May 24, 2024

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Complete Guide for Fishing in Santa Cruz CA

Reading Time: 9 minutes

Located on the central coast of California, Santa Cruz is a destination that’s not to be missed. As the sun rises over the beautiful beaches, anglers gear up for another day of adventure on the water. And the chances are that the experience of fishing in Santa Cruz is one that will stay with you forever.

In Santa Cruz, the thrill of the catch is never really far away. There are miles of coastline leading to the bountiful waters of the Pacific Ocean with its diverse habitats and abundance of fish. As you explore the unique and diverse marine life that calls this area home, you’ll realize that this place has something for everyone.

This guide will talk about everything you need to know to make sure you don’t miss out on Santa Cruz’s incredible fishing opportunities. You’ll learn about the area’s top fish species, spots, techniques, and seasonality. Let’s dive right in.

What can I catch while fishing in Santa Cruz?

In Santa Cruz, there’s always something biting. The list of your potential catches depends on when and where you go. Depending on the season, you can explore the inshore waters, hit the offshore grounds, or just stay in the bay. If that’s not enough, you can also check out various freshwater spots in the area and target Bluegill, Green Sunfish, Trout, and Salmon.

More on that later. Now, it’s time to take a look at the top fish you can target in Santa Cruz…


Photo taken by Barbarossa Fishing

There are two types of Salmon you can come across in the Santa Cruz area – Chinook (aka King Salmon) and Coho (also known as Silver Salmon). These fish bite best in the Monterey Bay area, as well as along the coast – all the way from Santa Cruz to Half Moon Bay. In fact, you can even target Salmon from a local pier or right from shore in the Santa Cruz Wharf, the nearby Capitola Wharf, and from the beach near the mouth of the San Lorenzo River.

The Salmon fishing season typically runs from April through November, peaking during the summer months. The fish migrate into Monterey Bay to spawn in the rivers and streams that feed into it.

What’s the most productive method to land Salmon in Santa Cruz? Locals often go trolling with lures and bait or they cast spinners and spoons. You can also try fly fishing if the conditions allow.


A group of male anglers of different ages, standing on a fishing charter back at the dock, holding two bright red-orange Rockfish each on a sunny day
Photo taken by Bent Rod Sportfishing

There are several species of Rockfish in the waters off the Santa Cruz coast, including Black, Blue, and Vermilion. If you’re after one of these creatures, make sure to get familiar with California’s fishing regulations ahead of time. Some species of Rockfish are protected, which means that if you catch them by accident, you’ll need to immediately release them back.

Those Rockfish that are open to harvest usually bite best during the summer months. Live bait and lures both work well to attract the fish, and trolling and jigging are among the most popular techniques.

Feel free to hunt for Rockfish at a local wharf if you’re not up for a ride. The Santa Cruz Wharf, along with Capitola Wharf, are both excellent spots. If you decide to fish in deeper waters, head to rocky areas or the kelp forests off the coast.


Three anglers stood on a dock in Cailfornia after returning from a fishing trip, holding a couple of Halibut each on a sunny day
Photo taken by Deadliest Kast Sport Fishing

The Pacific coast is a perfect place to go after highly-prized game fish, and Santa Cruz is no exception. California Halibut call these waters home and lure anglers from all over the state––and beyond—to cas a line.

Halibut fishing is best during the summer months, although the season runs from mid-spring through mid-fall. When the waters are warm, the fish tend to migrate closer to shore. Look for areas with sand where Halibut bury themselves, or head to the nearby Monterey Submarine Canyon or Soquel Hole. In general, you can find Halibut along the coastline from Pleasure Point to Capitola.


A smiling angler holding up a Lingcod he just caught to the camera, while standing on a fishing charter in California on a bright day.

Of course, the Santa Cruz fishing menu isn’t limited to just Halibut, Rockfish, and Salmon. Lingcod are also popular targets throughout the year but especially in spring and fall. When it comes to the best technique, local anglers prefer jigging for Lingcod using live bait, such as anchovies and sardines.

The area’s rugged coastline is gthe perfect habitat for Lingcod. You can find them in kelp forests and rocky areas near the shoreline, although the fish can also bite near the piers. If you’re fishing with a guide, consider heading further offshore.

Dungeness Crab

An angler in a baseball cap, stood on a fishing charter and holding two Dungeness Crabs, with the water behind him on a clear day
Photo taken by Pacific Angler Sportfishing

If you can’t resist a delicious meal that you catch yourself, crabbing is never a bad idea. Dungeness Crab fishing is a popular activity in Santa Cruz whenever the season allows. These crustaceans are in the area throughout the year, although there’s a closed season to protect breeding populations.

Some of the most popular spots for crabbing in the area are in the waters around the wharfs. Anglers often use special pots or hoop nets baited with fish or squid to attract Dungeness Crab. However, if you book a crabbing trip with a local captain, chances are you’ll be fishing various spots that only locals know about!

Where can I go fishing in Santa Cruz?

An aerial view of Pleasure Point in Santa Cruz, California, witha beach visible in the foreground and the Pacific Ocean on the right-hand side of the image on a sunny day

Whether you decide to fish in a river, cast from shore, or head out into the deep waters of the Pacific, chances are you’ll have plenty of fun. There are various spots in Santa Cruz itself for you to discover, although you might also want to see what other nearby areas have to offer.

Here’s a list of potential spots for you to consider for your Santa Cruz fishing adventure:

  • Santa Cruz Wharf: As we mentioned earlier, the Santa Cruz Wharf is a popular spot with easy access to the waters of the Monterey Bay. If you’re lucky, you could come across Rockfish, Salmon, and many other species.
  • Loch Lomond: Offering a sharp contrast to Monterey’s Bay fishing scene, Loch Lomond is the go-to place for every freshwater enthusiast in the area. Note that there are several closed seasons.
  • Capitola Wharf: As the name suggests, this wharf is located in nearby Capitola, just a short ride from Santa Cruz. You can come across Halibut at certain times of the year here.
  • The Soquel Hole: This deep-water spot requires a longer ride from the Santa Cruz shore, although locals say it’s almost always worth it, especially if you’re after Salmon.
  • Natural Bridges State Beach: This is a beautiful spot for fishing for Lingcod. If you’re lucky, you may also find other species on the end of your fishing line.
  • San Lorenzo River: This gorgeous 26-mile stream is a good spot for baitcasting, fly fishing, spinning, and trolling. Steelhead and Salmon are the stars of the San Lorenzo fishing menu.
  • Monterey Bay Canyon: The Monterey Bay Canyon is a deep underwater canyon just off the coast of Santa Cruz. It’s a popular spot for Salmon and Halibut fishing.
  • The Farallon Islands: The Farallon Islands are a group of rocky islands located about 30 miles off the coast of San Francisco. If you can spoil yourself with a full-day fishing trip, consider heading to the islands.
  • The Cement Ship: An artificial reef located off the coast of Aptos, just south of Santa Cruz, the Cement Ship is a popular Rockfish fishing spot.

How can I go fishing in Santa Cruz?

There are various types of fishing experience you can get in Santa Cruz. From staying in Monterey Bay to a full offshore extravaganza near the Farallon Islands, anglers are practically spoiled with choice. And if that’s not enough, there are also freshwater opportunities for you to discover.

Inshore Fishing

A view from behind of a balding angler sitting on the side of a boat, battling it out with a fish on the end of his line, with a child to his left looking at the water on a sunny day in California
Photo taken by Warrior Poet Sportfishing

Santa Cruz Wharf is a good place for inshore fishing with its sandy and mud bottoms. It’s open to the general public, so no fishing license is required. This historic wharf offers a thriving environment for various fish species that shore anglers can target. Perch are among the most numerous species all year long, while Halibut, Jacksmelt, and Striped Bass bite well during the summer months.

While you’re dropping a line half a mile out over the Monterey Bay and enjoying the gorgeous views, your friends and family will also have plenty to do. There are shops and even a seaside eatery, among other restaurants.

Deep Sea Fishing

A view along the side of a boat of two anglers fishing out of Santa Cruz, CA on a clear day, with their lines in the water
Photo taken by Barbarossa Fishing

The Santa Cruz Harbor at the north end of Monterey Bay serves as the departure point for deep sea fishing charters. Anglers can enjoy the beautiful Monterey Bay Submarine Canyon, a sanctuary that plunges to depths of up to 10,000 feet. Here, you can get your hands on anything from Salmon and Halibut to Tuna, Sharks, Lingcod, and more. Generally, the summer months offer the most productive fishing experience.

There are multiple fishing charters that offer guided trips to the canyon. These offer a range of options, from half-day excursions to multi-day expeditions, and can tailor the trip to suit your needs. Fishing with an experienced local guide is never a bad idea if you want to make the most of your deep sea fishing adventure.

Freshwater Fishing

A view across a boat landing of Loch Lomond, a freshwater fishing haven near Santa Cruz, CA, on a clear day

Loch Lomond Recreation Area is among the best-kept secrets of Santa Cruz. This 150-foot deep reservoir is nestled in the middle of the lush redwood forests of the Santa Cruz Mountains. Loch Lomond is normally open from March until mid-October, although you might want to check the dates in advance. Secure a fishing license and head out during the summer months for some Bluegill, Green Sunfish, Trout, and even the occasional Largemouth Bass.

Another popular angling destination is the San Lorenzo River. It runs through the heart of Santa Cruz and is surrounded by the beauty of the Santa Cruz Mountains. Here, you can catch Steelhead, Salmon, and other species that migrate from the ocean upriver during the cold winter months. Note that all wild Steelhead and Salmon are strictly catch-and-release.

When can I go fishing in Santa Cruz?

While fishing in Santa Cruz is available year-round, different seasons offer different opportunities. Spring is a great time to target Salmon in the offshore waters of Monterey Bay. Inshore, anglers can practice their angling skills against Halibut and Rockfish.

Summer offers the best chance to come back to shore with a mixed bag. Tuna, Rockfish, Lingcod, and Halibut all bite well throughout the summer months, along with many other species. Typically, the bite is strong both inshore and offshore.

Fall is a great time to switch your attention to some freshwater fishing. If the season allows, consider heading to Loch Lomond or the San Lorenzo River. Perch, Rockfish, and other species also bite during the fall months and into winter. In fact, you can also target Trout as they migrate upriver.

Fishing in Santa Cruz FAQs

Fishing in Santa Cruz: Fishing Tales from the Pacific Coast

A view towards the Santa Cruz lighthouse at sunset, with a US flag at half mast to the left of it, with the Pacific Ocean in the background

From the serene sound of the waves crashing against the shore to the excitement of reeling in your first catch, fishing in Santa Cruz offers something for everyone. As you set out to explore its bountiful waters, you’ll see what it truly means. For some people, it’s the perfect place to land that elusive Halibut. For others, it’s the diversity of species that call these waters home that makes it so special. If you want to see what Santa Cruz is like, all you have to do is book a trip and head there. Tight lines!

Have you ever been fishing in Santa Cruz? What’s your favorite spot? Any fish stories you’d like to share? Let us know in the comments below!

The post Fishing in Santa Cruz, CA: The Complete Guide appeared first on FishingBooker Blog.

By: Lisa
Title: Fishing in Santa Cruz, CA: The Complete Guide
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Published Date: Sun, 07 May 2023 12:09:56 +0000

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