In 1769 Spanish explorer Don Gaspar de Portola named the area of rolling hills above the San Lorenzo River “Santa Cruz”. California became a state in 1849, and one year later Santa Cruz County was established. This area grew quickly thanks to successful logging, agriculture, and commercial fishing industries; and the city of Santa Cruz was incorporated in 1866. Due to its mild climate and exceptional scenic beauty this has been a prominent resort community ever since. Surfing came to Santa Cruz in 1936, and this joined fishing as another boon to the tourism industry. With the completion of Santa Cruz Harbor in 1964 the city experienced further influx in tourism and fishing economy. The city’s ideal location at the northern end of Monterey Bay, and its proximity to other local waterways, including the Pacific Ocean, will always make it extremely attractive for nature lovers, tourists, and especially anglers.
Santa Cruz Wharf is the longest public wharf on the west coast, and it features easy access to Surf Perch, Skate, Flounder, and small Sharks. West of Santa Cruz and along the coast is Monterey Bay, a nutrient-rich environment extending along the coastline from San Francisco to the south past Big Sur. These waters compose a food web that provides nourishment for animals ranging in size from microscopic plankton to Minke, Fin, Humpback, and giant Blue Whales. Monterey Harbor, Pillar Point, Santa Cruz Harbor, and Moss Landing are a few places to find charters and docking facilities around Santa Cruz. Fishing from Santa Cruz’s beautiful beaches provides opportunities at Surf Perch and Salmon, for those less inclined to get out on the water. Santa Cruz Harbor is large enough to accommodate a full fleet of charter fishing boats, in addition to its normal regimen of private and public recreational vessels, commercial fishing boats, kayaks. It even a small RV park with water views.
Sand Dab are small, tasty flat fish known by locals as some of the best eating fish, and they are popular for the younger or less-experienced crowd. As it happens, they are quite numerous in the waters around Santa Cruz. Typical four to five-hour trips yield numerous Sand Dab, and even Mackerel, from depths up to 100 feet during winter, throughout Monterey Bay. From July through December Red Snapper and many species of Cod, like Ling Cod, Olives, Coppers, Vermillions, and Rockfish are some of the most abundant species in the area. These fish are found at depths between 30 and 100 feet, along the Santa Cruz coast, and trips usually last between six and eight hours. Twilight Snapper and Cod trips are available from June through September. Salmon season is April through September, and Santa Cruz is one of the best spots along the coast to find plenty of good-sized Chinook. Average catches approach 20 pounds in weight, with some as large as 75 pounds later in the season. These are the most popular trips, usually lasting eight to nine hours, depending on how long it takes everyone to catch their limit. From July through November Albacore Tuna are another raging fad. These fish are hard, strong fighters, and there is no limit applicable, other than your own strength and endurance. Albacore trips usually last between 12 and 14 hours, due to the necessary distances from land. Along the San Lorenzo River there are even more options. Steelhead season lasts from November through February, and this river sees good numbers of Trout during their runs. The San Lorenzo gets more pressure than any other local river, and this keeps the waters clean and favorable for big healthy fish.
Since 1876 Santa Cruz has promoted itself as a “sportsmen’s paradise”, thanks – initially, at least – to the San Lorenzo River. Hotels and downtown campgrounds along this waterway were known to boom each year at the start of fishing season. In time the city learned to grow without depending upon the river to attract tourist dollars. Santa Cruz is the county seat for Santa Cruz County – 10% of whose land area includes state parks, beaches, and recreation sites. These areas, coupled with a wonderful, mild climate, still bring people to town, but it’s the fishing opportunities that score the most tourists.