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March 15, 2012

California Rockfishing Guide

How to improve your score on West Coast rockfish

Rig It Up
Thin-diameter braid is a boon to rockfishing, boosting sensitivity, hookups and the ability to keep fish out of the rocks in deep water. Bacon recommends a medium-size conventional reel, such as a Penn International 975 lever-drag or Shimano Torium 20, filled with 50-pound coated braid. He likes a 7- to 8-foot medium-action rod, like a Calstar 870H or Bluewater Carnage 800M.

For terminal tackle, Bacon pre-ties a number of 4-foot-long twin dropper-loop leaders using 30-pound monofilament. You are legally allowed to fish with two hooks per leader in California. Bacon likes 10-inch-long loops with a free-sliding hook to give rockfish a better opportunity to inhale the bait. A barrel swivel links the leader to the main line, and a torpedo swivel is tied to the bottom.

The weight of the sinker depends on the water depth, but if you can successfully motor-anchor, you can keep the weight to a minimum and still maintain contact with the bottom, says Bacon, who carries a selection of sinkers ranging from 3 to 20 ounces.

Hook size depends on the bait. For live sardines and anchovies, Bacon matches the hook to the bait using a selection ranging from No. 2 to 2/0. For 3-inch squid strips, which stay on the hook well, 2/0 to 3/0 hooks work well. And when you’re fishing with Berkley Gulp! baits, such as shrimp imitations or curly-tail grubs, 1/0 to 2/0 hooks are best. Bacon says that the best Gulp! colors are Pink Shine for shrimp and Nuclear Chicken for grubs.

Another terminal rig that Bacon likes is a single-loop leader with a hook about two feet above a metal jig at the bottom of the leader. Jigs such as a Salas 6X or 6X Jr. or Tady 4/0 or C with treble hooks work well. Bouncing the jig close to the bottom often attracts larger rockfish and lingcod. Hues of red and brownish patterns like Scrambled Egg work best, says Bacon.

Getting out for the California rockfish opener is an early-season blast. Find a weather window, locate deep structure and fish it properly, and you’ll be rockin’.

California Rockfishing

As of Jan. 1, 2012, Southern California’s coastal waters from Point Conception to the Mexican border are besotted with 37 new or modified marine protected areas, plus 13 pre-existing MPAs and two special closures located around the northern Channel Islands. To to ensure the area you’re planning to fish is open, go to for details on these fishing closures and maps of the areas.

Once you have determined that it’s legal to fish, use a chart plotter and fish finder to locate rocky and hard bottom areas and wrecks along the coastal areas and offshore islands in depths ranging from 100 to 360 feet, the maximum legal depth in most cases.

What: Rockfish, as well as lingcod and ocean whitefish.

When: March through December (seasonal closure in January and February).

Where: Santa Barbara, Ventura, Los Angeles, Orange and San Diego county coasts, and offshore islands.

Who: Boating anglers with reliable craft from 20 feet up.

Rods: Medium-action 7- to 8-foot rods.

Reels: Medium conventional and saltwater bait-casting reels.

Lines: 50-pound-test coated braid for main line; 30-pound-test monofilament for leader.

Baits and Lures: 3-inch squid strips, live sardines, live anchovies, Berkley Gulp! Shrimp and Gulp! Grubs, and metal jigs like Salas 6X and 6X Jr. and Tady 4/0 and C models.

To hone your rockfishing skills, enlist the services of a local guide. Here are three who know their stuff.

Capt. David Bacon
WaveWalker Charters

Capt. Mark Wisch
Pacific Edge Charters

Capt. Dave Hansen
Hansen’s Guide Service