Fishing for sandbass in shallow harbors and bays can be a productive way to spend an afternoon when nothing else seems to be going on. Rob and I have had a lot of experience fishing for sandbass with plastics in the Santa Barbara Harbor and I have had moderate experience fishing in the San Diego Bay as well as some experience in Newport Harbor. We fish the harbor when nothing else seems to be biting and we are too lazy to go float tubing. Don't get me wrong, the harbor can be a great fishing spot. In our younger years, a whole three years ago, we used to fish the harbor at least once a week. We even did a science fair project on parasites in sandbass caught out of the harbor (we won 2nd place and a trophy which was surprising seeing as we spent 40 hours fishing and only about 1/2 hour putting the project together). If you are going to fish the shallows you are going to need the right gear. Number one, leave your spinning gear at home. The most productive time is the drop and you its difficult to set the hook home when your bail is open. Now you want to select line strength and a rod and reel to match. I usually have my Calcutta 250 already pooled up with 12lb. test but if you have the extra reel I would suggest 8-10lb. The best rod for fishing the sandbass is somewhat stiff but not so stiff that you don't get a good fight. The sandbass up near Santa Barbara tend to be larger than the spotted bay bass you catch down in Newport and San Diego so you may want to adjust accordingly. The rod I use is a Gloomis GL2 rated for 12-20lb test. This rod is a little stiff so I often times use my Cabela's rod rated for 10-15lb. Your own preference is the best guide here. The stiffer rod will give a better hookset, but the lighter rod will be more fun and give a better fight. Tackle is the next important consideration. If the bite is really slow and you don't care about size then you can't go wrong with a Kalin's 5" silver fleck grub with a 1/4oz head. Also, the grub is about the best plastic for dropping pilings (explained later). The reason that I use Kalin's grubs is because the extra thick tail gives the grub better action. It is important that you have a quality jig head because the sandbass will often peck at the grub and a sharp hook is needed to hook them.
If you are looking for slightly larger fish and are planning to do more retrieving than dropping I would suggest using the 3" Worm King with a flat tail. The 5" and other styles pretty much suck and are a waste of money so don't bother to purchase any. The best colors for the Worm King are fluorescent green, a light tan, or clear on the bottom (pretty much anything light colored).
Larger fish will hit the smaller lures but if you want to target the large sandbass than your best bets are 5" Big Hammers and 5" Fish Traps. There is a wide variety of colors to choose from but some of the best are fluorescent green (Again. The two calico bass and one seabass in the photo section were all caught on a 5" floro green Big Hammer), clear/goldfleck/olive (Rob's two photos of calico bass), rainbow trout, and a brown version of the rainbow trout (not brown trout but brown in color). The 7" Big Hammers will also work but they are generally too large for most harbor bass (although some people only fish for the big ones, which usually means they don't catch anything).
Now comes presentation. There are pretty much two basic methods for catching shallow water sandbass. One way is to drop your lure straight down the pilings and set the hook when a sandbass bites. This method is so easy, yet so productive, it takes a lot of the fun and challenge out of fishing. If you aren't catching anything and really feel the need to catch at least one fish, no matter what tactic you use, then this is the method for you. First of all you will need to find a piling that one of the docks are anchored to. Next simply move as close to the piling as you can without the boat owners cussing and screaming and then hit the freespool button and let the lure drop straight down. Keep your eyes on your line and your thumb directly over the spool but not touching it. The sandbass will bite one of two ways. Either they will rip the lure and you will have to thumb the spool quickly in order to avoid a backlash or else they will suck it into their mouths. When the bass rip the lure put your thumb on the spool and set the hook hard. Its more difficult to catch the bass when they suck the lure in. The best method for detecting this strike is to know how long it takes for your lure to reach the bottom. If you line pauses or stops before it should then set the hook. Most likely a bass has sucked in you lure but has not moved away from the piling.
The other method for catching sandbass in shallow water is the hop retrieve. Rob and I have found that this same method can be used for pretty much all types of fishing where the fish are on or near the bottom. Cast your lure in the direction that you wish to fish and let it sink to the bottom. Even if you are not fishing a piece of structure watch your line as your lure sinks. Sandbass and other fish will oftentimes come up to take the lure as it drops. Once your lure has reached the bottom make it do a quick but small hop off the bottom and keep the line taunt so that the lure slowly swings back to the bottom. Continue to hop the lure and let it glide back down until you have reeled in the lure. Be careful not to reel in too soon, oftentimes I have had sandbass strike the lure late in the retrieve just when I had almost given up on the cast. When you do get a strike don't expect your rod to leap out of your hands (but don't be surprised if it tries). Sandbass bites are usually very light, especially when its a smaller one. Sandbass will lightly peck at the lure as it glides back down. When this happens do another hop and as soon as you feel a peck set the hook hard. The smaller bass are pretty tricky to hook but once you get used to it you will catch a lot of them. Guides in San Diego Bay will catch 200+ spotted bay bass in one single day. This is impressive but the fish generally tend to be rather small and with their boat I could probably catch 150+ with hardly ever fishing there.
All in all sandbass and spotted bay bass are fun fish to catch and provide pretty consistent bites. I can almost always count on catching a few sandbass any day that I go in the Santa Barbara Harbor and am pretty much guaranteed 10 fish in the San Diego Bay. Sandbass make fairly good eating but I would strongly advise against eating them out of harbors and bays because of the chemical and parasite buildup (remember the science fair project, lets just say we didn't have any trouble locating enough parasites).