Surf Fishing for California Corbina

Learn How to Catch Them During Fishing Season

The crafty corbina is considered by many onshore anglers to be the king of the southern California surf zone.
 Courtesy of Tom Gatch

Along the Pacific coast, many of Southern California’s beaches offer excellent corbina fishing, but relatively few anglers take advantage of it because it takes both stealth and patience. As water temperatures hover in the mid to upper sixties along the southern Pacific coast, California corbina (menticirrhus undulatus) go on a feeding rampage along sandy beaches from Santa Barbara to several hundred miles south of the Mexican border.

What They Look Like

Their high, silver and bronze humped backs can often be seen protruding from the shallow shore break in only inches of water as they grub for sand crabs in the few, fleeting moments before the wave recedes. These hard-fighting, tasty fish are members of the croaker family and are one of the most elusive species that can be taken from the surf.

How to Catch With Bait

All that is required to get in on the fun is a light-action spinning rod and reel spooled with a six to eight-pound test line, a few split shot and a #6 to #10 live bait or treble hook. Freshly caught sand crabs are one of the most effective natural baits and are often available right at your feet. As you walk by receding waves, you may notice wet patches of sand that look a bit rough compared to the smoother areas around them. If you dig in these spots as soon as they are exposed, you will often be able to catch all the bait you need. While feeding corbina will readily consume sand crabs, casting small, patterned flies or tiny plastic grubs into the surf can also provoke one of these fish to hungrily snatch it up.

The Line Test

The line test necessary for your leader material ranges between two and four pounds, which can snap in a heartbeat if you make the unwise decision to get into a tug-of-war with an 18 to 20-inch corbina. One of the best angling tools to be developed recently is fluorocarbon line, which is virtually invisible to fish once it has submerged beneath the surface. A 22” leader made out of this space-age material can be absolutely deadly when fishing for corbina, allowing anglers to use up to ten or twelve-pound test with much the same results as if they were to use two to four-pound test monofilament.

Sight Casting

Since corbina often ride the incoming tidal wash up to the beach while rooting out morsels of food in mere inches of water, sight-casting is often the most productive way to fish for them, and a long cast is rarely necessary. It is up to the angler to anticipate a fishes direction, and then try to deftly drop your rig two to three feet in front of its nose. Often, after a well-placed cast, you can actually watch the fish take the bait.

Cast Further Out

If it turns out that the fish aren't feeding that far up on the beach, then cast a bit further out and work the depressions and troughs created by the churning surf. Sometimes it helps to get to the beach at low tide in order to locate a few prime areas to be fished as the tide rises. Look for channels running parallel to the beach, which can be particularly productive.

It is extremely important to keep your line tight so that you can detect pickups without making your bait appear unnatural in any way. It is also important to always keep your rod tip high. Lastly, it is vital that those targeting California corbina always continue moving up the beach as they fish, since the most successful anglers may end up covering more than a mile of shoreline during any given day.

Fishing Season

California’s prime corbina fishing season generally takes place between the beginning of May through the end of September. Whether you pursue them with natural baits or artificial lures, that is your best window of opportunity to try to hook and land the king of the Pacific surf zone; the crafty corbina.