Winter might get cold, but a Southern California winter is when fishing heats up. Don’t pack up your rods and reels quite yet.
If there is a successful winter fishing season anywhere, it’s going to be in the warm regions of Southern California. While a specific “fishing season” can vary based on the type of fish and location, winter is generally considered a viable time for fishing in Southern California. The SoCal region has a relatively mild winter climate allowing fishing activities to continue throughout the year.
Winter is when we see the end of the Pacific bluefin tuna season which generally concludes in October. The bright side is that Rockfish season is in full swing in Southern California, and there are still Yellowtail and white Seabass, Calico Bass, Sand Bass, Dungeness crab and Halibut out there. The choice of fishing location and target species will vary based on the specific area within Southern California you’re interested in and the type of fishing you prefer, such as shore fishing and boat fishing.
Like any fishing season, location is essential. If you aren’t sure where the good fishing spots are during winter, check out California’s Department of Fish and Wildlife website (or the one for the state you’ll be fishing in). It will contain all the up-to-date information on what fish are where, what time of year offers the best catch and any limitations you will need to abide by. The CDFW offers an updated map of legal fishing locations, Quagga-infested areas and legal boating locations. However, in California, many fisheries remain open during the winter months, providing opportunities for fishing enthusiasts.
A bonus for SoCal anglers is that they don’t have to go far or spend much money to enjoy the local fishing outside of Point Loma, Imperial Beach and La Jolla. Additionally, winter can be a good time for winter steelhead and surfperch along the coast.
For anglers further north, the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta and several rivers in California have open seasons for species such as striped bass, sturgeon, salmon (during certain times) and various other freshwater fish. Many lakes and reservoirs throughout California are open for fishing during the winter, providing opportunities to catch species like trout, bass, catfish, crappie and more.
Additionally, some urban areas in California have stocked lakes and ponds that remain open for fishing during the winter months. These locations often receive trout stocks and may have catfish, bass and sunfish.
Some high-altitude lakes and streams in the Sierra Nevada region remain accessible for fishing, with opportunities to catch trout, especially in lower-elevation areas with milder winter weather.
It’s important to note that specific fishing seasons, regulations and species availability can vary by location and are subject to change. Anglers should always check the CDFW (wildlife.ca.gov) website or contact local authorities for the most up-to-date information on fishing regulations, seasons and access during the winter months. Additionally, local fishing clubs, bait shops, and outfitters can provide valuable insights and recommendations for winter fishing in your desired area.
Other General Winter Fishing Recommendations
Fishing during the winter can present unique challenges due to colder temperatures and changes in fish behavior. Here are some tips to help make your winter fishing more successful and enjoyable:
Choose the right location: Focus on fishing in areas where fish are more likely to congregate during winter, such as deeper water, near structures or around places with consistent water temperatures. Time your fishing trips and target periods of warmer weather or stable weather patterns. Fish are more likely to be active and feed during milder days.
Use lighter line and tackle and move slower: Fish may be more cautious during winter, so downsize your line and tackle for a more subtle presentation. Lighter lines and smaller hooks can increase your chances of enticing bites. Slow down your fishing techniques. Fish are generally less active in colder water, so slow presentations like jigs, soft plastics or slow retrieves can be effective. Also, leverage live bait and smelly baits. Live baits with strong scents can attract fish even in colder water. Consider using options like minnows, worms or cut bait.
Focus on sunny areas and monitor water temps: Fish tend to be more active and may move into sunny spots to warm up. Target areas where the sun hits the water. These areas can be slightly warmer and more attractive to fish. Pay attention to water temperature as it influences fish behavior. Use a thermometer to gauge the temperature and adjust your tactics accordingly. Dress in layers and be prepared for sudden weather changes. Dress warmly and bring extra clothing, gloves and rain gear to stay comfortable.
Fish are more vulnerable during winter, so consider catch-and-release practices to help conserve fish populations. In addition, always check the weather forecast before heading out and ensure that conditions are safe for fishing. Be aware of ice conditions if you fish in areas with potential ice cover.
By adapting your approach and being mindful of the unique conditions during winter, you can still have a successful and enjoyable fishing experience.
For current California ocean recreational fishing regulations, open and closed seasons and additional information, visit https://wildlife.ca.gov/Fishing/Ocean/Regulations/Fishing-Map/Central.