The Scorpoinfish in Southern California is also referred to by another general name, “Sculpin” (while they are not in the sculpin family, this may actually be a more common name for this fish).

Identifying Characteristics and Biology

Scorpionfish have poisonous spines. The dorsal, anal, and pelvic fins have very sharp spines supported by toxin carrying glands  located at the base of these fins. The sting from a puncture by these fins are typically not fatal, but can produce a great amount of  localized pain and discomfort. Angler’s who aren’t aware can quickly grab it like a perch and receive a nasty sting. Usually deck hands on party boats are very quick to offer help and unhook any hooked scorpionfish. A quick clip of the fins reduces the chance of someone being stung from brushing up against a fish bag. After a sting, a soak of the injured area in hot water is the typical remedy.

These are a feisty little fish, seldom reaching 20 inches in length. Sportfish catches in Southern California are typically 1 to 4 pound specimens. They are short and stout, and have very a large head and mouth for their size, and often attack baits the same lengths as their bodies. Scorpionfish can have some varied coloration between specimens from a general drab brown tan with darker spots, to quite dramatic and vivid deep red or orange with yellow outlines and highlights and deep dark black spots.

Range and Habitat

Scorpionfish are a bottom species, easily determined by one look at their un-hydrodynamic body style. Scorpionfish are found from Central California, down to the Baja coast, and then back up into the Gulf of  California. Found from intertidal to at least 600 feet, to jetties and surf fishing in rocky tidal areas. But they are more commonly found off the beach in kelp beds and shallower rock reef areas to 200 feet and are a fairly common catch when fishing these depths for bottom critters.

Market Forms

Scorpionfish are great eating fish. They have big mouths and are an aggressive fish. Common fishing baits are anchovies, whole squid, or squid strips. They are not a finicky species: they will also eagerly take plastics and small irons. Fish baits or jigs close to the bottom, rocky structures will improve your chances.


John Shelton, the Fishing Chef, will help you get ‘that’ fish onto ‘your’ plate. John’s motto is ‘release it unharmed or do it justice on the plate.’ Executive Chef, photographer, and surfer, John photographs ocean marine life when he's out fishing, and creates masterpieces in the kitchen with what he keeps on deck. His photo works have been used in OEHHA Fish Advisories, National Geographic presentations, and nonprofit marine life groups. When he's not fishing, he's making great BBQ. Visit him at, and send him a message using the contact form using the link above.