Barred Sand Bass
Barred Sand Bass Basics
The barred sand bass is a sea bass species found off the southern coast of California and northern Mexico. While not large, this species puts up one hell of a fight, providing decent battles to anglers using light tackle.
Due to the popularity of white fish amongst diners and anglers alike, the question ‘is the barred sand bass a white fish?‘ is often asked. The good news is that this sea bass fish species is considered a white fish; its mild, flaky meat makes for excellent table fare.
Barred sand bass (Paralabrax nebulifer)
The average barred sand bass comes in at 1-4 lb, while the world-record specimen was an impressive 13 lb.
LC – Least Concern
Also Known As
Grumps, Grumpy, or just sand bass.
The barred sand bass is a small fish species; mature members only reach 7-14 inches in length.
The barred sand bass has an elongated body ending with a squared tail, which is typical for members of the Serranidae sea fish family. The sand bass’s head is covered in brown spots resembling freckles, and it has a protruding lower jaw. Their mouth is also particularly large relative to their overall size.
This jaw structure gives them the unofficial name of ‘grumps/grumpy,’ as they appear as if they are unhappy or pouting.
The barred sand bass has a dark gray/green back, with the color gradually transitioning to its white underbelly. The length of the barred sand bass’s body is decorated with 4-7 dark vertical bars, hence the name – barred sand bass.
Look for an enlarged third dorsal spine for easy identification versus other sea bass species. This spine is usually at least twice the length of the second spine.
A stunning barred sand bass in the hands of an angler
A Note on Spawning
The barred sand bass spawns during the summer, with peak activity in July. They are pelagic spawners: meaning they disperse their eggs into the water column rather than in a nest, like some nearshore species.
During the spawning months, they leave their reefs and outcroppings to form large schools of breeding fish but do not migrate vast distances. Instead, they simply leave their seafloor habitats and congregate higher in the water column.
How to Catch Barred Sand Bass
Barred sand bass are found off the southern Californian coast at depths of up to 600 feet. With that said, they are most often caught by anglers fishing at around 60-100 feet, and in areas with lots of underwater structures and sandy bottoms.
Top locations to search out and fish for barred sand bass include rocky shoals, kelp forests, piers, and shipwrecks. Shore-based anglers can increase their odds of catching a good-sized grumpy by fishing jetties and docks that give access to deep water.
Favorite Feeding Spots
Small crustaceans, octopuses, and other small fish are all preferred prey for the barred sand bass. These critters make up their natural diet and thrive in rocky outcroppings and kelp forests. Such areas, located next to sandy bottoms, are great for targeting barred sand bass as they hunt for their next meal.
Anglers can target barred sand bass from the shore, but larger fish are known to congregate in deeper water.
Piers extending into deep water are fantastic spots to fish from if you’re targeting barred sand bass
It is possible to catch barred sand bass throughout the year, but the months between May and October are the best periods to fish for them. This is when the ordinarily solitary fish congregate to spawn.
Barred sand bass fishing is optimal when water temperatures reach 60–70 degrees. In these conditions, expect a higher level of feeding activity from the fish and an increased willingness to attack lures and baits.
The best time of day to catch barred sand bass is at sunset or after dark, especially if there is a full moon.
Barred sand bass are opportunistic feeders and will eat almost anything presented to them.
The preferred method of fishing for barred sand bass is with natural bait. Live baits such as squid, sardines, and blood worms are popular choices. Dead or cut baits, such as mussels or cut squid, are also reliable options if live bait is unavailable.
This bass species will also take lures, which is great news for anglers looking to stay active. Great lure choices include yo-yo-style spoons and curl tail grubs. Hard and soft plastic lures can both be “sweetened” by including a strip of cut bait or by adding an artificial scent to increase the lure’s attractiveness.
Don’t underestimate the effectiveness of curl tail grubs when targeting barred sand bass
Anglers can catch barred sand bass in the same environment as many other nearshore species, leading to exciting days on the water with a mixed bag of fish. Barred sand bass are not especially challenging to catch, but they can switch off seemingly at random. If the bites do suddenly stop, it may be time to adjust your technique or bait.
Slow cast and retrieve methods are ideal for shore-based anglers. In comparison, drifting baits is the preferred method for boat anglers.
Heavy equipment is not needed for barred sand bass. Most anglers will see good success with a medium-weight inshore rod and reel, similar in size to a freshwater bass setup. My recommended setup is a 6-7 foot medium-action casting rod, paired with a reel holding 10-15 lb line.
When it comes to line choice, go for either mono or braid. Braid will be more sensitive to strikes, especially when fishing deeper water. Monofilament will be more forgiving and is excellent when fishing near wrecks and other submerged structures that can tangle your line.
The dropper loop rig
A dropper loop setup is excellent when using natural bait and fishing at depth. The dropper loop rig keeps the bait off the bottom while maintaining tension in the line, meaning you can detect bites more easily.
If you’re fishing at night for barred sand bass, the fish are likely closer to the surface, so try fishing baits without any additional weight. A hook and leader simply tied to your mainline is a serious option. Many tackle companies market this pre-tied rig as a “live lining” rig.
If you’re a fan of soft plastics, there are two popular approaches: a jig head or a three-way rig. A jig head is commonly used when casting from a shore or pier, as it allows the angler to control the fishing depth better than a three-way rig.
The three-way rig differs from the dropper rig by keeping the mainline, hook, and weight on separate lines. The three-way swivel allows for easy adjustment to the length or weight/thickness of the leader attached to the hook. Having the weight on a separate, lighter line means it can be broken off easily if snagged, with the rest of the rig remaining intact.
The three-way rig excels when being drifted from a boat. Use it to suspend your bait higher in the water column and fish it over rocky bottoms. All you have to do next is wait for bass to ambush it as it drifts past.
The three-way rig is exceptionally effective for barred sand bass when drifting from a boat
Top Tips for Catching Barred Sand Bass
Tip 1: If Bites Stop, Adjust Your Depth
Barred sand bass spend most of their time near cover on the sea bottom. However, they will leave their hiding spots and venture up the water column during the spawning season. If you aren’t catching on the bottom, try fishing higher up.
A spoon or jig is a great tool for identifying the depth where the fish are lurking.
Tip 2: Fish the Full Moon
A summertime full moon is said to provide the best grumps fishing of the season. The warm water and increased nighttime light combine to produce even more active fish.
Traditionally, daytime fishing for barred sand bass is slow, so take it easy during these hours and get ready for an evening of fast and furious bass fishing.
Tip 3: Use Natural Lure Colors
When selecting a soft plastic lure, look to “match the hatch”. This phrase was coined by fly fishermen and means to select lure colors that match what the fish are feeding on naturally.
Barred sand bass love squid – by selecting brown or red lures, you’re mimicking this well-known favorite of theirs. If sardines or anchovies are abundant in the area, choosing a lure with a similar green and white coloration would make sense.
For many anglers, a full moon means it’s time to get fishing for barred sand bass
Barred sand bass are one of Southern California’s best-kept secrets. These little white fish are hard-fighting warriors and good eating to boot. They represent an excellent nearshore opportunity for new and experienced anglers to bring home dinner without the need for overly technical gear or techniques.