Catching “Exotic” Game Fish in Southern California

Tips and tactics for catching offshore game fish in southern California.
Exotic Southern California Game Fish

Maybe global warming isn’t all bad. Extraordinarily warm ocean temperatures last summer brought “exotic” offshore game fish from remote Baja waters right into southern California’s backyard. With these same visitors expected to return this summer, here’s how anglers can be prepared.

Toothy, fast and tasty, these highly regarded fish surprised many anglers fishing kelp paddies or trolling for tuna.

Tackle: High-speed conventional outfit for bait and jig casting, or standard offshore trolling tackle. Rig baits and lures with single-strand wire to prevent bite-offs.


Tactics: Troll high-speed plugs like Braid Marauder, Bonita or Halco Giant Trembler at 10-plus knots. Cast and retrieve heavy “wahoo bombs” or single-hook “iron” jigs, or fly line live mackerel on wire leader.

Known as moonfish in Hawaii for their round body shape, these rare and delicious visitors have been caught at weights up to 180 pounds.

Tackle: Usually caught incidentally by anglers targeting tuna — on 30- to 40-pound conventional bait rigs or heavy jig outfits.


Tactics: Drop and retrieve heavy “iron” jigs like a Tady 4/0 or Salas 6X down to 200 feet or more below kelp paddies or surface-feeding tuna and yellowtail. Or “depth charge” a live sardine or mackerel using an in-line 8-ounce torpedo sinker.

Pacific Blue Marlin
This behemoth billfish can top 1,000 pounds. A 462-pound “local” blue was caught in October, while several others were lost after battles lasting many hours.

Tackle: “Don’t bring a knife to a gunfight,” advises local marlin expert Bill Buchanan. When targeting those Pacific blues, use a minimum of 50- to 80-pound trolling gear and up to 400-pound test leader.


Tactics: Troll a spread of large marlin lures at 7 to 7½ knots using head styles designed for the sea state. Rig lures with larger forged hooks instead of normal wire hooks.