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An Introduction to Pacific Rockfish

Posted: 09.18.2019

Rob Knowles with a Pacific Rockfish on a Wilderness Systems Thresher

Kevin Hofer Introduces Us to the Pacific Rock Fish

Just offshore the coast of California living in the forests of kelp and cracks of the rocky outcroppings are around 70 different species of rockfish.  If looking to get out fishing on the big blue for a day in the kayak and go home with some fine table fare, then a trip to target some rockfish may be just what you need.

Out of all the sportfish in the Pacific Ocean, rockfish may be the easiest to target. You don’t need to go out and buy special rods and reels, really you don’t even have to buy special tackle. I’ve caught plenty of Blue and Black rockfish on old Senkos and other random bass gear.

The standard for targeting these rock dwellers is typically a lead weight ranging from 4-10 ounces with a couple of shrimp flies tied up above. This rig can be deadly, especially when tipping the hooks of the flies with a small piece of squid. My favorite way to rig when specifically targeting rockfish is a P-Line Laser Minnow jig on bottom and a shrimp fly tied a foot or so above.  Looks like a small baitfish is chasing the fly, if the fish are around, they have a hard time resisting this setup. Many times, catching a fish on the jig and the fly simultaneously, rockfish tend to run in schools.


Like most in California, the rules and regulations regarding rockfish can be a bit difficult at times to understand. Depending on where in the state you are fishing, the restrictions on depth your able to fish can differ, as well as what kind of fish you can keep and when you can keep them.   With so many different species out there and some looking very similar, a new fisherman can struggle at times to determine whether or not it is a legal fish to keep. When in doubt take a picture, throw the fish back and find out what it is later, not worth risking a ticket for keeping an illegal fish. It is also a good idea to do a little research and studying on how to tell the difference between species before going out on the water. 

Despite there being so many rockfish out there, at times they can be difficult to locate. If you have a fish finder on the kayak look for drop-offs and pinnacles, always good places to make a few drops down and see if anybody is home. If you don’t have a fish finder than try to follow the edges of the kelp beds. Often times the rockfish will hide in the kelp to avoid predators and as a place to camouflage themselves so they themselves can prey on smaller fish. Fishing in the rocks and kelp can be frustrating at times because snags are a common occurrence. Keeping your line straight up and down while jigging as well as not letting your lure drag the bottom can help lower the frequency of snags and loss of tackle. If the current and or wind is not doing it for you, move around a bit if you are not catching fish. Sometimes 10 ft in one direction can put you right on a nice dropoff with a huge school of fish at the bottom! And when you find a good spot, remember it or mark on the GPS, Ive had small pinnacles that produce year after year.

Wherever on the California Coast you decide to try your luck with these fish you will surely not be disappointed with the scenery. If you can find and trick a few fish into biting then that makes the experience and dinner that night all that much better.