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Corbina Fishing in California: Tackle, Tips, Rigs, and Tides for Corbina Surf Fishing by a Pro Guide

Updated: 4 days ago

This page is all about surf fishing for California corbina (Menticirrhus undulatus) - a hugely popular West Coast surf species that grows to well over 20 inches and 5 pounds in weight.

The Corbina is a member of the croaker family (although it cannot croak like its cousin, the yellowfin croaker) and lives in shallow, sandy waters in Southern California, from Point Conception down to the Gulf of Mexico, feeding on sand crabs and small food items close to shore.

Trophy specimen corbina caught surf fishing with a guide in California
Corbina fishing in California: A trophy Corbina caught on the tactics in this article

Over a few years of guiding clients when light line fishing for corbina and similar species in Southern California, I’ve developed a few rules around the best tides, locations, baits, rigs and tackle for corbina fishing based on what I’ve seen working, or otherwise.

I’ll happily share these in this article below, or with anyone who comes on a guided trip with me.

Corbina Fishing in California: Tackle, Tips, Rigs, and Tides for Corbina Surf Fishing by a Pro Guide article index:

1 Corbina Fishing: Basic information about Surf Fishing for Corbina

2 Best Rods for Corbina Fishing

3 Best Reels for Corbina Fishing

4 Best rigs, sinkers, leader and set-ups for Corbina Fishing

5 Try this kit for everything you need to catch big Corbina from the surf

6 The best Tides and Session Planning for Corbina

7 What to look for when you hit the Beach

8 The best baits for Corbina Fishing in California

9 How to hook a Sand Crab (sand flea)

10 Sight Fishing vs Fishing over Sand Crab Beds

11 The best seasons for Corbina Surf Fishing in California

corbina fishing tips california surf fishing

1) Corbina Fishing: Basic Information about Surf Fishing for Corbina

Corbina - also sometimes called 'binas, beans, California whiting, California croaker, grey ghosts, poor man's bonefish, or, mistakenly, corvina - are a prized fish for surf anglers on the West Coast.

Representing somewhat of a challenge to hook and land on light tackle from the beach, they're caught mostly in the warmer months when sand crab beds are common on beaches from Ventura down to Mexico.

The current IGFA all-tackle world record is a fish weighing 7 pounds 15 ounces - a fish caught in Mission Bay, San Diego by Scott Matthews - and the California state record is a fish weighing 7 pounds 1 ounce, caught in Newport in 2005.

If you're interested in getting started targeting corbina, the first step to regularly experiencing the best corbina fishing from the surf in Southern California is to make sure you’re set up correctly before you even leave the house…

Trophy California corbina caught surf fishing with sand crabs
20-INCH PLUS CORBINA - A nice California corbina caught on the tactics and tackle described in this article.

2) Corbina Fishing: The Best rods for Corbina Fishing

Let’s start with the rod and reel.

Leave your 7-foot combo at home and go with a specialist rod around 8 to 10-feett in length and rated for 4 or 6 to 10-pound line, or very similar (e.g. 6 - 12 pound rating).

The extra length in the rod will help you manage your line and keep the sinker in the right zone for longer compared to a short rod.

The Phenix Featherlite range of rods are popular, but a little pricey for a surf rod for some, whereas the Okuma SST, Rockaway SP and Guide Select Pro range is a little more affordable and durable.

In summary, aim for models rated for 4- to 12-pound line, and around a ¼- to ¾-ounce sinker rating for corbina fishing. Light weight, slow to medium action.

The Penn Carnage III range and Daiwa West Coast Special line also has a couple of good options for corbina rods.

the best corbina fishing rod and tackle
CORBINA SURF FISHING ROD - The Okuma SST 4 to 10-pound rated models are a great choice for corbina fishing with light lines

3) Corbina Fishing: The Best Reels for Corbina Fishing in the Surf

Reel-wise, buy the best spinning reel in the 2500-size range you can afford. I currently use a mixture of Okuma ITX 3500HA, Penn Battle 3 2500 DX and Penn Slammer IV DX models loaded with 10-pound braid.

I’ve veered more towards Okuma and Penn reels in recent seasons ­­– ITX 3500 for the lightweight awesomeness, and Slammer models due to their high level of sealing tech. I find they just last forever and work regardless of what you throw at them.

Best corbina fishing reels surf tackle
BEST CORBINA SURF FISHING REEL - I like the Penn Slammer IV and Penn Battle III (pictured) in 2500 or 3500 sizes for general light line corbina fishing.

I frequently guide young anglers or beginners, and they might not understand that dunking a reel in the sandy shore break is bad news for most reels (but good news for my reel servicing guy…) so something that can take some punishment and carry on fishing is a welcome attribute.

Another factor to consider is the quality of the drag mechanism.

The Okuma ITX and Penn HT-100 systems holds up really well and doesn’t stick or become jerky, even after a sand bath.

This really matters when it comes to corbina fishing; those long, drag-pulling runs must be handled by the reel in such a way that it doesn’t lock or bind due to sand in the drag. I’ve seen lesser reels lose significant fish due to this issue.

The best corbina fishing reel Penn Slammer IV
CORBINA FISHING REEL - A 2500-size spinning reel like the Penn Slammer IV 2500 is a great reel for corbina fishing in California with its sealing tech and smooth drag.

4) Corbina Fishing: The best Rigs, Sinkers, Leader and Set-ups for Corbina Fishing

Having tried many variations back-to-back, I’ve arrived at the following set-up as my go-to for summer corbina.

First, 10-pound braid main line (one of the new generation of smooth casting braids in moss green), then enough 6 or 8-pound fluorocarbon or clear mono so the leader knot (the connection between the fluorocarbon and braid – a back-to-back uni, FG or crazy alberto knot in this case) just sits just below the rod tip ring when teeing up a cast.

With a 8 to 9-foot rod, that’s about 3 to 4 foot of leader above the sinker.

I’ve found this leader to be pretty important. Catches fell noticeably when I’ve done without it.

Think of how a corbina finds its food – scoping tiny items like sand crabs and worms in the turbulent shore break…

To feed successfully, they must have evolved incredible eyesight to pick out a tiny sand crab in the sandy maelstrom.

Thus, your braid main line must look like an abomination floating around their feeding area, whereas clear mono, and fluorocarbon with its refractive index similar to water, are much more subtle.

The best corbina surf fishing rig - A Carolina rig C-rig
BEST CORBINA RIG - A Carolina rig (C-rig) set up for corbina fishing with a 3/4-ounce camo egg sinker, clear rigging bead, tiny swivel, 6-pound fluorocarbon and a size 6 hook with a medium size sand crab as bait.

From the clear leader, I run a ¾-ounce egg sinker (or 1/2-ounce if its flat calm) down to a tiny clear bead, small stainless steel swivel and 30 inches of 6-pound fluorocarbon leader with a size 8 hook, Carolina Rig-style.

Everything is kept as subtle and discreet as possible – I don’t want the corbina seeing anything other than my hook bait. This is really important.

The corbina below is a good example of a large fish feeding in shallow water that fell to a subtle Carolina rig with a fluorocarbon leader.

big corbina caught surf fishing with sand crabs American sea fishing guided session

So, in summary, the best type of corbina rig for surf fishing is a simple Carolina rig (also known as a C-rig, slider rig or sinker rig) with a mono or fluorocarbon casting leader, egg sinker, rigging bead, swivel, 25 to 40-inch 4 or 6-pound fluorocarbon leader, and small J hook with either a sand crab, ghost shrimp, bloodworm, mussel meat or sandworm as bait.

5) Corbina Fishing: Try this kit for everything you need to catch big Corbina from the Surf!

Fishing for corbina requires a specialist set of tackle and tactics, and through our surf fishing guiding services we’ve put together a kit containing the best available tackle, sinkers, hooks, swivels, beads, baits and accessories for catching corbina from the beach.

It’s way easier to get this kit than to shop around, which is what we used to do before developing this one-stop solution to corbina fishing tackle requirements.

Best corbina surf fishing tackle, rigs, hooks, sinkers
This kit contains everything you need to get started surf fishing for corbina in California.

Mainly based around a light line roving approach, the Light Line C-Rig Kit comes with everything you need to get started apart from a rod and reel, and the rigs come with full instructions written by a specialist guide.

In short, if you’re looking to catch corbina from the surf this season, this kit contains all of the items of tackle you’ll need. It’ll save you money when compared to buying these items separately, too.

6) Corbina Fishing: The best Tides and Session Planning info for Corbina

On my calendar, I mark likely tides and session windows well in advance and this allows me to plan a session around optimal conditions.

For corbina, ideally I look for a small swell (1- to 3-foot) and an outgoing tide a couple of hours after the high until an hour off the low – a state that leaves lots of sand crabs exposed whilst still offering enough water close to shore on the average beach to keep the fish within casting range.

If you’re keen on sight fishing for corbina, the best tides are as follows: aim to fish an early morning minus or negative tide, which happens when the tidal swing is so wide that it water retreats to below the average low tide mark.

This exposes lots of structure and during summer months, corbina love to hunt these shallows on beaches with shallow inclines and lots of skinny water for sand crabs and food items.

Look for dark grey shapes in the skinny water, backs out of the water, and small splashes as the corbina turns to swim back to deeper water. Always wear polarized glasses and a peaked hat.

It can be trickier to target corbina in such shallow water, but this can also be a lot of fun!

best tides for sight fishing corbina in california
BEST TIDES FOR CORBINA FISHING - For sight fishing corbina, this is a typical sequence of dawn-adjacent minus tides that I'd be targeting

Timing-wise, dawn is the time to be out there and I like to be home and hosed by the time the crowds, surfers and wind builds around mid to late-morning.

Dawn and dusk are definitely the best times to fish for corbina fishing in the surf, with early usually better than late for the big ones.

7) Corbina Fishing: What to look for when you hit the Beach... (session game plan!)

So, you've got your combo set up, your rig tied and you've worked out the ideal tides and location for a corbina mission...

Let's run through a hypothetical, but typical session and what I'd be looking for to score a nice corbina.

The first thing I'd look for is bait, and this is almost always sand crabs. I want masses of of crabs - big room-size beds. Move until you find them. No crabs? Hit another beach.

If you've never found sand crabs on the beach before, we love to help anglers get this element of bait hunting dialed in on a tuition session, or you can look for the large patches of little V shapes moving in the surf line as the water retreats.

This guide to finding and using sand crabs will help, too.

Use a small sieve or sand flea rake to scoop up a few handfuls for bait, stored in a small tub or ziplock bag for a couple of hours, taking care to keep the small and medium size ones for bait.

8) Corbina Fishing: The best baits for Corbina Fishing in California

Now you've caught some sand crabs for bait, the temptation is always to hook on the biggest sand crab you can find and cast that out.

No doubt this will work some of the time, maybe picking up a trophy or two, but more frequently it’ll either come back chomped in half or missing.

best corbina surf fishing bait
Sand crabs in small and medium size varieties caught in a plastic sieve are the best corbina bait by far.

Nearly every single big corbina I’ve ever caught has been on a medium size crab or bunches of smaller crabs; usually three or four samples the size of a small pea or grain of baby corn.

This creates a bait that’ll cast further than one larger crab, and fish will readily inhale the whole lot, leading to more hook ups.

Plus, if you do miss a bite or a small surf perch crunches one off the hook, you’re still going to get bites because the rest of the crabs are enough to get the interest.

The only time I use a big sand crab is when I find a soft shell variety.

The fish seem to inhale these more readily – maybe that soft shell allows them to squish it a little so the whole lot enters the mouth a little easier than compared to a hard shell model.

Soft shell sand crab - the best corbina surf fishing bait
A soft shell sand crab. Note the slightly different color, and slight translucent areas on the shell.

Or maybe the extra juices and chemical signatures given off by a molting crab is the X-factor that fish can’t resist.

Either way, if you see an off-color crab in the sieve that’s soft to touch, use that one first or whenever you’re on fish but can’t seem to get any takers.

Also, note that a small sandworm grub bait is pretty effective when you can’t find crabs for bait.

I’m very happy to use this in winter and regularly catch corbina on the 1-inch sections of camo neris variety of the Berkley Gulp! Sandworm range.

Sandworm grub the best corbina bait for winter surf fishing
BEST WINTER CORBINA BAIT - A Berkley Gulp! Sandworm in camp is a great winter corbina bait.

9) Corbina Fishing: How to hook a Sand Crab (sand flea)

Now you've found some awesome bait, and maybe a likely structured spot in the surf, let's look at how to hook a sand crab.

For small bunches of crabs - sometimes called a meatball - I hook small sand crabs by skewering one or two right through the middle of the shell on the shank of the hook, and one or two through the backside digging spike and up into the main shell on the hook bend so they just fill the gape.

Leave the hook point and barb exposed, like the set-up in the photo below.

best corbina bait for surf fishing california

Bigger soft-shell crabs are rigged more like a tiny soft plastic bait, with the hook coming up through the little digging spike on the underside and the point just emerging from the middle of the main shell.

Just like fishing a weedless bait for bass, the corbina and similar species have no problem in squashing the softer bait enough to release that hook point.

Best way to hook sand crabs sand fleas surf fishing corbina california guide lesson
The hook goes up through the digging spike and into the main shell, with the point just hidden or protruding.

More generally, for a typical single crab corbina bait, the best way to hook a sand crab is as follows: I'll take a medium size (thumbnail) sand crab and pass the hook up through the base of the digging spike (situated at the opposite end to the head) and out through the base of the main shell. It should look like the above photo.

Hooked this way, the hook point will always be exposed so any fish grabbing the bait will get the hook too without any hard shell to mask the point.

It will also cast a long way without coming off.

For bigger crabs, I just hook into the main shell to the side, like the photo below.

best corbina fishing bait surf casting california

10) Corbina Fishing: Sight fishing vs Fishing over Sand Crab Beds

Whilst there’s no doubt that sight fishing for corbina in California is one of the most satisfying strands of surf fishing, it’s also one of the hardest things to achieve.

You need everything to be working in your favor and a high degree of skill in casting and not spooking them.

I’ve found that a far more reliable way of catching them, is to be fishing with the tactics described above and targeting large beds of sand crabs, regularly hoping between the larger patches that pop up on our sand beaches during the warmer months.

The corbina below was caught doing that just; roving between the larger beds of crabs, never staying for more than a few casts.

Hook-ups are often within seconds of hitting a new patch and casting into adjacent structured water, like a trough or gulley.

corbina caught on sand crabs california

The real gold here is finding those mega, room-size beds rather than little patches.

In summer, I target these areas nearly exclusively, largely ignoring structure when it comes to corbina.

Best way to find corbina surf fishing california
BEST LOCATION FOR CORBINA - Note the darker, deeper sections of water in this photo. Corbina will often be found just on the drop offs or patrolling gullies and troughs for sand crabs in summer. Target structured water like this, especially if near a sand crab bed. Look out for fish coming in close, too.

I suggest you do the same; roving the beach and targeting the sand crab beds, like the one circled below, and any likely structure adjacent to the beds such as holes, troughs, gullies or any deeper area with darker water.

corbina fishing over sand crab beds in summer
FISHING OVER SAND CRAB BEDS - Corbina will sit just off the shore break waiting for sand crabs to be come their way. A key component of summer corbina fishing is looking for the big beds of sand crabs and fishing over these as the tide rises or falls.

That’s not to say you won’t frequently see corbina in the shallows and that this isn’t a big clue on where to fish.

In fact, you'll frequently see corbina as they swim up the beach with the incoming surf to grab a mouthful of sand crabs before the water retreats.

Look for the dark shapes moving in small pods, backs out of the water, and tail splashes as they turn to swim back into the deeper water.

A recent session illustrated this well; we pitched up next to a large bed of crabs, casting a bunch of small crabs into the breakers whilst stood in the middle of the bed.

First cast, we saw a corbina come in with the wave, turn and swim back out.

corbina fishing over sand crab beds
We caught this corbina on a soft shell sand crab fishing near a big bed of crabs.

For my client’s next cast, I put on a soft-shell crab and we hooked a very similarly-sized corbina a few seconds after casting blind into the surf adjacent to where we saw the fish.

This is a pretty typical scenario in the summer. Try following the same strategy when you next find a feeding corbina in the shallows.

Look for the clues and bait and you will find them, even if they’re not obviously there.

For example, if we'd not seen that corbina in the shallows, we'd not have known to cast right where it was staging for the next wave in the deeper water.

11) Corbina fishing: The best Seasons for Corbina Surf Fishing in California

Peak seasons for corbina fishing are June through to Thanksgiving, but I’ve caught corbina all year round and there’s definitely a small resident population in various SoCal harbors, rockier beaches, and wherever there's food on the open beaches.

When the water temperature hits 63-degrees, that’s usually when the mass of sand crabs turn up along with the corbina, so follow that data point and you’ll have a good idea when it’s go time for this fascinating species.

Warm water and crabs, are the two big factors.

Winter is harder work, but the rewards are there.

Thank you for reading this article on corbina fishing - one of my favourite strands of surf fishing in California.

If you'd like to learn more, I run specific guided corbina fishing sessions in Southern California, with more info also available via ben@americanseafishing.com

winter corbina fishing tips
Corbina are catchable for most of the year round with some persistence required in colder months to find the the bait and fish.

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