California Scorpionfish

Order Scorpaeniformes

 Scorpionfishes and Rockfishes — Family Scorpaenidae

 Genus Scorpaena

California Scorpionfish

Species: Scorpaena guttata (Girard, 1854); from the Greek word scorpaena (scorpion, referring to the poison spines), and the Latin word guttata  (a form of small drops or spotting).

Alternate Names: Commonly called sculpin although also called scorpionfish, scorpion, little poker, rattlesnake and scorpene. Early records show stingfish and spinefish as favorite appellations. In Mexico they’re called escorpión Californiano.

Scorpionfish caught by KJ from the Cabrillo Mole in Avalon in 2010

Identification: Typical rockfish shape, heavy-bodied and with strong head and fin spines. Their coloring is red (deeper water) to brown (more shallow water) with dark spotting over the body and fins. Fin spines are venomous and can cause a very painful, although not fatal, wound.

Size: To 17 inches, although most caught from piers are less than 12 inches long. The California record was for a fish weighing 3 lb 0 oz. It was caught at the Silver Strand Beach in 1997.

Scorpionfish from the Mole in 2010

Range: Uncle Sam Bank, central Baja California, and the Gulf of California, to Santa Cruz. They are uncommon north of Point Conception.

Habitat: Most abundant in shallow rocky environments such as rocky reefs, sewer pipes and wrecks; frequently found in caves and crevices. Some are also found on sand. Found from fairly shallow water down to 620 feet. May travel over 200 miles in annual spawning migrations (spring and early summer) that see them form large spawning aggregations on or near the bottom (at a variety of depths)

Scorpionfish missing a piece out of its tail — Green Pleasure Pier in Avalon in 2013

Piers: Although scorpionfish are most common around rocky areas and reef areas, I have seen them caught at almost every oceanfront pier in southern California. Best bets: Balboa Pier, Newport Pier, Redondo Beach Pier, Redondo Sportfishing Pier, Hermosa Beach Pier, Santa Monica Pier, Green Pleasure Pier (Avalon) and the Cabrillo Mole (Avalon).

Shoreline: Occasionally caught by shore anglers fishing rocky areas in southern California.

Scorpionfish caught by Kien at the Cabrillo Mole in 2011

Boats: A common catch by boaters in southern California, especially those fishing at Catalina and the Horseshoe kelp area of Los Angeles.

Bait and Tackle: Scorpions are carnivorous, ambush predators that are primarily nocturnal, feeding at night. Their main diet consists of small crabs, octopus, shrimp, and small fish. A high/low leader with size 4 hooks baited with squid or shrimp seems to work best although they also really like ghost shrimp. Still, I’ve caught them on cut anchovies, strips of mackerel, pile worms, and one on a live queenfish that seemed almost as large as the scorpionfish; they’re not too discriminating as far as food.  

Scorpionfish caught at the Oceanside Pier in 2013

Food Value:  An excellent eating, mild-flavored fish that is best fried (although they are a favorite fish for sushi and command top prices when fresh fish are available).

Scorpionfish caught by KJ from the Cabrillo Mole in Avalon in 2014

Comments: Handle with extreme care. California scorpionfish are the most venomous member of the family found in California. If handled in a careless manner and a puncture wound does occur there will usually be pain (sometimes intense) and perhaps swelling that should subside after a few hours. If possible, soak the affected area in hot water as soon as practical (since the hot water alters the toxin and makes it less harmful). Multiple punctures may require doctor’s attention or even hospitalization. The worst story I ever heard of such multiple punctures concerned a middle-aged angler fishing from a boat near Catalina. This lady had caught upwards of a dozen scorpionfish that were dutifully deposited into her gunnysack. Unfortunately, many of the long spines were protruding from her bag when a heavy wave caused her to lose her footing and to fall, bottom-first, onto the bag. The result was butt-porcupine and a helicopter trip back to a hospital.

Ed Roberts of the California Department of Fish and Wildlife and his son Daniel’s first scorpionfish. At the Belmont Pier Kid’s Derby in 2006.

Although studies showed a decline in population before 1980, they seem to have increased and today have a healthy population.

A nice scorpionfish caught at the Green Pleasure Pier in Catalina in 2002

A scorpionfish caught at the Hermosa Beach Pier by Mahigeer (Hashem) in 2006

Scorpionfish caught by Eugene Kim at the Cabrillo Mole in Catalina in 2010

A scorpionfish caught at the Goleta Pier by SteveO in 2003

Not the way I would hold a scorpionfish since even the small ones can inflict a painful sting

Scorpionfish caught at the Coronado Mini Piers in 2003 by OBPier.rat

A baby Scorpionfish caught at the Cabrillo Mole in Avalon by Cole in 2010

You look’in at me? 

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