Here are a couple of cool new techniques that I like to bust out when targeting shallow water rockfish that really make the fishing fun — and productive.
To be perfectly honest, drop-shotting and butterfly style jigging aren’t exactly new, but they are not widely used in the light tackle bottomfish arena…yet!
Traditional rockfishing — with the baseball-sized leads, thick lines and broomstick rods — could be considered more of a harvesting method than fishing. Effective, yes, and sometimes essential, the heavy tackle route, however, is fairly low on the fun index. You just don’t get much fight out of the fish this way.
But it doesn’t have to be like that! Try these two hot techniques and and you’ll have a blast catching rockfish and lings on light gear!
If drop-shotting sounds familiar, its because it’s a go-to technique for freshwater bass anglers. One thing that makes it great for saltwater fishing is the rig is very streamlined gets down to the bottom quickly. Another benefit is the fact that the sinker, not the hook(s) is the only thing that touches the bottom — so snags are greatly minimized. And because the bait is up above the bottom, the fish have a better shot at seeing it. The action of a drop-shotted bait is also unique and hard to match with any other style.The rig looks like this: Start by tying a hook inline on your leader 1 to 4 feet above the end. A simple Palomar Knot is used, but it’s hard to describe on paper, so just Google “How to tie a drop shot rig” and you’ll get a million tutorials. What’s important to remember is that the hook point needs to be facing up when you are finished. The hook you use will be determined by the size and style of your bait but generally they are similar in shape the the octopus hooks used for freshwater salmon fishing with roe.
To the end of the leader, tie a snap — and that’s where the sinker attaches. I like torpedo style sinkers from 1 to 4 ounces in weight for light tackle fishing. The idea here is to use just enough weight to keep your gear straight below the boat.
Fishing a drop-shot rig is simple. Use your graph to get directly over a school of fish —or a likely looking spot — and drop straight down until the lead hits the bottom. Reel up a few cranks and lightly jig or twitch the rod tip. You don’t need a ton of action here — just enough to get your offering to dance around a bit. Bites generally are fairly subtle — a slight “tick” or bump on the line. Set the hook hard and start reeling immediately to keep the fish from heading back down into the rocks.
Try to keep the boat directly over the spot — it’s much harder to control your rig if the vessel is drifting quickly and you have a lot of line scoped out.
As far as offerings go, the sky is the limit. There are tons of really good plastic and natural baits that work well with this method. Six-inch Gitzit Super Tubes are good, as are Berkley Gulp 5″ Jumbo Leeches. Plenty of hootchie squids and grubs work too. Try Kalin’s 6″ Mogambo.
Big white or brown Yamamoto Senkos get bit a lot too.
You can also run bait on the drop-shot rig. Salmon belly strips are awesome, along with squid or herring.
Rods for drop-shotting should be fast action so you can quickly set the hook on fish that are well below the boat. Some power in the lower end is also essential for keeping big fish out of the rocks. Length can range from 7 to 8.5 feet and is really just a matter of what feels comfortable to you — and the size of the fish you’re chasing.
Reels need not be fancy but some preferred attributes include a large line capacity, smooth drag and high speed retrieve rate.
When spooling up, braided line in the 30- to 60-pound range is really the only choice for several reasons. The thin diameter of braid helps lures sink faster while also giving your reel more line capacity. Braid’s lack of stretch means you get more positive hook sets and better action out of your lure. It’s also much more sensitive than mono so you’ll be better able to feel bites or contact with the bottom. For a leader, tie a 6-foot section of 30-pound fluorocarbon or mono to the end of the braid with a Double Albright Knot and you’re in business.
Vertical jigging with heavy spoons has long been a favorite way to catch rockfish and lings and the new butterfly method takes it a step further and makes this technique even more effective.The origins of the butterfly jigging method come from Japan, where anglers developed it to target big tuna down as deep as 500 feet. The name comes from the fluttering action of the lure you get when fished properly and, scaled down, it works great in shallow water for Alaska’s denizens as well.
It’s important to note, however, that there are a few major differences between this and standard jigging. First, jigs designed for the butterfly method have aggressive angles on one side designed to cause the baits to dance and flutter. The hook rigging is also quite different and so is the retrieve method.
When jigging for rockfish and lings, the standard technique has always been to drop the lure to the bottom, reel up a few cranks and then aggressively snap the rod tip up and then let the lure fall again. At the bottom of the drop, the tip is jerked straight up again and the whole process repeats…lift, drop, lift, drop. Most strikes occur as the jig is falling when fishing this way.
The old school jigging style is still plenty effective, but I think the fish sometimes get tired of watching the lure yo-yo in front of their faces. That’s where the butterfly system really shines — it seems to be able to “light up” stale fish that otherwise don’t seem to be in a biting mood. There’s just something about the presentation that turns fish on!
When first starting, it takes a little time to get the rhythm and the proper rod and reel action, but butterfly jigging is pretty simple once you get the hang of it. Begin by dropping your jig to the bottom and then immediately start cranking on the reel. Your rod should always be in the horizontal position and you only need to lift it slightly — the key thing to focus on is the action comes more from the reel than the rod. You’ll be reeling all the time and it’s a very short, compact motion with the rod hand, almost mirroring the circular motion of the reel hand. If you are getting worn out quickly, you are probably working everything too hard.
Unlike traditional jigging, you don’t ever want to allow the head of the jig to drop. Zooming out a bit, picture the lure hitting the bottom and then you start working the rod and reel at the same time. The jig starts rising but also has a side-to-side action to it. You just keep a nice steady rhythm going until you are up out of the strike zone — at which point, simply drop the lure back down to the bottom and start again. Your cadence should be generally on the slow side for rockfish but I like to speed it up now and then too just to mix it up.
Where you stop your lure’s ascent depends on the fishing spot. If there’s a big pinnacle you want to work for lings, fish from the sea floor all the way to the summit. The same holds true for big edges and drop-offs. Many species of rockfish also suspend well off the bottom, so it often pays to work your jig all the way back to the surface. Plus, when you get up off the bottom, you may also get some bonus kings or silvers too!
Shimano popularized the term “butterfly jigging” with a lineup of spoons of the same name. Their Butterfly and Flat Fall jigs are excellent but there are also many others available on the market today, including the Spro Abalone Sushi Spoon, Williamson’s Abyss Speed Jig and the Mango Speed Spoon.
As I mentioned earlier, butterfly style spoons are different from traditional jigs because they are asymmetrical. A “regular” spoon is flat on both sides while the ones used in this technique are flat on one side and sharply angled on the other — and that’s what produces the erratic action.
You’ll also notice that the hook configuration on butterfly jigs is a dramatic departure from traditional rigging. Rather that having a treble hook on the bottom of the jig, there’s a single hook attached via cord that hangs off a ring at the lure’s head. Called “assist hooks,” you can make your own or buy pre-made ones. They look like they shouldn’t work at all but I have found that assist hooks are deadly effective and far out-fish trebles. They also keep the fish from getting deeply hooked in most cases, which makes unhooking and releasing shakers much easier.
I prefer to rig my lures with just one assist hook — but some folks will run two off the top ring. I have had enough close calls while unhooking fish when one hook was buried and the other was swinging all over the place as the fish was shaking that I’m keeping it to one hook these days. Get one in the hand while the other is still in the fish and you have a situation!
There are a few must-have items to make this technique work properly. Starting with the rod, you’ll need a stick that has a reasonably soft tip to allow the lure to work properly. Fish these jigs with a stiff rod and they just don’t swim as effectively . Be sure not to go too parabolic, though, either. A rod with a lot of bend tends to stifle the action.
While I generally prefer casting gear, spinning rods and reels seem to work best for this technique. At least for me, it’s easier to get into the butterfly style rhythm with a coffee grinder outfit.
Catch & Release?
There is no denying that rockfish and lingcod are some of the best-tasting critters in the sea and I love to fill a cooler with them any time I can. But I also release a bunch. If you are fishing shallow enough, you can simply toss the fish back and they can make it back down to the bottom. However, when you move out a little deeper — say beyond 30 or 40 feet — the fish can suffer pressure damage, or barotrauma — 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 there 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 (www.sheltonproducts.com) and is only $6.
Shallow water rockfish are more affected by rough weather than their deep water cousins. If there’s a big swell, inshore fish tend to hunker down near structure are are less likely to chase lures. That’s why I like to save my shallow water fishing for nice, calm days. Plus, we’ll often get in pretty tight to exposed pinnacles and rocks so it’s just much safer when seas are flat.
The fishing can also be tough on days when the current is really running. Again, the fish lay pretty low under those conditions to avoid expending too much energy. Plus, it’s hard to keep your gear down below the boat when the water is ripping.