Rockfish are among the best fighting, best eating fish on the Pacific coast.  There are more than 60 different kinds of rockfish in the Sebastes species, but you are most likely to catch these four from the shore: Brown Rockfish, Blue Rockfish, Black Rockfish, and Grass Rockfish. 

These fish have a fairly wide range of food choices, but if you do some research you'll find that crustaceans and small fish lead the list for all four.  So crabs, shrimps, and live fish like anchovies and sardines are going to be top baits (and frozen offerings are also effective).  I've had success with pile worms and squid, too. 

The important thing is to keep your bait moving. Don't let it sit too long. Otherwise all you'll get are pests like crabs or undersized greenlings. Cast out a few yards, let things settle, wait, and reel in.  Often you will get strikes while you are bringing the tackle right up to the surface.  Be prepared for a hard hit and savage tug, and keep that line taut.  Rockfish are an ambush fish and lurk nearby rock shelves and reefs; as soon as they capture something they will retreat to cover.  If you let them, they will lose your line. 

One tip or trick: should you get snagged, don't panic, pause calmly and wait a moment.  I've even put the pole down (drag set loose, of course) and had a sandwich while I waited.  More often than you'd suppose the fish will emerge from cover and get you unsnagged.  I've found this to be especially true for cabezon and lingcods. 

I prefer fixed bait rigs when going after rockfish of the Sebastes variety, as well as greenlings and cabezon.  But for the mighty lingcod my choice is a single hook  and a sliding egg sinker attached to the main line.  A whole frozen anchovy is tied to the hook with elastic thread.  I cast out maybe 20 yards, let it settle, and retrieve slowly but deliberately.  This works very well indeed. 

All these fish can be captured with lures, but it does take some practice and more than a little resignation to the fact that, as with bait rigs in this habitat, you will lose tackle.  And of course lures tend to cost more than hooks and sinkers.  I myself prefer swimbaits because they seem natural and I've been lucky with them.  If I lose them or a fish tears the soft plastic to shreds, it's not that big of a deal. I tend to go a little berserk if I'm donating $5 lures to the depths, though.  However, some people really like chrome bars for lings and rockfish, even from the shore, and the results are unquestionable.  That sparkling bar just seems to infuriate lingcod.  Also, hard iron lures like the crippled herring variety can entice a great bite.  Lots of people use them.  I find lots of those lures at low tide.  (Which is rather my point here!)

If you like an excellent battle, all that hardware gets clunky and, in my view, gets in the way of pleasure.  When I'm pursuing rockfish with lures, I like it on the light side. Spinning outfits are the most fun.  I use a Shimano TDR 2703 or a Shakespeare BWS1100 Ugly Stick with a either a Daiwa 2500 or 4000 (Regal S or Z series, or even the inexpensive J) with 10-12# monofilament, and this may be too light for some people.  I have indeed lost fish, more often a hefty lingcod, but man, what action!  For bait presentation I use Tigers with (you guessed it) Daiwa reels or sometimes a Penn 209. I'll go up to 20# line here on occasion. All the poles are 7 feet long.  My feeling is that the longer poles, though they cast farther and can reach around snags, just aren't as useful for rock hopping dexterity.

When and where can you catch rockfish? They can be found year round but are more available in the colder months which match their spawning behavior.   I like going after them at the bottom of a moderate tide cycle.  Slow water seems the best, no doubt because they are a hovering fish and faster water makes it harder to hover.   Generally, you'll find better rockfish success outside the Bay.  True, there are good fish to be found from both towers of the Golden Gate Bridge, but the bigger fish (the adults) are more often caught from the seashore.   Look for the change in habitat, where rocky reefs meet sandy beaches, for example, because many times the prey fish collect there and rockfish are waiting.  Bean Hollow, Pacifica, Fort Cronkite, Muir and Stinson beaches, and Point Reyes are all good spots.  Travel lightly, but travel long.  Don't get skunked by keeping still.  It's all about mobility for rockfish.

Good ID & Info Resource For Rockies




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