California State Record Fish: The Complete Guide

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“The Golden State” almost needs no introduction when it comes to angling. It’s already famous for both the abundance of fish swimming through its waters and the sheer diversity of species available. To add to that, there’s always the chance to reel in a veritable trophy catch. And that’s the topic of this article. We’ll cover all the big ones and get you familiar with California‘s state record fish.

An aerial photo of San Diego

You’ll get both the raw numbers for some of the most popular species to target in California, along with the backstory. After all, each record-breaking catch comes with its own tale of how it happened. When you’re ready to dive into them, scroll on!

Biggest Fish Caught in California by Species

Whether it’s freshwater or saltwater, it’s no exaggeration to say that fishing is world-class in California. Therefore it’s natural the fishing records are nothing to scoff at either. The species we’ve included in the article are listed alphabetically below and you can navigate to each section by simply clicking on their names.

  • Bass (Largemouth)
  • Catfish
  • Crappie
  • Halibut
  • Sturgeon
  • Trout (Rainbow)
  • Tuna (Bluefin)
  • Yellowtail

Bass (Largemouth)

  • California state record: 21 lbs, 12 oz on Castaic Lake in 1991.

Largemouth Bass are a cornerstone species for North American anglers, serving as almost a symbol of modern sportfishing. The unique combination of intelligence, the varying patterns they exhibit, and aggressiveness makes Largemouth the perfect game fish. And, indeed, they remain the most popular freshwater species in the US.

While the Midwest and the South have traditionally been bastions of Bass fishing, California’s Largemouth waters both meet and exceed many of these fisheries. The Sacramento River, Lake Casitas, Clear Lake, and Castaic Lake are just some of the spots brimming with Bass.

And if you’ve been wondering how big Largemouth get out here, California holds multiple IGFA records. The current certified state record belongs to Mike Arujo who reeled in a lunker weighing 21 pounds and 12 ounces on Castaic Lake in early March 1991. However, Bob Crupi caught a 22-pounder on the same lake just a week later. His fish, however, remained uncertified because he decided to set it free before an official could measure it.

But to add even more controversy, Mac Weakley caught a 25 lb and 1 oz world-beater at Lake Dixon in 2006. This fish would’ve broken a 77-year-old Largemouth record, standing at 22 pounds and 4 ounces. However, since he accidentally snagged the fish, Mac decided not to pursue the record and released arguably the biggest Largie ever seen.

Catfish (Blue)

  • California state record: 113 lbs, 4 oz at San Vicente Reservoir in 2008.

Being the largest of the North American Catfish, Blue Catfish are true river monsters. They’re big, powerful fish capable of growing to weights of over 100 pounds. And while they might lack some glamour other fish have, Blue Catfish are incredibly tenacious fighters and always eager to eat.

An angler in sunglasses, a hat and gloves posing with a big Blue Catfish he reeled in, with calm lake waters and clear skies in the background.

While Catfish are widespread throughout California’s freshwaters, the Blue variety has mostly found its home in the southern part of the state. Irvine Lake and San Vicente Reservoir are the two most prolific Blue Catfish fisheries, with about a dozen other lakes featuring good action, too.

The California state record Blue Catfish was caught in San Vicente Reservoir in 2008. Steve Oudomsouk reeled in a monster specimen measuring 113 pounds and 5 ounces. The still-unbeaten fish was 57 inches long with a girth of 39 inches.

Meanwhile, the all-tackle record for Blue Catfish eclipses California’s by almost 30 pounds. That one was set in 2011 on Kerr Lake in Virginia. The biggest Blue Catfish ever caught weighed a stunning 143 pounds.

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Crappie

  • California state records: 4 lbs, 5 oz for Black Crappie in 2021 and 4 lbs, 8 oz for White Crappie in 1971, both caught on Clear Lake.

Favorites among the Panfish family, Crappie are some of the most delicious freshwater treats you can hope to hook into. They’re widespread throughout the US, making them a sustainable option whenever you want something for dinner. Of course, Crappie are also fun to catch and great to train your angling skills on.

Like elsewhere in America, Crappie have a strong presence in California. You’ll find them in all kinds of freshwaters. Lake Isabella, Lake Hodges, and New Melones Lake are among the top picks. However, Clear Lake will likely provide you with the best action in the state.

As luck would have it, both the White and Black Crappie state records were set precisely on Clear Lake. The first one belongs to Carol Carlton who reeled in a 4 lb, 8 oz White Crappie in 1971. The Black Crappie record is more recent – David Burruss set it in 2021 with a 4 lb, 5 oz fish.

If you want to compare these to the all-tackle records, the biggest White Crappie stood at 5 pounds and 3 ounces. The record for Black Crappie belongs to a slightly bigger fish, a 5 lb and 8 oz slab. It was caught in 2018 on Richeison Pond in Tennessee.

Halibut (California)

  • California state record: 67 lbs, 4 oz near Santa Rosa Island in 2011.

As one of the biggest members of the Flatfish family, California Halibut are as delicious as they’re odd-looking. Of course, it’s the former of these two attributes that make them popular among anglers. Halibut put up a lukewarm battle, which luckily they make up for with dividends once you taste them on the dinner table.

You can catch these tasty Flatfish all along California’s coasts. San Diego Bay, Half Moon Bay, and Bodega Bay are just some of the hotspots. However, the fishing gets even better nearshore and around offshore islands such as Catalina, San Clemente, Santa Rosa, and Santa Cruz.

The current California state record for Halibut stands at 67 pounds and 4 ounces. Mind you, this is a rod-and-reel record, set by Francisco River in 2011 near Santa Rosa Island. An even bigger “doormat” Halibut was speared by a scuba diver named William Skwarlo in 1982. That fish weighed in at 72 pounds and 8 ounces.

Since we’re talking about a species that’s predominantly present in California’s waters, Francisco’s achievement also netted him the IGFA all-tackle accolade. But if you’ve ever wondered how big Flatfish get in general, the world record Pacific Halibut was a fish weighing 459 pounds. More of a carpet than a doormat, right?!

Sturgeon (White)

  • California state record: 468 lbs in San Pablo Bay in 1983.

Scientists claim Sturgeon have been around for nearly 200 million years. And really, all it takes is one look at them and you’ll go, “Yep, that’s a dinosaur all right.” With bony ridges across their backs, Sturgeon have the prehistoric look nailed down to a tee. But that’s only a part of what makes them a popular game fish. Sturgeon can grow to weights of over 1,000 pounds while still retaining enough raw power and agility to perform acrobatic leaps while you wrestle them.

In California, the bulk of the Sturgeon action takes place along the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta. There’s also excellent fishing in San Francisco Bay, most notably in its northern parts which include San Pablo Bay and Suisun Bay.

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The biggest Sturgeon seen in these waters was caught in San Pablo Bay in 1983. The fight that set the California state Sturgeon record was nothing short of epic. Joey Pallotta was fishing on an 18′ fiberglass boat when he hooked into a massive 468 lb river monster. The ensuing battle lasted for 5 hours, during which he had to switch to a bigger boat, all while holding onto his rod.

Joey’s catch doubles as the current IGFA all-tackle record. However, anglers catch bigger White Sturgeon almost routinely on the Fraser River in Canada. In fact, an 11′ 6″ brute was subdued on rod and reel as recently as 2021. But with the strict conservation methods in place, these Sturgeon are kept in the water, tagged, and promptly released, leaving no time for official measurements.

Trout (Rainbow)

  • California state record: 27 lbs on Lake Natoma in 2005.

In the world of freshwater fishing, Rainbow Trout fall among the most respected and sought-after species. They’re beautiful fish – almost graceful in a way – that turn into terrific fighters once hooked. And while the average Rainbow will weigh somewhere between 2 and 5 pounds, trophy specimens sometimes grow to over 30 pounds.

Thanks to stocking efforts and careful conservation methods, you’ll find Rainbow Trout in various lakes, streams, and rivers across California. The epic Shasta Lake is a prime spot to visit, along with Lake Tahoe and New Melones Lake, just to name a few. But let’s not forget Steelhead – the anadromous version of Rainbow Trout. You can catch those beauties in rivers such as Klamath, Smith, and Eel.

When it comes to California’s state record for Rainbow Trout, there are three different ones, depending on how you look at it. The biggest inland Rainbow Trout was landed in 2005 by an angler named Frank Palmer fishing on Lake Natoma. However, this 27 lb specimen was beaten by another fish caught in 2006 by James Harrold.

James’s catch weighed in at 28 pounds and 5 ounces, but the caveat is that it was a Rainbow Trout he himself had raised in a private pond. The third record, standing at 27 pounds and 4 ounces was set for a Steelhead, caught in the Smith River in 1976.

But to add to the conundrum, one angler caught a likely bigger Rainbow on the Feather River in 2021, measuring 41 inches in length and 27 inches in girth. Had this fish not been released, it would have probably broken the California state record. Still, it’s unlikely it could’ve contended with the biggest Rainbow Trout ever, which was a triploid that stood at 48 pounds.

Tuna (Bluefin)

  • California state record: 395 lbs, 6 oz near Tanner Bank offshore from San Diego in 2021.

Ask any angler who’s had the honor of facing them and they’ll tell you – very few fish fight as hard as Bluefin Tuna. It’s not just about the size – although that does play a significant role. Their immense stamina and incredible strength will make it seem like you’re trying to reel in a train going in the opposite direction.

Bluefin Tuna are yearly visitors to California’s waters. The first Bluefin typically start showing up offshore in June, staying in the area until early November. The best fishing generally takes place in Southern California. You’ll find charter fleets that offer Tuna trips in San Diego, Dana Point, and Newport Beach, among others.

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The SoCal Bluefin Tuna scene has been on fire in recent years. As a testament to that, the latest California state record fish was set in 2021. The angler who landed the fish was Floyd Sparks, who was fishing the Tanner Bank – an offshore Tuna hotspot. The Bluefin he caught weighed in at 395 pounds and 6 ounces, eclipsing the old record by 11 pounds.

While this Tuna was certainly a massive and exceedingly rare catch, the world record for a Pacific Bluefin is more than double its weight. Donna Pascoe holds the all-tackle achievement for a 907 lb and 6 oz Bluefin she caught fishing in New Zealand. To set the record she had to battle the fish for 4 hours.

Yellowtail

  • California state record: 63 lbs, 1 oz near Santa Barbara Island in 2000.

Yellowtail are a hallmark species in Southern California. They’re fast, explosive fish that fight with a lot of ardor, making them a favorite catch for most local anglers. They grow pretty big, too. The average Yellowtail will weigh between 12 and 18 pounds with the potential to reach sizes of well over 50 pounds.

The whole of Southern California is famous for its Yellowtail fishing. You can catch smaller specimens inshore and nearshore, but trophy fishing usually takes place around offshore islands such as Catalina and San Clemente. The locals call the big Yellowtail that lurk there “home guard” or “mossbacks.”

California currently has two state records for Yellowtail. The first one is a rod-and-reel record that stands at 63 pounds and 1 ounce. The angler who set it was Kwang Nam Lee, who caught the Yellowtail while fishing near Santa Barbara Island. The second record is an old spearfishing achievement dating back to 1988. A spearo named Tom Murray managed to hunt down a 65 lb giant diving the Cortez Bank over 100 miles offshore from San Diego.

Still, the world record for Yellowtail belongs to Japan’s waters. There, in 2009, an angler named Masakazu Taniwaki caught a giant weighing 109 pounds and 2 ounces. The monster Yellow was nearly 62 inches long.

California State Record Fish: An Overview

If you’ve followed along so far, then you’re already familiar with each of the species listed and their records. Still, we’ve prepared a recap in the form of a table so you can easily see the numbers for each California state record fish.

Species Pounds Ounces Length (in) Girth (in) Place Year Bass (Largemouth) 21 12 N/A N/A Castaic Lake 1991 Catfish (Blue) 113 5 57 39 San Vicente Reservoir 2008 Crappie (Black) 4 5 17.75 17 Clear Lake 1971 Crappie (White) 4 8 N/A N/A Clear Lake 2021 Halibut (California) 67 4 N/A N/A Santa Rosa Island 2011 Sturgeon (White) 468 0 N/A N/A San Pablo Bay 1983 Trout (Rainbow) 27 0 37.5 26 Lake Natoma 2005 Tuna (Bluefin) 395 6 N/A N/A Tanner Bank 2021 Yellowtail 63 1 N/A N/A Santa Barbara Island 2000

California: A West Coast Angling Heaven

A photo of the fishing pier in Huntington Beach, California taken from the beach at sunset.

In terms of angling, California simply has it all. Trophy Bass, well-stocked Trout lakes, a world-class saltwater fishery – you name it. And with each adventure, there’s that once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to reel in a true record-breaking giant. But to do so, you first have to get out there and start fishing!

What California state record fish surprised you the most? How did you like our breakdown of the records? Hit the comment button and let us know!

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Ethan Smith is a seasoned marine veteran, professional blogger, witty and edgy writer, and an avid hunter. He spent a great deal of his childhood years around the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest in Arizona. Watching active hunters practise their craft initiated him into the world of hunting and rubrics of outdoor life. He also honed his writing skills by sharing his outdoor experiences with fellow schoolmates through their high school’s magazine. Further along the way, the US Marine Corps got wind of his excellent combination of skills and sought to put them into good use by employing him as a combat correspondent. He now shares his income from this prestigious job with his wife and one kid. Read more >>