Calico (Kelp) Bass

From 19th Trip: Huge Day Off Laguna Beach

SCIENTIFIC NAME – Paralabrax clathratus, family Serranidae (sea basses)

COMMON NAMES – Calico bass, bull bass, cabrilla (Mexico)

DISTRIBUTION – Kelp bass have ranged historically as far north as the mouth of the Columbia River and south to Bahia Magdalena, Baja Cailfornia, Mexico. However, they are rare north of Pt. Conception. They are abundant in southern California waters including the shores all of the Channel Islands. They are typically found in shallow water (surface to 150 ft.) being closely associated with just about any kind of structure, including kelp.

SIZE & AGE – To 28.5 inches and 14.5 pounds. The oldest known kelp bass was 34 years old and 25 inches long. They are relatively slow growing sea bass with average size at age being represented by the following graph:

Baby kelp bass can be 4 inches after one year and are about 12 inches (legal size) at 6 years. As with most fishes, growth is highly variable though with the largest fish not necessarily being the oldest. The world record kelp bass (14.5 lb.) caught by Tom Murphy off Newport Beach in 1995 was 27 years old while a 9.5 lb. fish caught by Jim Cvitanovich at San Clemente Island in 1993 was 34 years old. Kelp bass are “slow to grow – so let’em go”.

DIET – Small fishes (including anchovies, sardines, surfperch, queenfish), squid, octopus, crabs, shrimps, and amphipods.

REPRODUCTION – Kelp bass mature between 7 and 10.5 inches in length and about 3 to 5 years. Kelp bass form breeding aggregations in deeper water off of kelp heads and rocky headlands. Spawning occurs in these aggregations from April through November peaking in the summer months. Kelp bass lay pelagic (floating) eggs which enter the plankton in coastal waters. During spawning, high-contrast, black and white individuals with yellow-orange snouts are males. Fish with golden hues and yellow chins and jaws are usually females.

FISHERY – Kelp bass which are popularly referred to as calico bass are one of the most important nearshore recreational species in the waters off of Southern and Baja California. The California Department of Fish and Game estimates that as many as 1,000,000 calico bass may be taken each year by private boats and commercial passenger fishing vessels (CPFV – in other words – party boats).

Home Range/Migratory Patterns:

Kelp bass have ranged historically as far north as the mouth of the Columbia River and south to Bahia Magdalena, Baja California.  However, they are rare north of Point Conception.  They are abundant in southern California waters including all the Channel Islands.  They are typically found in shallow water to 150 feet, and are closely associated with high relief structure, including kelp beds.  Recent studies have shown
that some kelp bass may move in excess of 50 miles

Current Regulations:

No commercial is take allowed.
Recreational minimum size limit is 12″ total length, Possession limit is 10 in combination of kelp bass, barred sand bass and spotted sand bass.
Current regulations appear generally effective in maintaining a stable population.

About the Author

Sean loves to fish in Southern California and this site is his journal of his adventures in fishing. He started fishing when he was a little guy with his dad David, and has continued to this day with his family. In his day job, Sean has been a graphic designer for over 15 years, designing everything from in-store displays and signage for supermarkets to e-commerce auction sites for an online consumer electronics company. He was a web and graphic designer then later an art director for McMullen Argus Publishing (Primedia), building and working on sites for Lowrider Magazine and Super Chevy, plus 30 other automotive magazine sites. Sean seized the opportunity to teach other aspiring designers - a passion that took him first to Learning Tree University and then to Golden West College in Huntington Beach, CA, where he has been an integral part of the renowned digital arts department for more than ten years. Throughout his teaching career, Sean maintained a freelance business, designing for clients including the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences (Los Angeles Area Emmy Awards), Image Comics and many more. See his work at