Santa Cruz, CA Fishing: Angling Along the Quintessential Beach Town

For fishing opportunities open throughout the entire year, Santa Cruz, CA, is one great place for adventurous anglers.

Santa Cruz, CA Fishing: Angling Along the Quintessential Beach Town
Santa Cruz, CA Fishing: Angling Along the Quintessential Beach Town
Team Guidesly

August 12, 2021, 6 min read

Updated on August 10, 2021

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On the northern edge of Monterey Bay lies the spectacular city of Santa Cruz, the county seat and the largest city of Santa Cruz County, California. Its serene beaches and unspoiled landscapes make it one of the most sought-after places for both anglers and nature lovers. 

Santa Cruz was once home to the Awaswas Natives until the 18th century when the Spanish soldiers, colonists, and missionaries arrived. In 1769, Spanish explorer Don Gaspar de Portola discovered the land area known today as Santa Cruz, which means Holy Cross. Twenty-two years later, Father Fermin de Lucien established the 12th mission in California- the Santa Cruz mission. Then, by the 1820s, Mexico had assumed control of the area within the next twenty years and became a state in 1850. In this same year, Santa Cruz country was created and became part of the twenty-seven original counties. 

Today, the city holds one of the most spectacular sceneries, a historic mission church, and an unspoiled landscape, offering interesting cultural attractions. This quintessential beach town also offers pristine marine environments, which makes anglers keep coming back for more.

Santa Cruz, CA Fishing

Santa Cruz, California, offers fishing any time of the year. From summer to winter, you are sure to land on a fish from one of its waters. It is one of the hot spots for anglers. For first-time visitors, angling in this town might be quite overwhelming because of how big the town is. So here are some angling destinations in Santa Cruz, California, to help you plan your day-to-day angling trip. 

Let’s start off with Santa Cruz Wharf. Santa Cruz Wharf is known for fishing, boat tours, sea lion viewing, dining, and souvenir shopping. Built in 1914, the current wharf is situated between Main Beach and Cowell’s Beach. The 838.68-long wharf is the longest pier on the West Coast of the United States and is one of the most overlooked fishing opportunities.

Fishing in Santa Cruz Wharf does not require any fishing license as it is open to the public. The wharf holds different environments, including sandy bottom found inshore, sand and mud bottom, and shallow bottom. This makes the wharf a thriving environment for different fish species, most especially the part of the pilings. One of the most abundant catches in this area is perch, which can be caught year-round. During hot summer days, small shiner perch becomes more common. Anglers may target them and use them to pursue bigger game fish like halibut and striped bass. Jacksmelt is another common species during summer and can be caught through baitcasting using a small jig set-up. Some anglers prefer to use rig fish under a large float, then they cast it away from the wharf.

During fall, there is a higher chance for you to target silver salmon as they migrate to the mouth of San Lorenzo. Meanwhile, cold winter days are best for catching surf perch just outside the breaking waves of the boardwalk side. In addition, perch species like the pile perch, black perch, and rubber lip perch are abundant and easy to catch along the piling around the wharf. These perch species can also be caught through baitcasting with shrimp, mussels, or piles of worms as baits. Other fish species one can target are the calico surfperch, flounder, and a small shark, which is more often than not, a leopard shark.

Another fishing spot an angler would want to visit is Loch Lomond Recreation Area. It is one of the best-kept secrets of Santa Cruz and one of the most spectacular sights as well. Hidden in the middle of the lush redwood forests of the Santa Cruz Mountains is a lake reservoir that was developed in the 1950s to be a source of drinking water for the whole town of Santa Cruz. The 175 acres and 150 feet deep lake have a rich ecosystem consisting of a decent amount of weed growth, stumps, logs, and tules making it a thriving environment for different fish species. Open through March 1 to mid-October of each year, this area offers anglers fishing opportunities every day it is open. 

During the warm summer months, one can fish along the shoreline of the lake and target some bluegill and green sunfish. In addition, small to medium-sized largemouth bass prowl the shades by the shoreline.

Trout are another species that thrive in the lake. Due to the lake's higher elevation, targeting trout during the months of June and early July will give visiting anglers and locals a great angling experience. However, first-time visitors must be aware that fishing in this area is only permitted from city-rented boats, private boats, and bank areas post as permissible fishing areas. Fishing in any areas within one hundred feet from any boat dock and work dock structures is prohibited. In addition, anglers must also secure a fishing license when visiting Loch Lomond.

Another angling destination in Santa Cruz is the San Lorenzo River. The stream gives anglers different fishing opportunities like baitcasting, fly fishing, spinning, and trolling. In addition, the 26-mile stream was once the most popular waterbody to target steelhead trout and coho salmon.

During the cold winter months up to spring, these species migrate from the ocean upriver and run up the estuary to get to higher freshwater as they prepare for spawning. Then, it goes back to the ocean. These are the best times that you can target these species. However, because these species are already threatened, all wild steelhead trout and coho salmon are on a catch-and-release basis only. Anglers won’t come home empty-handed, though. Thanks to the steelhead hatchery, where species are stocked. Anglers may distinguish hatchery-grown trout from their wild counterparts through a clip on their fins. 


Top 10 Fish Species in Santa Cruz, CA

The top 10 fish species in Santa Cruz are: bluegill, green sunfish, largemouth bass, steelhead trout, coho salmon, pile perch, black perch, calico surfperch shiner perch and rubberlip perch.

Santa Cruz Fishing Seasonality

Going to Santa Cruz, California will be more worth it and memorable if you are there during the best time of the year. This is especially true for anglers who want to experience the best fishing experience in Santa Cruz.

So, if you are an angler targeting Salmon, recreational fishing starts on the traditional, every first weekend of April. However, if you are targeting others for leopard sharks, recreational fishing is open year-round to shore-based anglers while for boat-based anglers, fishing for leopard sharks starts from the first of April to the end of December.

California halibut, white seabass, surfperch, sturgeon, tunas, and pacific herrings can be targeted year-round. However, it is recommended that first-time anglers check the bag limit for these species. 


Exploring Santa Cruz, CA

1.Fishing Charters

Several fishing charters are available in Santa Cruz to take you and your loved ones for open water and deep-sea fishing to catch different species of fish. Depending on the season, the professional guides will take you to the best spots for a half-or full-day trip.

2. Cruise with the Whales and Dolphins

Visiting Santa Cruz will not be complete without cruising with the whales, dolphins, and ocean wildlife sightseeing. Visiting in the months of April to November will give you a view of humpback whales as they migrate through the region. Meanwhile, the months of December to April will give you a view of gray whales traversing the region. 

3. U.C. Santa Cruz Arboretum and Botanic Garden

Visiting the U.C Santa Cruz Arboretum and Botanic Garden is also a must when visiting Santa Cruz as it gives you an astonishing view of an ancient marine terrace in the Santa Cruz Mountains. Visitors can enjoy a picnic lunch, in an area with stunning ocean views.

Fish in Santa Cruz and beyond.