All About Sand Bass
In these fish-specific pages, I’ll try to give you all sorts of insights into the specific fish we’re discussing to increase your chances of being successful in catching them.
The two different types of Sand Bass occurring in Southern California are the Barred Sand Bass (Paralabrix nebulifer) and the Spotted Sand Bass Paralabrix maculatofasciatus). In addition, there is a third type rarely occurring in Southern California called the Gold Spotted Sand Bass. This fish is fairly common in Baja California (Mexico.) Except for coloration and markings, there is almost no difference in these three species as far as body shape, diet, habits, or taste. Spotted Sand Bass seem to prefer bays and harbors and so are often called Spotted Bay Bass.
Sandies move from their deeper water haunts in the spring to spawn on the broad sand and mud flats just off the California beaches. They become sedentary, not moving around much, and begin feeding voraciously. The season extends throughout the summer and finally, in the fall, they seem to disappear, moving off into deeper water haunts. They can be caught year-round, but are far easier to catch in the summer months.
Barred Sand Bass does not get extremely large. The record is just under 14 lbs. held by a friend of mine, Bob Halal (seen in the picture below.) Typically, a 12-inch fish is a pound and a half, and a 4-pound, 15 inches is considered very good sized. Like Calico Bass, Sand Bass has a twelve-inch minimum size limit. This assures any fish taken have had a chance to breed. Many you catch in the well-fished areas like Huntington Flats will be undersized, so exercise some care when removing them from the water and extracting the hook, to minimize the stress you put on shorts before returning them to the water alive.
Barred Sand Bass range from Santa Cruz, in north-central California to Bahia Magdelena in southern Baja California along the Pacific Coast. Like Calicos, though the primary range is Point Conception, in Southern California, to Punta Abreojos, in central Baja. Some of the best places to fish them are the flats along the Santa Barbara Coast, off Malibu, Santa Monica, Redondo Beach, Huntington Flats, off Camp Pendelton, Mission Bay, and off the Coronado peninsula in the San Diego area.
Catching Sand Bass
Sand Bass seem to prefer very lively, live bait, sent to the bottom with a sliding sinker so that they do not feel any resistance when they hit. Like seagulls, they appear to grab the bait, swim a short distance to make sure they are not being followed, then stop to flip it around to make sure they eat it head first. They will eat sardines, anchovies, squid, or properly fished, cut bait. Strip squid is especially effective, especially when presented with an undulating, swimming motion. This means a long strip, not a chunk. They are fairly sedentary, not bottom grubbing, so motion is important to stimulating their strike instinct.
In addition to bait, Sand Bass will strike rubber lures, hard, bone-type jigs, and baited shrimp flies. Rubber swimming lures seem to be the most effective. The twin-tailed scampi or mojo type still works well along with the single-tailed bait fish-shaped rubber lures. You can greatly increase the effectiveness of these swim baits with the addition of a thin strip of cut squid on the lure hook to give it the right scent.
Preparing Sand Bass
Like Calicos, Barred Sand Bass have little food value besides the fillets, so virtually all are filleted. Don not bother with any other preparation method.
Eating Sand Bass
Sand Bass is excellent for eating. They can be prepared any way that white, mild fish can be prepared but many people like them beer batter fried. The addition of oil in cooking is important since the fish is so naturally dry. Some olive oil when sauteing, a dollop of butter when baking, or a bacon strip atop when grilling really go a long way to improving the taste of these fish.