Yellowtail are members of the Carangidae family and are closely related to amberjack. Although they are commonly referenced as three separate species—California yellowtail (Seriola lalandi dorsalis), southern yellowtail (S. lalandi lalandi), and Asian yellowtail (S. lalandi aureovittata)—it is currently believed that the worldwide yellowtail pool consists of one species, S. lalandi.
The three varieties are recognized distinctly, however, because they are isolated from each other and do not appear to interact; there are also size differences with some populations, the southern variety growing larger than the others.
These are fast-swimming, hard-striking, strong-pulling fish that give anglers a great struggle and are a commercially important species.
Other Nameskingfish, yellowtail kingfish, king yellowtail, kingie, amberjack.
Identification.Yellowtail are readily identifiable by their deeply forked, bright yellow caudal fins. Their body coloring graduates from a purple blue on their backs to a silvery
white on their bellies.
The yellowtail's body is elongate and moderately compressed, and a brass-colored stripe runs the length of the body from mouth to tail. There is a small keel on either side of the caudal peduncle.
SizeThe southern yellowtail is believed to grow to a maximum weight of 154 pounds and a length in excess of 6.5 feet. A 114-pound southern yellowtail from New Zealand holds the all-tackle world record. The world record for the California yellowtail is nearly 79 pounds, but the average fish is much smaller.
BehaviorYellowtail can form large schools around reefs and will rise to the surface en masse to feed on schools of baitfish, as well as to drive baitfish up against the shore. Their migratory habits are not well known, but large individuals are believed to be less migratory.
Food and feeding habitsYellowtail will eat whatever is available, but they feed predominantly on small fish, squid, and pelagic crustaceans. Large specimens will tackle bluefish, salmon, and small tuna.
DistributionThe California yellowtail ranges throughout the Gulf of California and along the Pacific coast of North America from Baja California, Mexico, to Los Angeles, California. On occasion, it is found as far north as Washington.
HabitatYellowtail are primarily coastal schooling fish found in inshore waters and out to the continental shelf. In addition to schooling in and around offshore reefs and rocky shores, they frequent deep water around wharves, jetties, and man-made structures such as sunken vessels or artificial reefs, where baitfish are common.
Occasionally, they will venture along ocean beaches and into larger estuaries. Large specimens, especially of the southern variety, are encountered in deep water around rocky pinnacles.