Fishing Del Mar
I grew up fishing Del Mar beaches and have tried some interesting variations, including fishing off an old longboard just outside the surfline.
The fish above was caught one lazy summer Sunday while I was relaxing at the beach. As I went for a swim to cool off, I noticed a couple of big corbina coming into some of the inshore holes just a few feet from shore. The water clarity that day was exceptionally good.
I ran back across the highway to my parents house, grabbed a spinning outfit, put a #6 snelled hook on a short leader with a 3 oz. sinker at the end.
I ran back to the beach, dug a big, hard-shelled sand crab out of the sand, put it on the hook and just before I cast, I saw the pair of corbina hunting.
I cast about 6 feet from them, in the direction they were traveling, and instantly saw one of them streak to where my crab was, then Wham! I was hooked up.
It was fairly crowded and I soon had a lot of company watching me play the fish. When I landed it, I got lots of complements from the gallery!
I hooked my finger in its gill, and walked back with my evening's dinner. (It was delicious!)
This picture was taken just moments after I caught it (my shirt and trunks are still wet!)
I wish I could say it's always that easy to catch a fish in the surf there, but I have to say that this was one special day.
San Diego's Famous Long Range Fishing Fleet
For decades, San Diego has been home to a fleet of boats that travel to Mexican waters to fish for yellowtail, dorado (mahi mahi), wahoo, marlin and tuna: big eye, yellowfin, blufin and my favorite, albacore. These boats go from 1 1/2 days to a few weeks (down to Cocos Island off the coast of Costa Rica) and everything in between.
I will be taking a charter this september for 3 days for the above mentioned gamefish and will update the site and my blog on our success.
By the way, the name of our charter is the Success!
For more information on long range charters, check out
Point Loma Sportfishing
Like Fishing Baja?
Del Mar is just hours from some of the finest salt water sportfishing on the planet - The fabled Sea of Cortez. Also known as the Gulf of California, it is the body of water between the 700+ mile Baja Peninsula and Mainland Mexico. Fishing Baja can be explored from the beaches of both coasts - the Pacific Ocean and the Gulf - by small boat, kayak, and, of course by larger Pangas (or motor skiffs) to luxury yachts.
For more information on fishing in Baja, click
Fishing from a Longboard
Some of the most interesting fishing I ever did was from a surfboard. While kayak fishing has become more popular (and practical) today, back in the '80's, an old longboard gave us surfer/fishermen new areas to fish.
I used an old 10'6" longboard that had seen better days and epoxied a 6 inch piece of 2 inch PVC pipe up near the nose. I then put a K-Mart collapsible spinning rod/reel combo and a few 1/2 oz. green-glitter-specked Scampi plastics in a small day pack, and strapped it on. My whole set up cost less than $18. This was definitely a low budget arrangement, but it didn't make sense to use expensive gear, as a large wave set could strip my equipment from my hands. It had happened before.
Once I hit the water and paddled through the surf, I would set up the rod and cast a few yards behind me, then put the rod butt into the pvc pipe and "troll" while I paddled outside the surfline. Occasionally, I get a strike - either a small barracuda or mackerel. Once I caught a white seabass, but it was too small to keep, so I released it.
Other times, I would paddle just past the surf zone, straddle the board, and pull the rod with a Scampi lure attached out of my day pack,and cast toward the beach. I'd cast out about 20 - 30 yards,letting the jig get close to the bottom, then do a fairly rapid retrieve.
Often, a sand bass would bite, and there wasn't much more fun than fighting a 2 pound hungry bass on 8lb. test on my surfboard. After playing it for awhile, I would reel the tired fish up to one side of the board, and with one hand, slip my finger into his gill and lift him out of the water. I'd then remove the Scampi hook with the other hand, and release him. If it was a keeper, I'd slip the fish into my day pack, and continue fishing, while it flopped around on my back.
Other times, if I was lucky, I'd catch a legal halibut, which was a little trickier to get the hook from. Then I'd use an old garden glove in case my fingers slipped trying to remove the Scampi.
A bit further out, at the edge of the kelp beds off Del Mar or Solana Beach, the prize was Calico Bass, also excellent fighters, and delicious. I never saw another board fisherman when I did this, and I suspect the reason I caught so many fish was that it was far enough out that the surf fishers couldn't reach this area, but too close to the surf for boaters to fish.
Once I had enough for dinner, I'd collapse the rod, put it into the day pack, secure the pack on my back and start paddling back into the lineup. This was the treat after the fishing... paddling in and waiting for a nice wave to take me to shore. I got lots of pretty strange looks from the other surfers and spectators on the beach, but having some fresh, tasty dinner made it very worthwhile
Ojai Sea Fresh Restaurant
While driving up the coast a few weeks ago, we found an unassuming little restaurant in the town of Ojai in Ventura County. As a very picky seafood patron, expectations were not high. Until we were given the menu... everything was fresh, and as I asked questions about the menu, I learned that the family owned a commercial boat in Ventura and provided much of the catch for their restaurant. This evening one of the specials was white seabass.
As a Southern California fisherman, I knew this elusive fish was a prize catch and to have it on the menu, well, I just had to try it. I was impressed! The meal was simple, but the fish was grilled in an onion cilantro baste, and the result was incredible. Moist, flavorful, large portion, and the baste was just enough to add flavor without overpowering the naturally sweet flavor of the seabass. Candy had the wild salmon and it was just as good.
In the restaurant itself are replicas of many of the species found off the central coast, including a Great White they caught. While Sea Fresh is pretty far from Del Mar, I have not found other seafood restaurants with as fresh and flavorful a menu, The prices are very reasonable, the atmosphere simple, service good. If you ever find yourself in the area, its worth the 30 minute detour from the coast to have an excellent fresh fish meal at Sea Fresh!
533 E Ojai AveOjai, CA 93023(805) 646-7747
Mention the word "grunion-hunt" to outsiders, and you get the sceptical looks... is that like a snipe-hunt, they'll ask. Well, no, grunion actually exist. On a full moon, at certain times of the year, these 4-8 inch fish swim up onto the beach in the wee hours of the morning, and lay their eggs, as several males then follow to fertilize them in the wet sand...Believable? It does sound a bit farfetched, but its true.
Barbara Davenport has a great article from the Del Mar Times, here...
It’s Sunday night of Memorial Day weekend on the beach in Del Mar. A crowd waits for the elusive and mysterious visitors called grunion. The fish run in a two-hour window at the highest tides, around the full moon and new moon. Sometime in the next two hours, thousands of 6-inch silvery fish could be carried up the beach by waves, females burrowing into the wet sand to lay their eggs, males squirming around them, fertilizing the eggs; masses of grunion writhing on the beach until the waves carry them back into the sea. A good run can last over an hour.
Melissa Studer, marine conservationist and senior program officer of the Grunion Greeters is here to check in with her volunteers. She started Grunion Greeters in San Diego in 2001 as collaboration between the San Diego Parks and Recreation Department, Birch Aquarium, the United States Fish and Wildlife Service, California Sea Grant, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, to address concerns that beach-grooming practices might be destroying the grunion eggs. Five years on, the project has spread all the way up the coast to San Francisco.
More than one hundred volunteers monitor local runs from April through mid-June, the fish’s protected spawning season, documenting the size of the run, the time, the weather, and wave and beach conditions.
Studer calls the project a uniquely successful piece of volunteer-supported science.
“The Greeters cover sites from Imperial Beach to Oceanside. Their data are solid, and their findings have told us a lot about grunion habitat and population that nobody knew.”
Greeter Lori Marlett of Carmel Valley monitored two runs at Del Mar earlier this season. She called them “just phenomenal, fish all over the beach, piled on top of each other.”
Studer points out a night heron stalking at the tide’s edge. It’s good sign; herons come for a big feed. Two small boys peer into the dark, and ask their father where the fish are.
At 10:32 p.m., a single male wriggles sideways across the wet sand and flips himself end over end until a wave washes him away. A female beaches, digs herself up to her gills into the sand; a male appears and curls around her. Males are indistinguishable from females; the only way to tell them apart is that the female buries herself.
Studer’s cell phone rings. The caller is at Torrey Pines, and he’s not seeing grunion. Where can he go to find grunion right now? She’s polite as she reminds him that nature doesn’t come with guarantees.
The spotlight from Jake’s Restaurant washes the beach with light. Studer’s seen grunion spawn in the glare of spotlights and in total darkness. They like sandy beaches, but sometimes come ashore where it’s rocky. They usually run in the second hour of the two-hour window, but she’s seen them swarm the beach before the first.
Del Mar resident Christy Hahn has come out to check how the pole for her volleyball net was standing up against the high tide. The pole’s fine, and she remembers seeing grunion as a child in Hermosa Beach.
The herons have left. By midnight Studer figures it’s not going to happen tonight. The timing was right, the tides were right, but something didn’t suit the fish. It’s a lesson in humility, a reminder of how little we know.
On Monday night, the last night of the run, the crowd is back, standing south of Seagrove Park. A sea fog hangs over the water, and the air is warm and moist. The new moon is a silvery crescent, too slender to throw any light. The waves lap the beach like tablecloths unfurling.
At 11:25 p.m., a handful of grunion thrash in the flashlight’s beam, and then every successive wave brings another eight to 10 fish. By 11:40 p.m., they’re coming 30 to 50 to a wave, wriggling sideways in exaggerated S’s, living sine curves. As a wave recedes, females have dug themselves in up to their gills, and five or six males thrash around them, churning the wet sand, hundreds of fish in dense clumps
A guitarfish, nearly three feet long, darkly mottled, rolls out of the surf, a grunion clamped in its jaws. As quickly as it appears, another wave washes it away.
By midnight, for 25 yards the beach looks as though it’s moving. Waves wash in 50 to 100 grunion at a time, several thousand slender, bright fish hopping like insects, doing tail stands and sidewinder wriggles and aerial flips. Females dig into the sand, release their eggs, and then heave themselves out of their holes, pirouetting as they wait to be carried back to the sea.
By 12:45 a.m., the tide has crested, and the waves begin break a little lower on the beach, dropping 20 or 30 fish. The beach is dark, and the only sound is the waves. No one on shore would know that anything is going on More than an hour’s passed since the run started, and still wherever the flashlight beam plays, hundreds of grunion jump and gleam, renewing their line in their mysterious dance on the beach.
For more information about grunion, or to become a greeter, go to Gruniongreeters.org. For dates and times of local runs, go to the Department of Fish and Game’s site,
2007 Del Mar Grunion Runs
For more information on grunion, click
Surf Fishing Profile
With sand between his toes at dawn's early light, Hal Ballon is in his element
By Ed ZieralskiUNION-TRIBUNE STAFF WRITER
June 5, 2004
His background music is the roar of the surf and the cry of gulls. His view stretches forever and includes athletic surfers dancing on waves and pelicans soaring above them.
Behind him on the beach are slow walkers, fast walkers, runners, seashell gatherers and a guy with a metal detector, all gathered before sunrise.
At 74, Hal Ballon of San Marcos is in his element, surf-fishing in the shallows of Del Mar Beach. It's often said that surf fishermen are the ultimate individualists, men and women whose hands of time are the ebb and flow of the tide, not a clock. Surf anglers are unique even among fishermen. And Ballon certainly qualifies.
It's just after 5:30 a.m., still gray light and 11 minutes ahead of the sunrise, 33 minutes in front of the low minus tide that he prefers to fish.
"There's one," Ballon yells, as he sneaks in a low-flying cast to try and get a hooked sandcrab in front of the nose of a tailing corbina. He misses it and says, dejectedly: "It was right there, right in front of my hook, almost at my feet."
Ballon is part of a small cult of surf anglers whose favorite time of year is right now. June through September is prime time for surf fishing.
"The water has heated up, and the fish are here," Ballon said. "They're not cooperating and biting today, but I'm seeing them,
4-, 5-and 6-pound corbina. They're here."
Ballon's guests on this day include Mack Jones, a 34-year-old from Pacific Beach and a newcomer to surf fishing. Jones is here for instruction from Ballon, surf fishing Zen master whose credentials include nearly three decades of fishing beaches from Santa Monica to San Diego. He once hooked corbina with the likes of the late actor Lee Marvin, an avid surf fisherman.
Ballon set the rendezvous point yesterday at the parking lot of the Poseidon Restaurant in Del Mar. At 5:30 a.m., there are plenty of unused parking spots, both in the lots and on the street.
Fishing preparations are minimal for veteran surf fishermen like Ballon. Wearing shorts and a windbreaker, Ballon gets out of his car, gets barefoot, takes his fishing rod and reel out of the car, grabs his small shovel and pasta strainer (for making bait) and he's ready to go.
"I used to carry a lot of gear, but not anymore," Ballon said. "I'm ready to go when I get here. This is all I need right here."
Ballon points to what looks like trout gear, an ultralight rod and reel, 6-pound test line, a small No. 6 hook and a small sliding sinker between two small splitshots.
Ballon has identification to prove he's a septuagenarian, but right now, he has the energy level of a 5-year-old getting ready to catch crayfish.
"A big part of it is digging up the sandcrabs," Ballon said as he nearly sprints to the beach. "My back can't take all that bending anymore, so it's good to have young Mack here to do the digging."
Bait made, Jones follows Ballon's lead and stuffs his share of the sandcrab loot into one of the pockets of his shorts. They commence fishing . . . make that looking.
"I try and use the soft-shell sandcrabs right now because with the millions of sand crabs on the beach, these fish want the soft-shelled over the hard-shelled crabs," Ballon said as he hustled down the beach looking for feeding corbina.
Angling for California corbina is sight fishing in its purest form. It's not looking for a big spawning female largemouth bass on a nest. It's not looking for a trout or salmon in a lie in a stream. It's more like trying to bait a tailing marlin or nervous bonefish.
Ballon doesn't have a Lowrance or sonar to detect the bottom or school of fish. His eyes and his instincts are his electronics. His legs are his motor. His enthusiasm is the fuel that drives him to intercept a corbina on a morning food run.
They say the Atlantic salmon is the fish of a thousand casts. The corbina is the fish of a thousand steps. Fly fisherman Richard Jacobsen said of them: "These shadows in the surf are even more challenging than the elusive flats permit."
"I look for a small school of corbina feeding – four or five together, if I'm lucky," Ballon said. "I don't cast until I see them."
There are many ways to fish the beach. Some cast 11-foot spinning rods to get maximum casts of up to 40 to 50 yards and then set them in rod holders and pull up a beach chair.
On the East Coast, folks speak in reverence of striper fishermen who don waders and brave the cold, high winds and surf and rocky shoreline to catch their prized striped bass.
But here in Southern California, where everything is said to be easier, surf fishing at some point evolves into a barefooted angler in shorts using trout gear. There is the occasional catch of striped bass, white seabass, halibut, shovelnose guitarfish, leopard shark or the mystery breakoff, but for the most part, the big prize is California corbina, with spotfin croaker and bigger barred surf perch serving as fine tugs in between.
Just as on the East Coast, the California surf fisherman fishes the beaches and rocky points for the excitement of catching a fish that gives battle. Just as East Coast fishermen do, Californians fish in waves that were created hundreds, if not thousands, of miles away. The crashing surf churns up the sandy bottom, exposes sandcrabs and makes them vulnerable to feeding fish.
That process provides a fisherman like Ballon a chance to catch them. That's what draws men like Hal Ballon to the beach each day. And even on days such as this one, when Ballon and his guest caught surfperch and no corbina, it's never a wasted morning.
"I love the sight of corbina darting in the water," Ballon said. "That's what gets my blood going."
Surf Fishing 101
Surf-fishing 101 Prime time: June through September.
License: All anglers 16 and older must have a fishing license to fish from the beach.
Gear: Light as possible. Hal Ballon of San Marcos uses an ultralight rod and reel with 6-pound test line, a small No. 6 bait hook for sand crabs (pictured above) and small splitshots with a small sliding sinker in between. Pasta strainer and small shovel for digging sandcrabs. Look for dark spots in the sand where the crabs have dug in and disturbed the beach.
Clothes: No shoes, with shorts and a shirt or windbreaker for early morning hours.
Species: The coveted catch is California corbina, which can get to 6 and 7 pounds. But spotfin croaker, halibut, striped bass, white seabass, barred surfperch, shovelnose guitarfish and leopard sharks also can be caught.
Favorite spots: Ballon likes Del Mar Beach, the beach in front of the Army-Navy Academy in Carlsbad, and Leucadia beach. Other spots frequented by surf fishermen include San Onofre, Oceanside, Torrey Pines State Beach and Black's Beach just north of Scripps Pier.
Baits: Sand crabs are the preferred bait, but bloodworms, mussels and sugared-cut mackerel (the latter for surfperch) also work. Artificial lures such as grubs (motor-oil with red-flake), Hopkins, Kastmasters or Krocadiles spoons and smaller swimbaits also work.
Best time: Ballon prefers a low minus tide early in the morning (a 1.7 minus tide at 6:03 a.m. today and 1.3 minus tide tomorrow at 6:59 a.m.). It's a time with fewer people, and the fish usually are more active. Look for depressions that might hold bait or rip currents that carry bait as the tide changes.
For more information on surf fishing in Del Mar, check out this link for some great tips on types of tackle, rods & reels, and artificial lures that are really effective. There are also some pretty good 'fish stories' here as well...
Southern California Surf Fishing
For more traditional salt water fishing, check out these links for 1/2 day, full day or multi-day deep sea fishing. Most of the 1/2 day and full day trips are off La Jolla Cove and depending on the time of year, the fishing can be fantastic.
H&M Landing also goes to La Jolla, but also fishes Pt. Loma and points south, off Imperial Beach. They also are known for long range trips into Mexico for tuna, albacore, dorado and other more tropical sportfish.