Our fish of the month for September is Paralabrax nebulifer, commonly known as the barred sand bass. Paralabrax is Greek, meaning "near labrax," and a labrax is a European sea bass. Nebuliferis Latin, roughly translating to "I bear clouds" and is a rather poetic reference to the blotches of color on these fish's sides.
Identifying Characters: Barreds are greenish to gray, with dusky bars on their sides. Small ones tend to be brightly colored, while larger and older ones tend to have a sort of "faded-out" look to them. Most will have freckles on their snouts.
Distribution and Biology: These fish are found from Santa Cruz to southern Baja California and are most common from Santa Barbara southward. This fish loves the sand/rock interface. You'll find them right at the base of riprap breakwalls, concrete retaining walls, along the base of jetties, along the base of bridge pilings, along the base of rock reefs, but hardly ever over the top of high-relief structure. Although they inhabit depths down to 600 feet, they are most common from 10 to 120 feet in their accounting_software form, while juveniles will be found in shallow water from 5 to 30 feet. Although you'll find the occasional solitary "grump," these sand bass seem to prefer the company of their own kind. They don't school, per se, but they do like to group in clusters that may number from a couple of individuals to a dozen or more, depending on how many the structure that they have related to will accomidate. They mass up during spawning season, forming large aggregations, leaving their normal haunts for broad, featureless sandy bottoms, where they do their reproductive thing. Tag returns show that these fish may move as much as 40 miles during the spawning migration, but it is generally thought that most don't move around much once they find a place that they can call home.
Barreds can reach a length of 25.5 inches and live for up to 24 years. A few mature at 7 inches and 2 years of age, while most are mature at 10.5 inches, when they are about 5 years old. Spawning takes place from April through the fall, although it usually peaks in late June or early July off the coast of Orange County.
As for diet, the smaller ones eat small foods like amphipods and mysids while big ones concentrate on baitfish such as midshipmen and also go for crabs and octopi.
Fishery: These are a very important game fish in Southern California and make up nearly 20 percent of the recreational catch south of Point Conception. The vast majority are taken in open ocean waters, but you'll find plenty of these fish in shallow embayments like Buenaventura Harbor, Alamitos Bay, Newport Bay, Mission Bay, and portions of San Diego Bay. The Long Beach Breakwater is loaded with them, and the Huntington Flats area off the Orange County coast is particularly good in June and July. It is illegal to fish for barreds commercially.
Tips and Tactics: These can be a fine fly-rod fish, particularly if you find them in shallow embayment waters, where you can scratch the bottom with a 300-grain head and a Clouser Minnow. Find hard structure that they like within their range and catching these things is as close as it gets to a sure thing in Southern California saltwater fishing. A sonar can be a valuable aid in finding these guys. When they form spawning aggregations, they'll be found "breezing" at times, just passin' through an area while swimming from very near the surface to middepth in the open ocean over bottoms down to 120 feet.
Offshore, larger Clousers work well, and these fish will take flies up to five inches long or longer. In shallow embayments, a smaller Clouser up to about two and a half inches long will get you plenty of fish.
"I fish, therefore I am."