Croakers: Family Sciaenidae
Species: Umbrina roncador (Jordan & Gilbert, 1882); from the Greek word umbra (shade, referring to its darkened, shady sides) and the Spanish word roncador (a snorer, or to snore). It is, afterall, a croaker.
Alternate Names: Surf fish, golden croaker, Catalina croaker, yellowtailed croaker and yellowfinned roncador. In Mexico they’re called berrugata aleta amarilla or verrugato de aleta amarilla.
Yellowfin Croaker from Crystal Pier — 2010
Identification: Elongated, croaker-like body with a blunt, rounded snout and small subterminal mouth. Yellowfins have a large, fleshy barbel at the tip of the lower jaw that separates it from other croakers with the exception of corbina. Their coloring is a blue to grayish-tan on the back with brassy and golden reflections; silver overlaid with dark yellow-brown wavy lines on the sides and bright yellow or golden fins. The coloring blends in and renders them almost invisible against a sandy background.
Size: Up to 18 inches and nearly 4 pounds, although most caught off piers are less than 14 inches. The California record fish weighed 3 lb 14 oz and was taken from Santa Monica Beach in 2000.
Range: Bahia Magdalena, southern Baja California and Gulf of California to Point Conception (although reported from San Francisco in the 1800s).
Habitat: Common in shallow-water sandy areas, both oceanfront and in bays.
Yellowfin Croaker (top) & Spotfin Croaker (bottom)
Piers: Caught year round although the summer months, especially July and August, are considered the best months. Best bets: Crystal Pier, Oceanside Pier, San Clemente Pier, Huntington Beach Pier, Seal Beach Pier, Belmont Veterans Memorial Pier, Manhattan Beach Pier and Malibu Pier.
Shoreline: One of the main catches by sandy shore anglers in southern California.
Boats: A mainly inshore species although a few are taken by boaters fishing SoCal bays.
Bait and Tackle: Use light to medium tackle; high/low surf leaders with number 6 or 4 hooks. Fish with fresh mussels or ghost shrimp. Other good baits are clams, sand crabs, bloodworms, lug worms and innkeeper worms. Fish from the surf area to midway out on the pier.
Yellowfin Croaker from Crystal Pier — 2017
Food Value: In the past this was considered a very good, mild-flavored fish. Today there are warnings in many areas against eating croakers. They are a bottom feeder and in polluted areas tend to accumulate toxins in their body (because of the food they eat). If you do eat them, it is best to bake or broil them in such a manner that the fats in the flesh will drop away from the meat. (I must admit it is hard to write this since pan-fried croaker was a delicacy most of my life, but be warned).
Yellowfin Croaker — KJ — Catalina Harbor
Comments: Yellowfin croaker are attractive fish that reach a decent size and put up a scrappy battle. By far, the best time to catch yellowfin croaker is around sundown and the early hours of the night. Illegal to take in California with nets since 1909, or to buy or sell since 1915. Of note is a study conducted on surf species by the Fish and Game Department between 2007-2009 in the Bolsa Chica to Hermosa Beach area. The study showed an increase in the number of yellowfin croaker from the 1990s and stated the yellowfin croaker were “much more abundant in the current study than in the 1950s.”