Kelp Bass Fishing

The Kelp Bass (Paralabrax clathratus) is in many cases known as the Calico Bass (which leads to the confusion with the freshwater fishes which belong to the Pomoxis genus). Other common names except the Calico Bass are Bull Bass and Cabrilla (Mexico). In fact, the Kelp Bass is a marine fish that can be found in the north-eastern part of the Pacific Ocean, starting from Baja California, Mexico to Washington, United States of America. Just as the name suggests, it is commonly associated with the kelp beds, however it can be located near hard structures or in rocky areas. The kelp enjoys shallow waters but in many cases can be spotted at deep waters of more than 165 ft.

This type of bass can reach a considerable length of 28 ½ inches and for the fact that they are known to be slow growers, they have a lifespan of 34 years. The oldest known kelp bass was 34 years old and 25 inches long. Baby kelp bass fish can measure 4 inches after one year and are about 12 inches (legal size) at the age of 6 years. As with most fishes, growth is highly variable though with the largest fish not necessarily being the oldest. The official world record kelp bass (14.5 lb.) caught by Tom Murphy off Newport Beach back in 1995 was 27 years old while a 9.5 lb. fish caught by Jim Cvitanovich at San Clemente Island in 1993 was even older, 34 years old.

Considered by many an excellent food fish, it is also popular as a recreational fish in the southern part of California. The population status of the kelp bass is considered to be quite stable but the large individuals are rather hard to find nowadays, mainly because of the fishing pressure.

Since the 1950s, commercial fishing for the kelp bass has been illegal. The current regulations applicable in California permit a recreational minimum size limit of 12” total length to be kept by the amateur recreational fishermen. The possession limit is 10 in combination of kelp bass, spotted sand bass and barred sand bass.  These current regulations are quite efficient in maintaining a stable population of kelp bass.

The kelp bass usually eats smaller fishes, crustaceans, plankton (when abundant) and squid. In California, from May until August (basically the warmer months of the year) the Kelp Basses form spawning groups in deeper waters.

After 1 or 2 days, the pelagic eggs hatch into larvae, which transform into juveniles after a month or so. They usually settle among blades of kelp. Larval kelp bass drift along as plankton and settle on blades of giant kelp. The kelp acts as giant sieves, straining larvae out of the water. During spawning, high-contrast, black and white individuals with yellow-orange snouts are males. Fish with golden hues and yellow chins and jaws are usually females.

In most cases, they are considered to be loners, the kelp basses join together to prey on small schooling fishes. They commonly attack the school from all angles and may leap out of the water in hot pursuit. Even though they are called kelp bass, these fish do not require kelp. They will congregate around any type of structure, like shipwrecks, rocks, pipes and pilings.

Recent studies have showed that the kelp bass is capable of travelling more than 50 miles which suggets that while a big reserve would be required in order to protect all members of an intact population, some portions of the population might be expected to occasionally relocate outside the reserve, providing added kelp bass to the fishery in adjacent areas.

The kelp bass is known to be a top predator in the near shore kelp/reef community. The effect of eliminating the larger individuals from this near shore ecosystem is not fully comprehended, but is quite likely important.  The abundances and balance of other distinct species in this system might change in ways we cannot presently predict with any certainty. Since such reserves would protect other exploited species as well, the ecosystem functions of kelp bass might be altered as a result of more intense competition and predator/prey interactions. In a similar matter, reserves would also protect habitats valuable to kelp bass from a variety of potential fishing activity related impacts.