Target Species Profiles
Spotted Sand Bass (Paralabrax maculatofasciatus)
Written by: Dr. Larry G. Allen
Okay folks, this winter weather got you down ? Are you having trouble finding something to fish for in the ocean without having to deal with the bounding mane ? Well, when the seas get heavy, I retreat to one of my favorite past-times -- fishing spotties in southern California's bays. Check the tides looking for good water movement (usually around new and full moons), get your light bass tackle, some 3" AA, gold and chartreuse spade tails, a small skiff, and get ready to have a ball in these calm waters. Your best bet is probably San Diego Bay if you want to catch a lot of them. This time of year, just target the 9 -12 ft drop-offs adjacent to eelgrass. Here is a brief summary of what we know about my favorite nearshore sportfish.
SCIENTIFIC NAME - Paralabrax maculatofasciatus, family Serranidae (sea basses)
COMMON NAMES - spotted sand bass, spotted bay bass, cabrilla pinta (Mexico)
DISTRIBUTION - Spotted sand bass have ranged historically as far north as San Francisco Bay and south to Mazatlan, Mexico. Healthy populations also occur into the most northern portions of the Gulf of California (Sea of Cortez). In most years, however, they are rarely seen north of Santa Monica Bay. In southern California waters, spotted bass are restricted to shallow, warm water areas such as bays, harbors and quiet, protected areas of the coast where eelgrass, surfgrass, and rock relief occurs.
SIZE & AGE - To 24 inches and 6.75 pounds. The oldest known spotted sand bass was 14 years old and 18 inches long. They are very fast growing sea bass with average size at age being represented by the following graph:
Early in life, spotties grow fast. Baby spotted bass can be 9 to 10 inches long after only one year! After two years growth rate slows dramatically, but still most spotties are of legal fishing size by 3 years. Growth is very slow after four years with an average, "old" fish growing only to about 15 inches. As is usual for fast growing species, spotties are short-lived with a maximum recorded age of 14 years. Actually, the vast majority of spotted sand bass don't make it past 9 or 10 years.
DIET - In southern California, clams, crabs, and small bay fishes such as gobies, kelpfish and topsmelt.
REPRODUCTION - Spawning occurs near the mouths of the southern California embayments from June through August. Spotties lay pelagic (floating) eggs which enter the plankton in coastal waters. Large, high-contrast, black and white individuals with white chins and jaws and prominent white spots below their dorsal fins are males. Smaller fish with golden hues and yellow chins and jaws are usually females. Our studies on spotted sand bass have shown that populations from some locations change sex as they grow. In the northern Sea of Cortez and San Diego Bay populations, fish first mature as females and gradually change into males as they get older. This reproductive strategy is not that rare among fishes and is termed "protogynous" or "first-female" hermaphroditism. In other locations, such as Newport and Anaheim Bays sex change is apparently rare and males and females occur throughout all age groups - verrrrrrrry interrrrresting!!!
FISHERY - Not many of our local nearshore sportfishes present a bigger challenge to the angler than the spotted sand (bay) bass. On light tackle a one-pounder will give you quite a tussle. A five-pounder usually stays right where you hooked it. A lot more anglers seem to be targeting spotties these days compared to ten years ago which probably means trouble. The spotted sand bass populations in southern California are small and cannot take the current rate of exploitation for much longer. In my humble opinion, spotty fishing should be "catch and release" only.