Creature Feature: Sanddabs

Four species of sanddab are found in California waters: Pacific sanddab, longfin sanddab, speckled sanddab, and gulf sanddab. Most sport anglers catch the two largest sanddabs, the Pacific and the longfin. The Pacific sanddab is the predominant species in the California catch, with some longfin sanddab caught in southern California. Longfin sanddabs range from Monterey Bay south, while Pacific sanddabs are caught statewide. Both species are found on muddy or sandy bottoms, generally at depths of 30 to 600 ft., although Pacific sanddab are most abundant between 120 and 300 ft.

Distinguishing Characteristics
Left-eyed. Brown with white, orange, or yellow speckles. Pacific sanddab can be distinguished from longfin sanddab by the length of the pectoral fin on the eyed side: it is always shorter than the head on the Pacific sanddab and longer than the head on the longfin snaddab. In both, the lateral line is nearly straight for the length of the fish.

Life History & Other Notes
Both species eat a wide variety of prey, including small fishes, squid, octopus, fish eggs, shrimp, crabs, and marine worms.

If you are fishing at the right depth, and the bottom is muddy or sandy, it can be difficult to keep sanddabs off the hook. Use small hooks baited with small pieces of squid or octopus. These two baits are tough and stay on the hook best, but small pieces of fish work equally well as bait.

 Sanddab Quick Facts:

Scientific Names:

Citharichthys sordidus (Pacific); Citharichthys xanthostigma (longfin)

Other Common Names: sand dab, soft flounder

Range & Habitat : Pacific sanddab statewide; longfin sanddab from Monterey Bay south

Both on sandy or muddy bottoms

Length & Weight:

Pacific sanddab to 16 in. and 2 lb.; longfin sanddab to 10 in.

Life Span: Pacific sanddab to 10+ years

Suggested Bait: Try squid, fish or octopus for bait; use small hooks

Excerpt from the California Finfish and Shellfish Identification Book. Single copies of the book are available to California residents free of charge by emailing a request to