[Closed] Rockfish Tips & Techniques
The rockfish season usually begins in April and runs through December. The exact dates change every year. One rod per person on the ocean. The size limits also vary from year to year. There are many kinds of rockfish and some are restricted. Lingcod is considered a prized catch due to their large size and excellent flavor. This is what we prefer to target.
Be sure to check the CDFW website for identification guides and read the regulations! https://wildlife.ca.gov/
Medium to Heavy at least 7ft or longer. Longer rods have more flex but shorter rods are easier to bring fish closer to the boat. Lighter, longer or those rods with a “fast” action have more sensitivity in the tip to help see the bites. There are many opinions on this so you’ll have to Google it and do some research. We are currently using an Ugly Stick Tiger 7ft Medium Casting Rod.
Baitcaster or Spinning Reels can be used for jigging. You want a fair amount of capacity on the reel in case the line breaks and you lose some.
“Level Winds” are nice because they wind they line up evenly on the reel. Line Counters are nice so you know your depth. Otherwise, you can peel the line off one foot at a time and count out how many feet are out. However, when bottom fishing for rockfish you usually let the line out all the way until you touch the bottom then bring it up a few feet so you don’t drag on the rocks so knowing how much line you have out is not crucial.
When you let line out of a baitcaster you place it in free-spool and hold your thumb on the spool so it doesn’t all go out at once.
We are currently using the Shimano Tekota 700LC with 65lb P-line braid.
Medium to heavy line is fine. 15-30lb mono or 30-65lb braided line is common. Mono has more flex but braid is more sensitive to see the rod movement. Some use braid with a “top shot” of 30ft of mono on the end. Swivels, etc. should be comparable to the line size. Braid is typically 3x the strength of mono.
When bottom fishing for rockfish you cut the engine and let the boat drift.
Plastic Squids such as the P-line Ling Cod/Rock Cod Rigs are very popular. Swim Baits and jigs are also popular. There are many different kinds of jigs. Most are long and slender and shaped like a squid. Some are shiny chrome to attract them. Swim baits have a lead head and a rubber body that wiggles around like a fish.
Tip! Bring some frozen squid and put a small piece on each hook when using plastic squids or jigs.
We consider live bait to be the best. We use a Sabiki Rig to catch Sanddabs. You’ll need a livewell to keep the sanddabs alive, or, a minnow bucket you can hang off the side of the boat. Don’t forget to bring them in when you move the boat! You can use a bucket or bait box with an aerator but you must change the water frequently or they will die (not recommended).
Sanddabs can be found in 100-200ft of water. Use your chartplotter to find the flat spots on the ocean floor. Rig your sabiki with a heavier (8-12oz) round sinker at the bottom and a lighter (2-4oz) weight at the top. This will make the sabiki lay down on the bottom. Put a small piece of frozen squid on each hook. Drift the boat and sink the sabiki to the bottom to catch them. If you find a good spot mark it on your fishfinder and make multiple passes.
We use the Ahi USA Sabiki 12 Hook Rig #SB-700 (12 ea 1/0 hooks).
At the end of your mainline you will attach a snap swivel to your bottom fishing rig. Some rigs come already assembled and ready to go but if you use a jig or swim bait with braided line be sure to put a few feet of 30lb monofilament between the mainline and the lure. You want to have some stretch for the fish and also it will break away if you get stuck in the rocks.
A “rock cod” or bottom fishing rig usually has two hooks and a sinker on the bottom. The hooks will be 18-24” above the sinker. Some go as far as 3 ft to the sinker. Hook sizes are typically 7/0 for the circle hook and 6/0 for the treble hook when targeting large ‘lings.
Sinkers can be anywhere from 8oz-16oz depending on the conditions. Some go even heavier. Use round or torpedo sinkers so they do not get stuck in the rocks.
You can attach plastic squids to the hooks by putting the hook through the top of the squid or purchase the rigs that come pre-assembled with the squids on them such as the P-line Rock Cod Jigs.
Live bait or “Trap” rigs have a circle hook on the top and a treble hook on the bottom. The circle hook is attached with a sliding snell knot so you can adjust the length to your bait. To rig a sanddab, put the upper circle hook in the mouth of the sanddab and out its nose area. Put the bottom treble hook through the tail.
Swimbaits and jigs are weighted so that’s all you need on the line. The size depends on the conditions and usually heavier is better to get it down near the bottom (8oz+). Don’t forget to put some monofilament right above them to give them some stretch if they get stuck.
How to find them:
Finding rockfish on the bottom of the ocean is all about structure. You’ll need to use your chartplotter and sonar. Google satellite images will give you a good idea of where to go.
Large rockfish/lingcod will not necessarily show up on the sonar because they are so close to the bottom. However, clusters of small fish and bait will. We have had success both seeing bait fish near the bottom and no fish at all but it can’t hurt if you see life around. Find a rocky area with your chartplotter then keep an eye on the sonar for small fish near the bottom.
Cut your engine and drift. Lower your rig all the way until you feel it hit the bottom then raise it up a couple of feet so you’re not dragging. If you drag you might get stuck and lose your rig. As the floor changes you’ll need to keep adjusting your depth so you’re right near the bottom but not dragging. Let the rig down to the bottom every once and a while to make sure you're not too high.
Then begin jigging. This means lifting your rod up and down to simulate movement. Some wiggle the rod quickly while going up then let it slowly down. Some use slow up and down movements; some rapidly. You’ll need to experiment with this to find your style.
For swimbaits, sink them to the bottom then either jig or reel them up while you’re jigging then let them back down to simulate a fish going up and down near the bottom.
There are many different types of rockfish and some are protected so it’s a good idea to bring a guide with you. You should always have a copy of the CDFW Ocean Sport Regulations with you. You can also find identification guides on the internet to print out so you have color images such as those available at https://www.recfin.org/
We use the laminated guides available at https://www.rockfishidentification.com/
Landing and Processing:
We keep our drag set to about 90%. That’s where it’s almost locked down but you can just pull it by hand with enough force. This should be sufficient for most fish unless you hook up a monster. Then, you can loosen the drag to let line out if you need to.
Use a large net to land your fish. Rubber nets are preferred to nylon so you don’t scuff up any fish that will be let go.
Once on board gut them as soon as you get a chance and store them on ice.
We usually launch from Pillar Point in Half Moon Bay. Common areas include in front of the Ritz Hotel in 30-60ft of water, North of the MPA near Devils Slide and the Farallon Islands. I have also heard right outside the Golden Gate on the rocky Marin side and outside Santa Cruz is also productive. Use Google satellite images to see rocky areas in the ocean and give you an idea. Keep an eye out for reports and word of mouth is always the best.