Los Angeles Herald, October 27, 1895
30 Lbs. — Wharf No. 3 (Redondo Beach), A. J. Bell, May 25, 1909
Source: Los Angeles Times, May 26, 1909