Spearfishing in California: All You Need to Know

Spearfishing in California

Spearfishing is probably the most adventurous form of fishing, and the best locations are often those states and countries with long coastlines.

You can spearfish in freshwater too if allowed, but most of the time people choose seas or oceans for this incredible sport.

Spearfishing in California is extremely popular, and luckily perfectly legal. But before you go, you have to know local rules and regulations, info about licences, and of course, some of the best locations. Getting to know local fish species will help you prepare, and that is why I have all of this listed here!

Before I go into the fun stuff, I have to mention that spearfishing can be dangerous, and everyone needs to obey some rules, as well as follow common sense.

Doesn’t matter if you a beginner or a pro, there are always some new things you can learn, and I encourage you all to go spearfishing well prepared.

Here I will tell you more about what you need to know for a perfect California spearfishing experience!



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Is Spearfishing Legal in California?

Spearfishing is legal in all US states, but different rules apply. This is why you should always check info stated by the local authorities. This last sentence is something I always say because it is better to be safe than sorry.

If you are wondering is spearfishing legal in California, I have good news for you. It is! And laws and regulations there are far less strict than in some other places around the world.

Saltwater spearfishing is allowed almost everywhere, except in protected areas. You can spearfish while freediving and with scuba gear too! If you are a beginner, I would advise you to invest in a proper gear that is not your snorkelling gear. You need long fins, dependable speargun, knife, and high-quality diving mask.

Some species are off limits, like gulf grouper, giant sea bass, broomtail grouper, and similar. Some specific area restriction applies too, like spearfishing being prohibited 100 meters around freshwater inlets north of Ventura County.

For freshwater, different rules apply and I will mention those a bit later on.

Details are available in California Code of regulations, title 14, and there you can find all of the details about spearfishing regulations.

In both cases, you must have a valid fishing license and obey bag limits, closed season, and size limit if all these apply to your targeted species.

Do you Need a License for Spearfishing in California?

Spearfishing in California requires a license. You can spearfish with a regular fishing license, and you don’t need a special one for this technique.

You probably know that there are separate licenses for saltwater and freshwater, and those can`t be used interchangeably. However, in California, there is only one license type, and there is no distinction between waters. Although it is the same license, different rules apply, and you must obey them depending on a water you are fishing in.

All of this applies only to recreational spearfishing, and commercial spearfishing is against the law. As a non-resident, you can buy short term license, and don’t have to buy a year one.

Some discounts apply for resident who are in a specifying age group or have disabilities. I will mention prices in the next chapter.

Spearfishing in California - License

How Much is a License for Spearfishing in California?

California spearfishing license is not very expensive. As I already mentioned, it is a standard fishing license, and there are no additional fees.

The most expensive is a non-resident license at a price of $145. There are cheaper option like $54 for 10 days, $27 for 2 days, or $17 for a single day license.

Residents have a discount for a yearly license. One day and two-day licences cost the same, there is no 10 day option, however for the same price of $54, residents can buy a yearly license.

There are certain discounts like those for disabled veterans. They can get a license for only a few dollars. The same goes for recovering service members, and low-income residents.

For certain areas of open ocean, you need to pay enhancement validation that costs $6. There are a lot of different rules and regulations, and listing them all is impossible, visit official websites and see up to date info.

What Fish Can You Spear Fish in California?

Spearfishing in California gives you a lot of opportunities to catch various fish species, especially in saltwater.

Here I will focus on saltwater species as that type of spearfishing is much more popular.

Reef Fish

• Bass
• Sheephead
• Halibut
• Sargo

Kelp Beds and Offshore Gamefish (for some of these, you will need a boat)

• Yellowtail
• White seabass
• Tuna and even
• Mahi

Among other species, you can fish for bonita, barracuda, white fish, red snapper, lingcod, and sculpin.

Some of these are more suitable for beginners, while others can make a nice trophy catch, and maybe even a personal record of more experienced spearos!

Spearfishing in California - Tuna

Where to Go Spearfishing in California? [5 Best Locations]

When talking where to go spearfishing in California, there are so many locations that I could write for days. However, I will mention TOP 6 locations, equally interesting to residents, as well as tourists.


This is a classic, and one of the most popular locations. It is situated in Northern California. Lush kelp forests underwater hide an abundance of wildlife, but even when the ocean is calm, especially in summer, you have to be careful. This may not be the best place for complete beginners without experienced spearos accompanying them.


Caspar bay, especially its southern side, is a top spearfishing place. It is a place frequently visited by swimmers, divers, and kayakers. There is an abundance of sea urchins and kelp which attracts a lot of pelagic fish. Unlike Big Sur, this location is suitable for less experienced.


Both Catalina Island, and the next location I will mention are popular tourist spots and are ideal for travellers who are on vacation and what to spend some time spearfishing. It is located in the south, and if you want to catch yellowtail, this is the place to go. But, because of the depth and danger that goes with it, this adventure is only for the most experienced. Others can enjoy catching other species.


Santa Monica is another excellent southern location. You can find dozens of species here, and no matter the experience level, there is something for all. Summer is particularly good for yellowtail and barracuda, but those who are not up for that challenge can catch calico bass or rockfish.


San Clemente is in a way similar to Catalina Island when it comes to spearfishing, and fishing in general. Deep sea fishing, and deep sea spearfishing is a special adventure there, bit it is not for novice spearos. The best months to go are May-October, when all the popular big game fish species congregate in the area.


San Diego is the last destination here, but that doesn’t make it less attractive. This place has it all. From easily accessible beaches where you can swim to the reefs full of fish, to offshore adventures reserved only for the best spearos. Summer is the best time for big game fish, while reef species can be caught year-round.

If you are unsure where to go and what to do, you can always hire spearfishing guide in California. Experienced and licensed guides can teach you a lot, take care of your safety, especially if you don’t have a diving companion, and take you to the best locations at best times.

There are even spearfishing courses available.

Related articles about best locations for spearfishing in the world:

• Spearfishing in Long Island

• Spearfishing in Puerto Rico

• Spearfishing in Costa Rica

Freshwater Spearfishing in California - Is it Allowed?

Spearfishing California laws are very clear, and you will never be in doubt about legality of anything. There are no grey zones within the law, and anything you want to know is available online.

Freshwater spearfishing in California can be assumed illegal if there is no specific rule saying otherwise. It is not like the sea where you can go basically anywhere. But, if you are a freshwater spearo, there are options for you.

Laws are much stricter for freshwater spearfishing, however there is a limited number of species that are legal to catch, but only in certain areas. Otherwise, it is prohibited.

List of permitted areas and fish species is so short that I will copy it here from California Code of Regulations, title 14, section 2:30:

(a) The Colorado River District for carp, tilapia, goldfish and mullet, all year.
(b) The Valley District and Black Butte Lake (Tehama County) for carp, tilapia, goldfish, striped bass, western sucker, Sacramento blackfish, hardhead, Sacramento pikeminnow and lamprey, from May 1 through September 15, except that no spearfishing is permitted in:
(1) Shasta County (see Section 2.12 ).
(2) Tehama County except Black Butte Lake.
(3) Butte Creek (Butte Co.).
(4) Feather River below Oroville Dam (Butte Co.).
(5) Designated salmon spawning areas (See Fish and Game Code Section 1505).
(c) The Kern River from the Kern-Tulare county line upstream to the Johnsondale Bridge for carp, goldfish, western sucker, hardhead and Sacramento pikeminnow, from May 1 through September 15.

Spearfishing in California - Freshwater


Spearfishing in California is one of the best fishing activities (check my spearfishing tips) you can experience along the coastline, or even in some limited freshwater areas.

From smaller reef fish that is present closer to the shore and in shallower areas, to yellowfin that will really put your skills to the test in greater depths offshore.

There are numerous excellent locations, and no matter where you go to, you will have a wonderful time. Just make sure to obey the law, obtain a license, and take care about your own safety, as well as the safety of those around you.

About Me

Slo-fishing - About Us


I am Siniša Pintar (friends call me Sina), the guy behind Slo-fishing.si and eBook writer. This site is base camp for fishing enthusiasts from all over the world. I love fishing and want to share all my stories, knowledge and my experience with any and all potential anglers. Read more ...

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