Creature Feature: Kelp Bass

Although they may be caught infrequently in northern California, kelp bass are a mainstay for sport fishermen south of Point Conception. They are typically found in shallow water (surface to 150 ft.) near rugged, rocky reefs, kelp beds, or other structure. They seem to prefer water depths between 8 and 70 ft.

Distinguishing Characteristics

  • Brown to olive-green with light blotches, becoming lighter below
  • Body and head elongate
  • Pointed snout and large mouth
  • Third, fourth, and fifth dorsal spines all about the same length
  • No gill cover spines

Life History & Other Notes
Small, shrimp-like crustaceans are very important in the diet of kelp bass of all ages. Larger kelp bass also eat small fishes, such as anchovies and small surfperch.

The spawning season usually extends from May through September, with a peak during July. As with most members of the marine bass family, kelp bass are slow-growing. A fish that is 16½ inches long may be about 9 years old.

The kelp bass is a very popular sport fish, reserved only for sport fishermen (no commercial fishery exists). They are caught primarily with live anchovies fished near the surface in and around kelp beds. They may be taken throughout the water column by trolling near kelp beds with live or dead bait. Numerous anglers also catch them on plugs, spoons, lures, and jigs. Kelp bass are noted for their fighting qualities, regardless of the type of bait or lure used.

 Kelp Bass Quick Facts:

Scientific Name: Paralabrax clathratus

Other Common Names: calico bass, bull bass

Range & Habitat: Statewide, but mostly south of Point Conception over rocky reefs and in kelp beds.

Length & Weight: To ~28 in. and ~14 lb.

Life Span: To 34 years

Diet & Suggested Bait: Feeds on shrimp-like crustaceans and fish. Try anchovies for bait, or artificial lures such as plugs, spoons, jigs, and flies.

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