Posted by: socalsalty | December 10, 2010

In Defense Of Sculpin

This post is the beginning of a series of posts that will list the Top 10 Saltwater Fish in So Cal.  At #10, the Sculpin, or California Scorpionfish.

A bag of sculpin

I often go on the twilight boats. It’s a cheaper ride.  It’s also a really pleasant way to end the day, especially in the summer when it’s been hot all day. The other people on the boat seem to be more relaxed and there to have fun vs. tightly wound on catching fish. I’ve met some really cool people on the twilight boats.  The target fish on the twilight boats are Sand Bass, but what fills the sacks are sculpin.

The reason why sculpin are a sack filler is that they are an aggressive eater.  If you can find them, you WILL catch them (usually ;-)).  Sculpin are a bottom fish.  There are many kinds of sculpin, but the California Scorpionfish is typically found in less than 100 feet of water.   I normally catch them in around 50-60 feet of water.  This is a good time to make the distinction of inshore vs. offshore.  I don’t know if there is an actual technical distinction,  but inshore refers to half day trips, or less on a sportboat.  You don’t have time to go way out, so you hug the shore.  It’s shallower, so you anchor up on the spot.  It is the domain of the typical kayak fisherman (I’ll show you some extreme guys later), the pier fisherman, and the surf fisherman.  Offshore is the deeper ocean.  Sculpin is an inshore fish.

Inshore species like the sculpin are caught with lighter tackle.  I have 3 main rod/reel setups that cover what you’ll need for just about any situation less than a multi-day trip.  My inshore combo is a Seeker G196 8ft pole (12-20 line rating), Shimano Trinidad 12, with 12 lb. test monofilament line, and hooks in the 1/0 to 3/0 range (so not real big).

There are 2 main ways to rig your line when fishing sculpin.  One is a dropper loop rig, with one or two loops, and a weight (torpedo or bank sinker is a good choice) of 3 oz. or less on the bottom.  Learn how to tie a dropper loop.  It’s pretty much an essential skill. Another line setup is a bare leadhead (item #5 in this great list), tied directly to the line. No extra weight. Bait is usually squid…live/dead, whole/strips, as mentioned before, sculpin usually aren’t real picky.

Which leads me back to the twilight boat. My favorite twilight boat is the New Delmar out of Marina del Ray Sportfishing. I like the crew, and it’s the closest boat for me to get on at short notice. Right now, there’s a bass contest going on (calico or sand), on the New Del Mar. Sculpin and sand bass live in the same area, so if you catch a sculpin, it’s almost a letdown. However, a lot of guys will tell you that sculpin is their favorite tasting fish. I like sculpin. They’re like feisty little bulldogs with attitude. Left out of water, they’ll survive for hours. It cracks me up when I see sculpin taken on a rig with 2 full squids on it. It’s like, “Really, little ol’ you thought you were going to swallow 2 whole squids? LOL”

I'll be back to catch you next year

About that scorpionfish name…the reason why are that those spines along their back and even their lower fins have a mild poison that can cause great discomfort if they prick your skin.  The safe way to hold them is on their lower lip.  If you happen to get stuck, dunk the affected area in hot water to make the pain go away faster.

The legal size for a sculpin is 10 inches or greater. The limit is 5 per fisherman. As mentioned before, sculpin make good eating. The filets are typically the perfect size for a small fish taco, and I live close enough to my work to go home for lunch to enjoy a couple from time to time.  Give the sculpin their due. They are #10 of the Top Ten Saltwater Fish in So Cal!


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