Offshore, Nearshore, Piers, Jetties
5 - 13 pounds
12" - 40"
Belonging to the tilefish family, Malacanthidae, the Ocean Whitefish (Caulolatilus princeps) is the only member that could naturally be found off the coast of California. It’s certainly a small fish as its maximum size can only reach around three feet in length. But even with its small stature, this fish species is quite a popular target among anglers and commercial fishers because of its highly sought lean and flaky meat that has an exquisite taste.
The Ocean Whitefish has an elongated body that often has a light brown coloration on top and tapers gradually until it reaches the pearly white bellies. Its single dorsal fin is long that starts from the neck to the base of the tail. Although not as long as the dorsal fin, its anal fin is long as well—starting from the middle of the belly, down to the tail base. All of its fins are turquoise in color with some yellow/yellow-green tinge that runs across the fins’ edges.
The spawning season starts in late autumn and ends when the weather starts to get warmer, usually during early spring. It often occurs off the coast of Baja California in Mexico although they have been known to spawn within the waters of Southern California in the US when the weather gets warmer. They fertilize their pelagic eggs externally which tend to stay within pelagic zones even during larval stages. They would then reach maturity in about three to five years.
The Ocean Whitefish is a carnivore, feeding mostly on small marine animals such as crabs, shrimps, octopi, and squid, as well as some small fish species, depending on what’s available for them. Although they have been known to inhabit shallow waters, particularly within rocky reefs and kelp beds, they would sometimes swim into deeper waters during the day to look for food. Aside from humans, known predators of the Ocean Whitefish include sea lions, giant sea bass, and sharks.
Although Ocean Whitefish have been known to grow more than three feet in length, most anglers reported catches of only one to one and a half feet long. Also, the Ocean Whitefish is not a known sea speedster but it can still dart away really fast in short bursts when spooked.
In the US, they are mostly located near offshore islands and banks off the coast of California. Around the waters of Santa Catalina, San Clemente, and Santa Barbara Islands, as well as Tanner and Cortez Banks are known to be hotspots.
The Ocean Whitefish usually prefers to inhabit rocky reef habitats, usually in depths between ten to five hundred feet. At night, they take refuge within the enclaves of their rocky habitats and kelp beds. But during the day, they have been known to be prolific hunters, wandering in deeper waters in search of food, which consists mainly of crabs, krills, shrimps, octopi, squids, and other marine invertebrates.
Though this fish can be caught off piers and jetties, the best chance of you catching one is definitely on a boat near the islands and banks off the coast of southern California. A standard fishing pole and line combo are pretty much what you need to catch one because of their small size. The fish’s tendency to attack any possible meal makes it easy to hook as well using just about any bait or lure you prefer; although, many anglers are saying that fresh squid strips are the best bait for catching an Ocean Whitefish. Don’t be overly confident with this fish, though. That’s because, yes, they’re pretty easy to locate and to hook, but it will be challenging to reel them in as they would tirelessly tug and pull until they either escape or cut your line using their rocky habitat.