Fishing Tips

Nearshore Rockfishing: Rockfishing Techniques and Tackle

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Do you think there’s enough rules and regulations for rockfishing? Wait! There’s more! Keep in mind that you can only use 2 hooks total when rockfishing (they can both be barbed, trebles, your choice). Many of the shrimp fly rigs available in sporting goods stores are now illegal, so you’ll have to trim these ganglions down to a 2-hook legal status.

Most anglers have switched over to a rockcod rig that combines the proven deadly diamond bar jig for lingcod with a teaser shrimp fly tied above it. Since lingcod are off-limits through the end of the year however, diamond jigs and hex bars will lead to frustration, since you are bound to catch a lot of lings during the closure. This is the height of the lingcod spawning season, when large females come from the deeper water into the nearshore zone and mate with males that aggressively defend their nests against egg-stealers like black and blue rockfish. When these fish are confronted with a bright, jangling hex bar in their faces, they attack it without concern for their well-being. That’s why nearshore lingcod fishing is best in the fall and early winter months along California’s north coast.

To target the mid-water rockfish like blacks and blues, try lighter tackle. I’ve been having a lot of fun using a 7′ spinning rod with a Shimano 4000 spincasting reel. There’s an endless variety of paddle-tailed swim baits that can be rigged on darter-type jig heads in weights of 3/8 oz. to 2 or 3 ozs., depending on the current and wind conditions. For line, I use Berkeley Fireline in the 2-lb. diameter, 6# test weight. This stuff seems to eliminate line twist while allowing you to really scale down your baits to the minimum. The line is so thin it’s actually hard to see, yet I’ve landed 12-pound lingcod on this line.

The plastic swimbaits are ideal for casting out and covering different water. You aren’t limited to fishing directly under the boat as with deep-water rockfishing. After the lure hits the water, let the jig drop down through the water column. Sometimes the fish will be right on top, boiling at the surface on calm days. In heavier current, the fish will hang around structure and kelp beds in deeper water. You can fish the bait all the way back to the boat, at various depths, until you locate the fish.

Black rockfish, along with blues, are aggressive feeders when they’re on the bite, so I usually move to a new spot if I haven’t gotten bit on the first few casts. By fishing the top half of the water column, you increase your chances of targeting “keeper” fish rather than the bottom-hugging lingcod and red rockfish.

Size of the swimbaits can vary from a 1″ chunk of plastic grub all the way up to 5″ swimbaits like Tomcod Fishtraps that have proven very effective on the troll for albacore and even salmon. About the size of a large anchovy, they come with painted darter jig heads in 2 oz.- 4 oz. weights.

In deeper water, heavy tackle and large lead jigs like diamond bars, Gibbs minnows and dart-shaped jigs like the Gibbs Floorwalker are the rule. I’ve seen lots of home-made jigs, including short lengths of stainless pipe filled with cement or lead, with an eye for attaching the line and another for the treble hook. But in the nearshore, this is a bit of overkill, since the bait tends to be small in shallow water, and includes small crabs, shrimp, squid and the occasional baitfish or juvenile rockfish no more than an inch or so in length.

Bass and walleye fishermen often have a blast using freshwater tackle on nearshore rockfish like blacks and blues. Once I watched a fisherman from Colorado catch a limit of blacks (10 fish) drifting a chartreuse walleye grub just off the kelp beds. He’d just cast back behind the boat and set up his drift along the kelp lines and didn’t even bother jigging.

Although I’ve never tried it, flyfishing for rockfish on flat days is a definite possibility. Years ago there was an article in Field and Stream about a guide who developed a technique of fly-fishing for lingcod off the Noyo Harbor jetty.

So far I’ve covered the techniques while fishing from a boat, but many people fish from the banks, jetties, or rocks in the nearshore. Since the overall impact of shore anglers is so minimal on offshore rockfish and lingcod, the DFG has excluded this type of fishing from the rockfish closure. So, if you are lucky enough to catch a lingcod or red rockfish from the rocks, you can keep it. Landing a fish amid the dense kelp that overgrows the rocky coastline during the late fall months can be a real challenge. Most anglers use long (9′-10′) spinning rods and line heavy enough to yank the fish out of the water. Since snagging bottom is even more of a problem from shore than on a boat, improvised (free) sinkers are devised from small tobacco pouches filled with sand, or old spark plugs, and rusty bolts. With lighter line connecting the weight to a three-way swivel, the rig can be broken off, saving the hook and leader.

Sometimes the water is so snaggy the only way to fish it will be with a float with a weighted dropper to keep the bait off the bottom. Suspended at mid-depths, drifted through a crevice of whitewater, this rig will take a lot of blacks and blues from shore.

Top baits include frozen squid, or small crabs and mussels that can be found on the spot. Abalone guts (from legally taken abs) are deadly, especially for cabezon which live in very shallow water and seem to eat nothing but dungeness crab and abalone – and they taste like it. Cabezon can be determined from lingcod by the fleshy “horns” that protrude from their foreheads. Cabezon are legal during the “rockfish closure” while lingcod must be released (unless you catch them from the shore or rocks.)

If you’re a freediving or scubadiving spearfisher, the same rules as with skiff fishermen apply. But the lost art of poke-poling, for wolf-faced and monkey-faced eels, seems to be legal this winter. Wearing a wetsuit or waders, you take a long bamboo pole and wire an eyelet loop at one end. Using 100# leaders of 6-12 inches or so, and a heavy 6/0 hook, baited with squid, the business end of the poke-pole is tucked inside nooks and crannies at low tide. Swift reaction is necessary when the eels strike, as they will coil their tails among the rocks and become impossible to dislodge. Smoked eels were highly prized among the Portuguese fishermen who settled along California’s north coast.

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