Creature Feature: Yellowtail

yellowtailYellowtail may be found statewide off California, but most fish are taken south of Point Conception from the sea surface to a depth of 228 ft. Prime yellowtail areas include the La Jolla kelp beds, the area between Oceanside and Dana Point, Horseshoe Kelp, Palos Verdes Peninsula, Santa Catalina Island, and San Clemente Island.

Distinguishing Characteristics

  • Olive brown to brown above
  • Dark horizontal stripe along the side of body
  • Sides and belly silvery
  • Fins yellowish
  • Deeply forked yellow tail

Life History & Other Notes
Yellowtail feed primarily during the day. They will eat anything that is abundant in the area, including pelagic red crabs, anchovies, squid, and most small fishes.

Spawning occurs from June through October. Many yellowtail are sexually mature at two years; all will spawn by three years of age. A three-year-old female usually weighs about 10 lb. and can produce nearly half a million eggs; a 25 lb. female can produce more than a million eggs.

Most yellowtail are landed on boats that anchor in areas where yellowtail are known to aggregate. The fish are chummed to the boat with live anchovies. As the fish mill about the boat, anglers catch them using anchovies, mackerel, or squid as bait. Anglers on small boats may take yellowtail by trolling jigs or feathers in areas where these fish occur.

 Yellowtail Quick Facts

Scientific Name: Seriola lalandi

Other Common Names: California yellowtail, mossback, YT

Range & Habitat: Statewide, but usually south of Point Conception

Length & Weight: To 5 ft. and 80 lb.

Life Span: To 12 years

Diet & Suggested Bait/Lures: Feeds on red crabs, anchovies, squid, small fishes. Try using anchovies, squid, or mackerel for bait, or trolling jigs or feathers.

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