Yellowtail fishing

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This migrational fish is present in our waters from about July through October, but they have been known to make surprise appearances.

The second dorsal fin, the anal fin, as well as the other finlets on the fish, are all bright yellow in color, hence the common name. The main body is a metallic blue, changing to silver on the belly.

When these balls of baitfish are near the surface, there will often be flocks of terns and seagulls hovering above and diving into the shoal. They also often team up with schools of dolphins to get the baitfish into a ball and feed on it.

Weighing in at an average of 25 to 45 lbs, with some specimens getting much larger, they can put up a fight you will not soon forget. Amazing acceleration and long runs on your drag are commonplace when fighting this Southern California favorite.

Yellowtail have stamina and are very well known to provide a calculated fight. After chasing down schools of squid, mackerel, or anchovies into tight bait balls, they often team up and devastate the bait. There is no mistaking a Yellowtail bite, as you will instantly feel your drag let loose. But beware, they often dive strait down attempting to free themselves. If there is shallow enough water or kelp forest, they will often head strait for it, and get tangled there. We always provide fishing tackle, rods and reels, and bait on every six pack or four pack charter we offer, but you are always welcome to bring your own. That being said, you need to bring your A game to catch this fish.


The most common way of fishing for "Yellows" is live bait. Although you can rarely get it, live squid is like candy to them. Alternatively,  Anchovy, Sardine or even small Mackerel with little or no sinker, using small hooks and light line, is your best bet. To get your live bait further from the boat, or if you are casting on patties, try adding a small cramp-on split shot, rubber core or sliding egg lead. After Yellowtail have been confirmed in the area, a crew member will cut small chunks or throw live bait into the water so that chum bait is constantly streaming behind the boat. Chumming is a great way to catch California yellowtail. If you see one of our deckhands chumming bait in this manner, be on the ready with iron and a good casting rod. Keep your eyes open, as they will often surface and be within sight. Drop an iron right on top of his head, and you will probably get a bite. 

By scanning the water behind the boat, you can sometimes eyeball yellowtail coming in close to inhale chunks. Get a hooked bait in front of one of these brazen yellowtails as quickly as possible. 


When you know they are below 20 feet, or if you are fishing along structure or kelp forest, use a San Diego knot with the weight on the bottom and hook loop about 1 foot above your weight. Be generous with your slip knot so that the bait is at least six inches away from the center line. ​See the illustration to the right.

Be careful with your bait selection. Your choice should be healthy. Stay away from bloody or red-nose bait. If the bite is deep, also try a small or medium size mackerel. When targeting yellowtail with this rig, avoid fishing too close to the bottom, especially over structure, because you are likely to inadvertently catch lingcod or rockfish. It’s best to reel the sinker six to eight cranks off the bottom. You can also check with our deckhands for advice on what to use.  If you are getting hit on the surface by Skipjack or Barracuda, try using a heavier weight to sink past them to the Yellowtail just below.  Yellowtail are not very line shy so you can use mono instead of braided line. Use flurocarbon as a leader if available. Again, ask your deckhand to tie you up, that is what they are there for.


For artificial lures, you can use the "yo-yo" technique with any high ratio reel. Just try cranking in line fast for best results. To choose the proper color match the lure against water color in the area being fished.  California yellowtail often prefer metal jigs to live bait, but choosing the right jig for the situation is key. When fishing schools in deep water, drop a heavy jig such as a Tady 4/0 or Salas 6X Jr all the way to the bottom, and wind it as fast as you can, while occasionally pausing the retrieve.


When the yellowtail are scattered, the best strategy is to fast-troll lipped plugs, such as a Rapala. Often times, it is best to stick relatively close to the shoreline, and structure or kelp patties that they hide out in. Yellowtail occasionally venture out into deeper water, but they are almost impossible to find because they are too deep and to spread out. Troll at about 7 knots along the shoreline in 30- to 100-foot depths while scouting for birds, and signs of bait and fish on the sonar. We will also be using side scan sonar to look on out both sides of the boat. When we hook a fish, we circle back to slow-troll or drift the same area with live bait, as it’s common to find more where you hooked the first fish. Our crew will always be ready to put the right rod and reel in your hand for the moment, but if you have a question, just ask. If a yellowtail is hooked up on the troll, and your are not reeling it in, pick up an empty rod and start reeling. Often times, they hunt in packs and a second and even third hook up is not uncommon while bringing in the other trolling rods. Once you have the trolling rod in hand it to a deckhand and pick up an iron or freeline rig and let it rip. The first yellowtail hooked is usually not the last, and this may be your best chance for the day, so be ready.


Yellowtail can be fished year-round. Summer time is the best time to go, From June until October. When the w​ater gets 60 degrees or warner, Yellowtail start to arrive in San Diego from down south. They come in search of squid and bait fish. By October, they begin heading back Southward. However, some always stay behind and form the "home guard", scattered fish around the Coronado Islands, San Clemente, and Catalina islands. They can also be found on patties and local kelp beds off of Point Loma and La Jolla, in the summer and into fall, basically as long as the water stays warm. Yellowtail roam around rocky areas, as well as patrol kelp beds and kelp patties, typically in depths of 120 feet or less.


In conclusion, Yellowtail fishing is a popular and rewarding activity that offers both recreational and commercial fishermen the opportunity to catch a delicious and hard-fighting fish. Whether you are trolling, casting, jigging, or using longlines or driftnets, it is important to use the appropriate gear and techniques for the specific location and conditions. With the proper knowledge, equipment, you can land one too! Call us at 619.508.7823

yellowtail sport fishing spots