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Kayak Fishing the California Coast

Posted: 12.06.2018

Vermillion rock fish kayak fishing

Fishing the California Coast. 13 years of experience and fun in the kayak!

Kayak Fishing the Central California Coast-
By Andy O’Brien

California’s Central Coast is a place I have been fortunate to call home for the last 20 years and been able to Kayak fish for 13 of those. The Central Coast is a beautiful stretch of largely undeveloped coastline between Big Sur to the north and Point Conception to the south. This special area of California provides opportunities to hit the salt year round. Kayak anglers can target a wide array of species in a single trip during all four seasons. Rockfish, Lingcod, Cabezon, Halibut, White Seabass, Salmon, Saltwater Perch, Leopard Sharks, and even Crab can all be had depending on the season. Be sure to check the current California fishing regulations before heading out, as they can change from year to year and even in season.

One of the most abundant and popular fisheries on the Central Coast is the “RCG” complex which stands for Rockfish, Cabezon, and Greenling. This group of ground fish species includes many different species of Rockfish like the prized Vermillion and Copper Rockfishes, the incredibly hard fighting Cabezon, and the aggressive predatory Lingcod.(a member of the greenling family). The Central Coast provides many options for launching a Kayak in search of these fish in the nearshore shallows to deep water reefs with endless different structure in between. I really love to target these species in shallow to mid range depths with lighter tackle. In many locations this can be from 25 to 75 feet of water. Others may like to move out and target the deep reefs in 200 to 240 feet of water.

Rockfish, Cabezon, Greenling, and Lingcod like most fish consume a wide variety of prey, such as anchovies, mackerel , squid, octopus, other smaller rockfish. Lingcod are voracious predators that will prey on just about any other fish if they think they can eat it, and even other smaller Lingcod. They can be so aggressive that they can sometimes be caught “hitchhiking” on a smaller fish you have hooked. They will latch on to the fish without being hooked and will not let go even as they come up to the surface. 

Anglers can use a basic double dropper loop setup with squid or anchovy pinned to the hooks and be successful, for these aggressive fish. Many others, myself included, enjoy hunting these fish with artificial baits, such as irons, jigs, and swimbaits or plastics. With the abundant rocky bottom and kelp present in many places, jigging your rig of choice vertically is a very effective presentation, while minimizing the chances of getting hung up on the bottom. Drop the rig down, and if nothing bites after a few minutes, pick up and move to another spot. In many places that means a matter of just 5 to 10 feet and you will be over another piece of reef or rocky bottom that can hold fish.

My prefered method for targeting these fish is with swimbaits and other jigs casted out away from the kayak and worked back slowly across the bottom. Most anglers are using 2 to 6 ounce jig heads with their preferred swimbait attached or the same weight range of Irons and jigs. This method allows me to cover more water, potentially adding up to more fish.

One of my favorite places to Launch and fish on the Central Coast is Leffingwell Landing in Cambria, Ca. Leffingwell is a well known launch spot that is a gateway a rugged stretch of coastline on the Pacific Ocean providing access to miles of excellent water and bottom structure to target the “RCG” complex and some of the other species mentioned above as well. Depending on the season whales and dolphins are frequently spotted while on the water, adding a nice bonus to a beautiful, fishy, day on the water. Leffingwell is a small cove that you can back your vehicle down to unload on a beach that is protected most of the time from the prevailing swell direction, making it an easy launch and landing much of the time. However like any beach launch on the ocean, conditions and swell direction can change. Knowledge of the forecasted weather conditions and knowing your ability for the conditions are always a must no matter how easy a launch “typically” is.

California’s Central Coast ocean waters are not warm even in the height of summer. Water temps range from 52 to 60 degrees fahrenheit year round. Dressing properly for the conditions and water temp is a must. I have a video on the Wilderness Systems Youtube channel here​ that breaks down some of the essential gear needed for an ocean trip on the Central Coast. Do not take this lightly!

There is an excellent kayak fishing community here, full of people happy to share some local knowledge and answer questions for fellow kayak anglers that want to visit and experience the awesome fishing available. A lot of them, including me, can be found on​, an excellent online forum dedicated to kayak fishing California’s Central Coast. Another excellent resource for the kayak angler wanting to fish this beautiful stretch of coastline is the local Wilderness Systems dealer, Central Coast Kayaks, in Shell Beach, Ca.

The Central Coast of California is truly an awesome place that always provides a spectacular backdrop for kayak fishing. It is a destination that won’t disappoint for even the most travelled Kayak Angler’s.