Spotted Sand Bass
Spotted Sand Bass Basics
Pound-for-pound, spotted sand bass are excellent fighters that readily take well-presented baits and lures. These sea fish are relatively easy to catch and are found in areas accessible to shore-based anglers.
As with any prevalent game fish, recognition as a cooking ingredient is important. Is this sea bass a white fish? Yes, the sand bass family is considered a white fish, and this includes the spotted sand bass, which makes good table fare. They yield manageable-sized filets that cook well and reward anglers with mild, flaky meat.
Spotted sand bass (Paralabrax maculatofasciatus)
The spotted sand bass is a medium-sized sand bass fish. On average, it weighs 3-4 lb and grows between 12-18 inches in length.
The world record spotted sand bass came in at a sizable 6.7 lb and was 23 inches long.
LC – Least Concern
Also Known As
Spotted bass, bay bass, and spotted bay bass.
The spotted sand bass has an elongated body, consistent with other members of the sea bass or Serranidae family. Their tail is a triangular fan shape that is unlike most other coastal bass species. They have a large mouth with a slightly protruding lower jaw.
Look out for their distinctive dorsal spines – a feature that enables easy identification. The third dorsal spine is noticeably longer than the first two, and the proceeding spines then decrease in size as they run down the fish’s back. The spotted bass also has soft rays that follow the ten primary spines. These soft rays run from the dorsal fin almost to the tail.
A captured spotted sand bass in the hands of an angler
The spotted sand bass has tan sides that blend into a lighter underbelly. As you would expect, the species is known for its black and brown spots that adorn most of its head and body. These spots can group vertically on the fish’s sides to appear like bars. These dark bars lack the clear definition of other sea bass species, such as the barred sand bass.
During the spawning season, males develop a white lower jaw and brighter overall coloration. In comparison, females will present with a yellow jaw and darker overall coloration.
A Note on Spawning
Spotted sand bass spawn from May through September. During these months, bass congregate in the mouths of local harbors and bays, where females release their eggs into the water.
The fertilized eggs and larvae will drift for about a month before eventually settling in a new area. Larval sand bass will grow and mature if the conditions provide adequate cover and prey.
How to Catch Spotted Sand Bass
As their nickname of “bay bass” suggests, spotted sand bass prefer the calmer waters of bays and harbors. They are most prevalent in the sheltered nearshore waters of southern California and Baja.
While you can find them as far north as Monterey Bay, the best fishing is had in the southern extent of their range. They are known to reach larger sizes and increase in prevalence further south, particularly in the bays and lagoons of Baja.
Favorite Feeding Spots
The spotted sand bass is a daytime hunter and loves sandy bottoms close to rocky outcroppings and eelgrass beds. Docks, piers, and pilings provide ample shelter and areas where bay bass can ambush their prey.
You can often access many prime locations from the shore or via piers. Sand bass enthusiasts will use boats to access more remote or deeper pilings.
As with the whole family of sand bass fish, spotted sand bass are opportunistic feeders that will go for almost any natural bait and strike at most lure types.
The spotted sand bass’s natural diet consists of shellfish and small crustaceans. Clam strips, crabs, and mussels are all excellent live bait choices, with bloodworms and anchovies also being effective options.
Artificial lures are popular amongst sand bass anglers. Soft plastic swimbaits in natural colors like green and white are highly productive in most settings. They are best fished on the bottom, where sand bass naturally hunt. Swimbaits around 3-4 inches are particularly handy, as they cast well and do not require heavy fishing gear.
Small crankbaits work well to imitate shrimp and crabs but can easily get snagged in kelp or eelgrass beds. Always adjust your bait based on the makeup of the bottom where you are fishing.
With the spotted bass’s tendency to inhabit shallow water, you can also target them using wet flies.
Soft plastic swimbaits are fantastic lures for spotted sand bass
Plenty of spotted sand bass areas are easily accessed by shore and boat-based anglers.
For shore-based anglers, targeting the pilings and edges of artificial or manmade structures is the preferred technique for landing spotted bass.
If you’re using artificial baits, I recommend casting into or past the cover with the hopes of hooking a bay bass as you reel back.
Natural baits are best utilized by casting out and letting the bait sit on the bottom. The scent will do most of the work and draw in sand bass. The closer you can position it to the targeted cover or bass hideout, the better your chances.
You can get away with using a much smaller boat or watercraft for spotted sand bass than you can for targeting other offshore fish species. This is because of the small size and calm waters that come with bays and harbors. Many anglers use kayaks or smaller outboard-equipped boats to maneuver quickly around pilings and docks.
As a boat angler, you can anchor next to, or on top of, prime spotted sand bass areas. This enables you to drop baits directly to any fish swimming below you.
If using artificial lures, like soft plastics, keep the lure close to the target structure. For the best results, vertically jig it so it “hops” along the bottom.
Get used to views like this if you plan to go boat fishing for bay bass
Top Tips for Catching Spotted Sand Bass
Tip 1: Go Light
Spotted sand bass don’t reach huge sizes. This, coupled with their sometimes gentle bites, make it wise to lighten your tackle.
My recommended setup is a 5-6 ft light/ultralight casting rod paired with 6 lb line. If you’re using natural bait, go with a #4-6 size hook.
Tip 2: Fish the Tide
Fishing the tide will increase your chance of a hook up regardless of the bait or lure you’re using. Fishing the tide involves positioning your bait where it can be carried by the tide or current past your target area. As it drifts past, a hungry sand bass will hopefully ambush it.
In short, cast up current and let the bait drift past your target structure.
Tip 3: Grab Your Own Bait
If you’ve run out of bait, or want to change up your approach, the good news is that bait for spotted sand bass is easy to come by. Most structures in bays and harbors will be covered with mussels and other shellfish.
Simply scoot down to the water’s edge and pull a few mussels off the piling or rocks. Separate the two shells with a knife, or crack them open with the handle of your knife. Whack them on your hook, and you’re good to go! Fresh shellfish tend to be softer than salted bait but will work well in a pinch.
Harvesting shellfish like clams and mussels is permitted in most areas providing you have a valid fishing license.