Guide to Central California Beach Fishing

Getting Started

A few simple practices and gear choices can greatly enhance your enjoyment of Central California’s year-round surfperch fishing. Anglers also enjoy seasonal opportunities for striped bass, California halibut, jacksmelt and surf smelt, among others.

When to Go Fishing

You are more likely to catch fish:

  • In the early morning or an hour before dusk
  • On an incoming high tide. The rising water level dislodges small invertebrates in sand bars, stimulating fish to feed.
  • During mild to moderate surf

EXCEPTIONS: Surf smelt and night smelt fishing are best in the daytime and evening respectively, on a falling high tide. Both species usually spawn on coarse-grained sandy beaches when the surf is mild.

Peak months for some favorite species in Central California

Peak Months October-June April-September May-August April-August February-August
Species Surfperch Striped Bass California Halibut Jacksmelt Night/Surf Smelt

Casting Tips

  • When you are beach fishing, cast to the edges of sand bars and drop-offs and be on the lookout for fish “highways,” or channels with transiting fish in search of food.
  • If you are surfperch fishing, try casting near sand crab beds.
  • If you are striped bass or halibut fishing, look for signs of baitfish, such as feeding birds and marine mammals, and cast into these areas.


Rod and Reel Tips

  • If you are heavy bait fishing or “plugging,” use a 10- to 12-ft rod rated for 2- to 8-oz casting, with spinning or conventional reels capable of holding 150 to 200 yds of 20- to 30-lb monofilament line.
  • If you are fly-fishing, try a 9- to 11-ft rod, rated for a 6- to 8-weight line, with matching reel and sink-tip or shooting head lines. Stripping baskets help manage line in the surf.
  • If you are light bait fishing or using Carolina-rigged grubs, try a 7- to 9-ft rod, with either a spinning or bait casting reel. Use a 6- to 12-lb test line that can comfortably cast a 1/2- to 1-oz egg sinker, depending on surf conditions.

Net Fishing

  • For surf smelt fishing along San Mateo County beaches, try cast or “throw” nets in the 6- to 8-ft range, with 1 to 1 1/2 lbs of lead per foot and 3/8-in webbing.
  • For night smelt fishing, try “A-frame” nylon webbing nets constructed of two rigid poles and a cross-member.

Equipment Checklist

  • Waders, hat, polarized sunglasses and sunblock. Besides protecting your eyes, polarized sunglasses will help you see fish in the shore break and run-up. Wear a U.S. Coast Guard approved personal flotation device if wading.
  • Pack for fish, tackle, tape measure, and needle-nose pliers for removing hooks
  • Bucket and scale to weigh catch, if fishing for night or surf smelt