Calico or kelp bass are species of saltwater bass that grow up to nearly 30" and live to around 30 years of age. The current IUSA spearfishing record for kelp bass is 12.4 pounds set 2012. These fish are slow growing, and at 1 year old are only 4" long. They appear brown or olive in color with white spots along their bodies giving them the calico pattern. These fish are tough to hunt for beginners due to their ability to blend to their surroundings and their skittish nature. But with some experience a diver can developing some productive techniques to increase their success.
These fish range from the Columbia River in Oregon down to Southern Baja, Mexico. However, they are found most commonly in Southern California down to Northern Baja. You can find these fish in water depths between 10' and 70' with a few outliers both shallower and deeper waters. These fish can be found in the kelp forest or along rocky reefs where they like to hide in the cracks and holes if predators are around. In the kelp forest, I find these fish throughout the water column but mostly in the top half where the thermocline is located. In rocky areas, I will find them sitting next to rocks and holes near the bottom acting very "grouper like". Just like most fish on reefs or in kelp beds, these fish will gather at the up current side of structure so hunt there. With a little bit of experience, you will notice this pattern as well.
A nice size Calico Bass, San Diego
Spawning occurs from April to November with the peak occurring in the summer months. In the fall, these fish will follow the migration patterns of their food source if necessary, but some fish will stay in the reefs and kelp beds if there is an abundant food supply. You can hunt these fish year around in California.
No need for special equipment for calico bass. Any light speargun setup will work with either a reel or floatline. Because these fish tend to live around rocky areas, flopper shafts are preferred and one or two band spearguns have more than enough power. These fish behave fairly predictable, but can be very tough to hunt because of their skittish nature. Although I typically do not target these fish, I find them fairly easy to hunt after learning more about their tendencies. When targeting these fish, they will often face you head on giving you the classic head and pectoral view. At this point, ,move forward extremely slow or stop moving altogether and wait for the fish to turn broadside as it attempts to swims away. This moment provides you with the best shot possible. In kelp, you find them often along the kelp stocks or under the kelp provide shade. On the reefs, they will sit at the bottom around holes, where they will attempt to escape if danger is sensed. I feel the key to successful hunting these fish is to find where they are gathering, move slow and smooth as to not spook the fish, and close the distance waiting for that broadside shot.