Rockfishing doesn’t have to be just about the meat. Instead of dragging bloated, bug-eyed bottomfish up from 50 fathoms, try busting out some bass gear and hitting the shallows…it’s a blast!
And it’s not just fun…shallow water rockcoddin’ is also very productive. In fact, some of the best fishing you’ll find these days for lings and assorted other rockfish takes place near the beach, away from where the commercial draggers and big party boats fish.
How Shallow? If you’ve got nice weather (fall’s a great time for it!), you can catch rockfish all the way into 10 feet of water, but I do most of mine in 20 to 60 feet.
As with fishing deep, you want to target structure when working close to shore. Look for rock piles, reefs, pinnacles, the outside edges of kelp lines and rocky ledges. Since you may often be working close to rocks, you’re going to want to pick a day with very little swell and wind. Even when you’re working away from hazards, ground swell days suck because the wave action is much more pronounced in shallow water and the fish have a tendency to hunker down.
A 6 to 7 ½ – foot trigger handle rod with a moderately fast action works well for shallow water rockfishing (think bass rods, here). The stick I most often use is the GLoomis MBR844, which is nice and light but has enough backbone to yank a 20-pound ling out of his house.
In the reel department, pick something that’s got a durable thumb bar (which allows you to quickly play out more line if the water gets deeper), good cranking power and a tough drag. Spool up with braided line in the 20- to 60-pound range and run a 3- to 6-foot section of 15- to 30-pound fluorocarbon or mono between your jig and the braid.
You don’t have to get too technical when it comes to bottomfish lures. I like to run two basic types of jig — rubber swimbaits with 1- to 4-ounce lead heads:
iron like Hopkins, Crippled Herring, Buzz Bombs, Revenge and Bomber Slab spoons (to name a few) also work well in the same size range:
I keep my jigs in the 1- to 4-ounce range because heavier lures simply end up being too much work on light gear. Plus, light lures are easier to impart action into and don’t get snagged as much. A simple rule of thumb is pick a lure that’s just heavy enough to keep down in the strike zone but doesn’t pound the bottom.
To get started with light tackle rockfishing, simply freespool the jig to the bottom, reel up a couple cranks and then use a sharp upstroke of the rod tip to get the lure to hop. The upswing doesn’t need to be super aggressive – a quick 1- to 2-foot snap of the rod is all you need. Next, drop the tip back towards the water so that the lure will fall back to the seabed.
When the lure’s dropping back towards the bottom, it’s important to keep some contact with it. Let it fall as quickly as possible without having slack in the line. Most bites occur as the lure is fluttering back towards earth and you’ll miss a lot of them if you don’t maintain some tension between the jig and the rod tip.
While I’m happy to throw some tasty rockfish in the cooler, I also release a ton of them. Fishing for them with light tackle is so fun and productive that you’ll catch far more fish than you can possibly eat.
Most rockfish hooked in shallow water on light gear can be released without any problems. However, there are times when a fish comes up with pressure damage — a distended belly is the most common sign, though fish from deeper water may also have bulging eyes and part of their stomach coming out of their mouth. The old school way to release these fish was to poke a hole with a needle at an angle behind the pectoral fin to relieve the pressure. That can more harm than good, though, if you don’t know how to properly do it. Luckily, there are easier and safer methods…
For years, we’ve kept a milk crate on board for releasing rockfish. The crate has a 60-foot line tied to it and some lead sinkers to weigh it down. We flip it upside down, put a fish in it and start lowering slowly. The fish will stay in the crate until the pressure has equalized – at that point, it swims off on its own. Usually, about 30 feet is all it takes.
If you search around online, you’ll also find that here are also some products on the market designed for releasing fish from deep water. One that looks interesting and very simple is the one made by Shelton Products.
Bruce Chambers says
And…once in awhile you will be rewarded with the opportunity to cast on these fish as they come up to feed on the surface, rolling on bait fish, and on your “scampi” type jigs. I keep a casting rod rigged and ready with 8-10 lb. line and 1/4 to 1/2 oz. lead heads with twin tails. The surface bite doesn’t always happen, but it’s my favorite… a real treat!
I’ve heard about it but never been lucky enough to stumble onto it. Sounds like fun!!!
HUNTER MILLHORN says
Very good information here! Looking to get after some Rockfish and Halibut around the bay this summer. Any tips or spots to go would be greatly appreciated. I like the idea of using bass fishing gear to get after the shallow water spots with jigs. Also, looking to get after some salmon once they start heating up. Any tips on that would also be appreciated.
Jeff VanLier says
So far, you have the best and informative site on the Santa Cruz area . Love it ! And from fishing there in the past, you seem to have hit all I’ve done there so far, right on the head . It’s nice to get info. from someone who has actually been out doing it for a change . We’ll be targeting Lings, Halibut, Striper, and hopefully some shark, but around the 6 foot range… Getting full rollered ugly sticks Saturday, matched with large Penn reels, and just plan on all day action from our 21′ cuddy . Your info. on bait and areas to try, I’m sure will greatly increase the fun factor ! Thank you again for keeping your site posted and current !
Jeff — Modesto, Calif.