Posted by: socalsalty | December 8, 2010

Winter Fishing Means Rockfish

Nice reds!

During the summer, the half day trips focus mostly on calico (aka kelp) bass.  A lot of guys use soft plastics.  Most use live anchovies or sardines.  But the focus is squarely on the top of the water column, with light tackle, and fishing the edges of kelp paddies.  Now that we are in winter, and ling cod season has ended (Nov 30th), the focus turns to heavier tackle, deeper depths, and the target fish are rockfish (sebastes species).  The most recognizable rockfish is what is commonly referred to as red snapper (see pic on the left), reds as the deckhands like to call them, huachinango which my compadres in Mexico call them, aka vermilion rockfish, or the scientific name, sebastes miniatus.

Two is the limit for salmon grouper

There are literally dozens of species of rockfish caught here in Southern California. Most stay near the bottom, but some like the salmon grouper, or bocaccio are pelagic fish meaning they populate mid-level in the water column. That’s my son Jake with his salmon grouper limit the day after Thanksgiving.

The bait this time of year is typically live squid, but dead squid works, as do cut strips of squid, and jigs like bucktails, soft plastics (especially grubs), and sometimes irons.  Typically, you’re in 200-300 feet of water, so you want to use a reel that has enough capacity to get you comfortably on the bottom with enough extra line to comfortably fight the fish if you have to.  You also want to go with heavier test.  When hooked, these fish like to wedge themselves into nooks and crannies amongst the structure and they’ll puff out their body and fins to do it.  You need enough pull to yank them out before they can wedge themselves in, or before they can break off your line in the structure.  I recommend a minimum of 25 lb test, but I usually go 40lb.  You want to either anchor the boat on top of structure, or if you are too deep, drift over structure to target these kinds of fish.   When you pay to go on a sportboat, part of what you are paying for is the expertise of the captain and crew.  In the case of rockfishing, a good captain will put you on top of the fish, and tell you if they are “marking” off the bottom or mid-column.

Rockfish make excellent table fare, and respond well to freezing (and thawing).  Most species don’t have a limit as they grow pretty old, and are good at reproducing.  So catch a lot and put some away for later.   That said, some species of rockfish are protected like the black sea bass, canary rockfish and cow cod here in California.  Again, this is where it helps to have an experienced captain and crew that will recognize these fish and get them back where they belong.  It doesn’t hurt though to spend some time learning the rules (California Dept of Fish and Game – The DFG).

Enjoy rockfish season!


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