Fishing in Mission Bay 2

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If you’re visiting America’s Finest City, then Mission Bay is going to be at the top of your to-see list. This beautiful area offers just about everything an outdoor enthusiast could look for. This is the largest aquatic park in the country and it boasts over 25 miles of shoreline with beaches, hiking trails, picnic areas, and a beautiful boardwalk. The “heart” of the park is its rich waters, which is why fishing in Mission Bay is a must.

An aerial view of the whole of Mission Bay, California, on a sunny day
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There’s SeaWorld, which you shouldn’t miss, and the chance to try just about any watersport you can think of. But it’s fishing that locals swear by. The quality of fish in Mission Bay is very good and, while it’s fun to fish, it isn’t always easy. But that’s just a big part of its appeal, of course. Here’s what you need to know before you cast a line here.

What kind of fish can you find in Mission Bay?

Maybe you’re wondering if it’s worth giving Mission Bay a chance since San Diego Bay is a stone’s throw away. The short answer is – yes, you definitely should! These shallow waters (10–25 feet) are the playground of many Bass, Halibut, Croaker, Corvina, Bonito, and the list goes on. Here are some of the best catches in Mission Bay…

Spotted Sand Bass – aka Bay Bass

If there’s only one species you can fish for in Mission Bay, let it be the Spotted Sand Bass. There are a lot of these fellas cruising the bay and they’re not shy about eating either. They like to move around, depending on the season, but you can catch one pretty much whenever you go out.

A smiling angler in sunglasses and a cap, holding a Spotted Sand Bass with water in the background
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Spotted Sand Bass are the staple of Mission Bay. Though they’re not very big (up to 5 pounds), they’re a common target of both solo and charter anglers. Spotties are a great “starter” fish – kids and beginners love catching them. An additional bonus is that they make for good table fare! So as long as you get one within the size limit, you’re in for a treat.

The crucial thing to remember when looking for these Bass is structure and moving water. They like to hide in the weeds and eelgrass, but you’ll also find them around docks and rocky shorelines. Spotted Sand Bass respond to a variety of artificial lures – mostly crankbaits, spinnerbaits, and skirted jigheads

You’ll want to use a fluorocarbon leader to avoid your line getting cut around the rocks and structure when Spotties start to run away once hooked. While fishing in Mission Bay, aside from Spotted Sand Bass, you could also catch Calico, Spotted, and White Seabass.

Halibut 

The next on the list of top catches is the mighty Halibut. This is hardly a surprise since the bottom of the bay is sandy, which is the preferred Hali hideout. You’ll find these flatties both in shallow waters and in deeper sections of the bay, near the channels. 

A group of anglers standing on a charter boat, each holding a Halibut
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There are a lot of Halibut in Mission Bay and they’re available pretty much all the time. These guys are ambush predators that like their food to be close and easy. That’s why you’ll have to serve your bait on a silver plate. Bay anglers chase Halis from the shore, from kayaks, and from boats, depending on what’s at their disposal.

Unlike Bass, Halibut can’t resist live bait – sardines and anchovies are the best options in Mission Bay. Fishermen with a kayak or a fishing boat swear by slow trolling for Halibut. The point is to drag your bait along the bottom until a Halibut bumps into it. After that, you’ll feel gentle taps on the line, and then it’s time to set your hook. The setting doesn’t have to be too strong and abrupt, because then the fish might get off and give up the bait. Be patient and it will pay off in tasty Hali fillets. The best time of day to fish for Halibut is during the slack tides.

Shortfin Corvina

Another fish that everyone loves to see at the end of their line is Shortfin Corvina. These beauties thrive in the warm shallow waters of the bay and they’re fantastic fighters – all the makings of a great catch. They’re most active in late spring and summer when the weather is warm and fair.

A young fisherman in a cap holding a Corvina fish on a dock in Mission Bay
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The first thing you need to know about Corvina fishing in Mission Bay is that they are very sensitive. This means you should handle them with utmost care and preferably not get them out of the water to release them. Corvina follow schools of bait fish religiously, so where you find the bait, they’re not far behind. Consider casting into the surf, around the marinas, and waters up to 10 feet deep. This is where you’re most likely to spot a school of Corvina mercilessly pursuing their prey.

Corvina are relentless fighters, which is probably their most attractive quality. They will resist you as you’re reeling them in, and while they’re not very big, they’ve got teeth that shouldn’t be messed with. Anglers often compare Corvina to Largemouth Bass when it comes to their prowess and aggression. A lot of equipment you’d use for Largies, you can use for Corvina as well, especially topwater lures. Just bear in mind that Corvina and California Corbina are not the same fish, though both live in Mission Bay.

Pacific Bonito

If you thought that you could only catch Bonito in the offshore waters, think again! Fishing in Mission Bay means that you’ve got a good chance to land a Bonito even from shore or a pier. From late May to October, Pacific Bonito hang out in the bay, which allows you to get your fill without ever leaving the land.

Four male anglers holding Bonito fish, standing on a fishing boat
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The main advantage Bonito has up their proverbial sleeve is their speed, a trait they share with the rest of their bigger Tuna cousins. In the bay, they chase food around underwater structures and kelp beds. Once hooked, Bonito will try and make a run for it, so be ready for a lot of reeling and a good fight. This close to shore, they can reach up to 10 pounds, though they’re more often in the 5 lb range.

Hardwired predators that they are, Bonito love to eat and hunt. They’ll attack both lures and live bait, as long as they’re presented well. Live anchovies are irresistible to them, and the next best thing are sardines. On the artificial side of things, anything shiny with a lot of movement will do the trick. Topwater lures are a good way to go, especially silver spoons. A 10 lb line with a fluorocarbon leader is a must to prevent Bonito from cutting the line with its teeth.

And much more…

There’s no shortage of fish species in Mission Bay and the bite will mostly depend on the time of day and year. Since San Diego waters are almost consistently warm and full of nutrients, the bay isn’t an exception.

A smiling family on a boat, father and son holding Calico Bass
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The abovementioned species are the most common catches in Mission Bay, but the list doesn’t end there. Smaller Barracuda find their way to fishing lines very often, and the same goes for Sharks and Rays. Surfperch, Barred Sand Bass, and Croaker are also there in good numbers. 

How to fish in Mission Bay?

When you decide to go fishing in Mission Bay, you can do so from the shore, jetties, piers, from a paddleboard, a kayak, or a fishing boat. There’s a solid chance you’ll hook into something. We weren’t exaggerating when we said this is a watersport haven, and the same goes for different types of fishing. Here are some of the most productive approaches you can try.

Shore Fishing in Mission Bay

Two shore fishermen standing on a jetty, casting into the surf below them
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Shore fishing is by far the most popular way to fish in Mission Bay. The reason for that is simple – the fishing access is excellent wherever you go. We’re not only talking about beautiful sandy beaches, but also jetties and piers. Wherever you go in the park, chances are you’ll be able to cast a line.

Don’t be surprised if you see the shoreline dotted with anglers at all times of day and night. In fact, night fishing can sometimes be incredibly productive. Wading is another favorite if you don’t mind spending some time in the water, of course. Jetties along Mission Beach are a good place to get started, as are bridge pilings and any man-made structures in the bay. Once you give it a go, you’ll see why shore fishing is one of the best ways to explore the area.

Charter Fishing in Mission Bay

A man holding a bent fishing rod, fishing on a charter boat with San Diego in the background
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Where you’ve got good fishing, you’ve got professional guides to lead the way to the best catch. This is very much the case in Mission Bay, where you’ll see plenty of charter boats in deeper waters. Since the bay isn’t very deep, guides usually stick to waters that hold bigger fish and are around 15–20 feet deep. 

The best thing about fishing with a Mission Bay fishing charter is that they know where the fish hide. Whether you’re after Halibut, a nice Spotty, or you’re craving a Corvina fight, let your guide know and they’ll tell you what can be done. Your crew will know the hotspots for the day and they’ll help you figure out how to catch your fish. If you’re a beginner angler or you’re coming out with your family, then hitting the waters of Mission Bay with a professional charter captain might be your best option to get something good on your line.

Kayak Fishing in Mission Bay

A kayak fisherman launching from a beach in his kayak on a sunny day
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Kayaking in all its shapes and forms is one of the favorite pastimes in San Diego and its surrounding waters. Naturally, kayak fishing in Mission Bay has its rightful place among the most fun experiences to have. You can rent a kayak, bring your own, and even book a guided tour with a kayak fishing guide.

The waters of the bay are protected from all sides and are calm most of the time – which is great news for kayakers. You don’t need fancy equipment to get started. The most important thing is to go out during the incoming tide. That’s when you get to target the likes of Bass, Halibut, Croaker, and Corvina. Sometimes only a couple of hours on the water can be more productive than fishing the entire morning from shore. That’s how good it can get.

Fly Fishing in Mission Bay

A fly fisherman wading in the surf, holding a fly rod, at sunset
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Last but not least, let’s talk about fly fishing opportunities in Mission Bay. This is a great place to start your fly fishing escapade because it’s enough to know the basics and be successful. You don’t need fancy equipment either, only a bit of patience and the will to learn.

Fly fishing from a boat is a good way to dip your toe into the technique, and you can catch anything from a Spottie to a feisty Bonito. These fish won’t be huge, but they’ll be a challenge to get into the boat. You’ll need a 6–8 wt rod and a 10–12 lb monofilament line to get started. When it comes to fly patterns, shrimp imitations, crab, and bonefish patterns are the way to go. You’ll see a lot of locals make their own flies, so you can always ask for tips.

Best Fishing Spots in Mission Bay

A view of downtown San Diego from Mission Bay
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Mission Bay is huge and navigating it as a newcomer can be overwhelming. You can keep things simple and just pick a fishing spot you think could work. We’ll help by sharing some of the best spots to go fishing in Mission Bay.

  • Fisherman’s Channel: This narrow pass between the Crown Point and the Vacation Isle is connected via a bridge, and its name says it all. You can fish for Spotties, Sharks, Halibut, and more.
  • Enchanted Cove: Many anglers agree that these waters are indeed magical. You can cast a line from either Fiesta Island or get out with a kayak and target Rays, Halibut, Spotted Bass, and even Yellowfin Drum.
  • Mission Beach Jetty: This is a beautiful and productive place to fish. Corvina are a common catch, as well as Rays. When you’ve had your share of fishing, you can enjoy the sunset or splash in the surf.
  • Mariner’s Basin: If you go to the other side of the South Mission Beach area, you’ll end up here. The waters are much calmer and there’s good Halibut, Calico Bass, California Corbina, and Surfperch to catch.
  • Vacation Isle: Fishing around the island is fun because different coves are home to different species. Depending on where you go, you can find Spotties, some White Seabass, various Bass, and Croaker jhere.

Mission Bay Fishing Regulations

An infographic including the California state flag and a vector of a boat with text saying "Mission Bay Fishing Regulations: What You Need to Know" against a blue background
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The rules for fishing in California, and by extension in Mission Bay, are simple. Everyone who is 16 and older needs to have a valid fishing license with them. You’ll need to know the size and bag limits for the fish you can catch in the bay so that you don’t break the rules by accident.

Another thing to bear in mind is that you might need an Ocean Enhancement Stamp because you’ll be fishing below Santa Barbara County. However, this rule doesn’t apply for 1-day and 2-day licenses, so you can fish freely for a couple of days.

Fishing in Mission Bay – Fun, Games, and Excellent Action!

An aerial view of a marina in Mission Bay, California
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Mission Bay was constructed with fun in mind. Whether you’d like to spend a day in the sun, play some beach volleyball, or spend an afternoon hiking, this is the place for you. Fishing in Mission Bay has a bit of something for everyone, there are fish to target any day of the year, and of course, your backdrop will always be nothing short of spectacular. What’s not to like?

Have you ever been fishing in Mission Bay? Do you have experiences and tips to share? Did we miss something? Let’s talk in the comments.

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