Kelp (Calico) Bass (Paralabrax clathratus)

Kelp (Calico) Bass (Paralabrax clathratus)

One of a large number of sea bass found in the eastern Pacific, the kelp bass is one of the most popular sportfish in Southern California, as a mainstay of party boat trips to the northern Baja. Because it is a powerful fighter and an excellent food fish, it is highly sought by anglers. Its popularity and nonmigratory status put kelp bass populations at risk from overfishing.


A hardy fish with the characteristic elongated and compressed bass shape, the kelp bass has a notch between its spiny and its dorsal fins. The longest spines in the first dorsal fin are longer than any of the rays in the second dorsal fin. It is brown to olive green, with pale blotches on the back and lighter coloring on the belly.

Kelp bass are easily distinguishable from various sand bass by their third, fourth, and fifth dorsal spines, which are about the same length; sand bass have a third dorsal spine that is much longer than the fourth and fifth dorsal spines. Kelp bass also superficially resemble freshwater black bass, except that their dorsal spines are longer and much heavier, and their overall appearance is rougher.


Kelp bass grow slowly, taking 5 to 6 years to reach a length of 12 inches, when they are capable of spawning. Fish weighing 8 to 10 pounds may be 15 to 20 years old. The largest kelp bass are said to exceed 15 pounds, although the largest fish caught was only 14 pounds, 7 ounces. They can grow to 1.5 feet in length.

Life history/Behavior

Spawning occurs from May
through September and peaks in July. Kelp bass do not migrate and instead tend to be territorial. Food and feeding habits. An omnivorous feeder, kelp bass favor assorted fish and small shrimplike crustaceans when young. Adults consume anchovies, small surfperch, and other small fish.

Other Names

calico bass, California kelp bass, rock bass, rock sea bass, sand bass, bull bass, kelp salmon, cabrilla; Spanish: cabrilla alguera.


Primarily found along the central and southern California coast and northeastern Baja, kelp bass range from the Columbia River in Washington to Magdalena Bay in Baja California.


Kelp bass typically linger in or near kelp beds, over reefs, and around rock jetties and breakwaters or structures in shallow water; larger fish hold in deeper water, to roughly 150 feet.