White Seabass

Typical juvenile White Seabass aka “seatrout” taken from a pier, this one from the Ocean Beach Pier in August of 2013

Species: Atractoscion nobilis (Ayres, 1860) from the Greek words atrax (spindle) and skion (from sciaena, an old name for a European croaker) and the Latin word nobilis (noble).  Called Cynoscion nobilis until the 1990s

Alternate Names: King croaker, Catalina salmon, bull tomcod, croaker, weakfish, or seatrout (young fish). Called   corvina cabaicucho or corvina blanca in Mexico.

Identification: Large, elongated body with a large mouth in which the lower jaw protrudes slightly beyond the upper jaw. Unlike the shortfin corvina that has large, fanglike-canine teeth, the canine teeth in the upper jaw of white seabass are small and barely noticeable. Very young white seabass are somewhat variable in color—silvery, brownish, golden or even reddish, but as they age their color becomes more standard—silver or gray. Up to two feet in length (most of the fish seen on piers) the young white seabass have three to six broad black vertical bars on their sides and dusky yellow fins. Adults tend to be blue to gray on the back, with silvery sides and a dark spot on the inner base of the pectoral fin. Young white seabass are sometimes (somehow) confused with white croaker but the juvenile white seabass have bars on their sides and do not have a barbell on their chin. White croaker lack bars on their sides and do have a barbell. White seabass are perhaps most easily separated from other croaker by the presence of a ridge running the length of the belly.

Whte Seabass taken by Humberto at the Newport Pier in November 2002

Size: White seabass are the largest of the California croakers. To five feet and over 90 pounds; those caught off piers are usually the young “seatrout” ranging up to 24 inches in length. The California record fish weighed 78 lb 0 oz and was caught in Monterey Bay in 2002. A fish weighing 93 lb 4 oz was speared by a diver near Malibu in 2007.

Range: Bahia Magdalena, southern Baja California, and the Gulf of Califonia to Juneau and the Boca de Quadra, southeastern Alaska. Considered uncommon north of Monterey Bay  (although recent years have seen an increasing number of white seabass taken in San Franciso Bay) and rare north of California. White seabass were fairly common in both San Francisco Bay and Tomales Bay until the late 1940s when they seemed to disappear for many decades.

 Nice-sized White Seabass taken from the Malibu Pier in 2004

Habitat: White seabass migrate along the coast according to their spawning habits. Although some may be caught in southland waters year-round, they tend to move north in the spring and south in the fall, spending the winter months in Baja California. The best fishing is usually June to September. They’re most common around offshore islands. Typically schools over rocky bottoms from 10-40 feet feeding on squid and small fish.

Piers: Commonly taken at southland piers, although rarely if ever caught in the huge numbers seen 60-70 years ago. Runs of the smaller sea trout do occasionally occur in late summer and fall, however, these are usually fish that are under the legal minimum size of 28 inches and must be returned to the water. Best bets: Crystal Pier, Oceanside Pier, San Clemente Pier, Seal Beach Pier, Hermosa Beach Pier, Malibu Pier, Paradise Cove Pier and Ventura Pier. The last decade has seen quite a few taken from the Seacliff Pier and Capitola Wharf.

Large White Seabass taken from the Imperial Beach Pier in October of 2014 (Guesstimated at 50 pounds)

Shore: A favorite but infrequent catch by southern California shore anglers.

Boats: One of the most prized species for boaters in southern California.

A juvenile White Seabass taken from the Ventura Pier in 2003

Bait and Tackle: Unlike other California croakers, white seabass prefer the pelagic habitat rather than inshore areas. They prefer to feed in mid-depth areas rather than on the bottom like most croakers. They’re favored meals appear to be squid, pelagic crabs, and small fish As a result, anglers should seek them from the deepest waters of the pier and be willing to try different depths. In addition, the early morning hours have traditionally been the best time for white seabass. Tackle should be medium to heavy with at least 20-pound test line and size 2 to 2/0 hooks fished near the bottom. The best bait is live bait: anchovies, smelt, queenfish or shinerperch. Next, would be frozen anchovies, sardine or mackerel strip bait, or squid (one of their favorite foods). If specifically seeking these fish, try using a live bait sliding leader and cast out a considerable distance from the pier. At the Hermosa Beach Pier, and other piers where artificial reefs have been constructed, a favorite ploy is to cast out a live jack mackerel as close to the reef as possible.

White Seabass taken from the Goleta Pier in 2006

Food Value: Excellent, mild-flavored meat that can be prepared in many ways. Unfortunately, it tends to discolor rather rapidly and there’s traditionally been a limited market for the frozen form.

A “young” White Seabass taken from the Malibu Pier in 2009

Comments: Large white seabass are one of southern California’s top partyboat gamefish. Unfortunately, the numbers of these fish decreased markedly in the 1970s and 1980s. However, with an increased legal size, a decreased daily limit, and efforts by several groups to pen raise juvenile white seabass, a comeback is being made. It is important that all sportsman, and especially pier fishermen who catch the small illegal “seatrout” adhere to the existing laws. If so, large white seabass may once again be a common catch of pier fishermen.

Some large white seabass caught from piers

83 Lbs. — Newport Pier, 1920s—Source: Personal communication, Patrick Kennedy, Baldy’s Tackle (1990)

61 Lbs. — Newport Pier, Roger Jackson, December 1, 1927—Source: Santa Ana Register, December 1, 1927

50 Lbs. — Imperial Beach Pier,  “Oyuki”, October 2014—Source: sdfish.com (October 28, 2014) and Oceanic Angler (oceanicangler.com), November 11, 2014

48 Lbs. — Newport Pier, June 1, 1934—Source: Santa Ana Register, June 2, 1934

47 Lbs. — Redondo Wharf, Charles McGehee, May 19, 1914—Los Angeles Times, May 19, 1914

45 Lbs. — Capitola Wharf, September 2000—Source: Capitola Wharf Bait Shop

45 Lbs. — Avalon Pleasure Pier, Pat Casey, May 5, 1936— Source: Catalina Islander, May 14, 1936

45 Lbs. — Redondo Wharf No. 3, August 5, 1919—Source: Los Angeles Times, August 8, 1919

42 Lbs. — Santa Monica Pier, 1957—Source: Santa Monica Pier Bait Shop? Newspaper: DF&G

41 ¼ Lb. — Pacifica Pier, July 1992—Source: Pacific Bait Shop

41 Lbs. — Point Mugu Pier, Charles S. Leonard, August, 1959—Source: Oxnard Press-Courier, August 5, 1959

40 Lbs. — Avalon Pleasure Pier, A. E. Eaton, July 3, 1916—Source: Catalina Islander, July 4, 1916

40 Lbs. — Hueneme Wharf, Charlie Chambers, October 1895—Source: Los Angeles Herald, October 27, 1895

≈ 40 Lbs. — Monterey Wharf No.2, October 2009—Source: PFIC

36 ½ Lbs. — Balboa Pier, Ed Steif, May 30, 1928—Source: Santa Ana Register, May 31, 1928

35 Lbs. — Redondo Wharf No. 1, Harold Rempe, June 3, 1909—Source: Los Angeles Herald, June 6, 1909

32 Lbs. — Hueneme Wharf, Charlie Chambers, October 1895—Source: Los Angeles Herald, October 27, 1895

30 Lbs. — Redondo Wharf No. 3, A. J. Bell, May 25, 1909—Source: Los Angeles Times, May 26, 1909

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2 Responses to White Seabass

  1. Jim says:

    I believe your description of the white seabass having canine teeth is inaccurate.
    The following is directly from the DFG Website.

    White seabass may be confused with the shortfin corvina (which has 1 or 2 large canine teeth on each side of the upper jaw) or the queenfish (which has a wider gap between the dorsal fins and more soft rays in its anal fin).

    Here is the link https://www.wildlife.ca.gov/Conservation/Marine/NCCFRMP/White-Seabass

    • kenjones says:

      No, the description is accurate. WSB have SMALL canine teeth in their upper jaw whereas shortfin corvina have LARGE canine teeth on each side of their upper jaws.

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