Typically when I plan on writing an article I do a trip and take the photos, then get into writing armed with current photos to add. In this case, there are just too many anglers confused about the regulations so I am doing things backwards. I have always enjoyed fishing for (and catching) rockfish, and today with Spectra it can be done with light gear allowing anglers to feel every nibble and enjoy the battle all the way to the surface with the high gear ratio reels available. While an article on how to target more and bigger rockfish may be on the horizon, this is aimed more at spelling out the rules we must follow in a way that is easier to understand than the CDFW website, http://www.dfg.ca.gov/marine/mapregs5.asp
Basic rockfish season now runs from March 1st through December 31st, so on New Years Day if you want rockfish you’ll need to head below the US/Mexico border, being sure to have all your proper documents in hand when you return. In US waters you will need to know that rockfishing deeper than 300 feet is against the law, unless you are targeting sand dabs which have no limit on size, number of hooks you can use to target them or amount you can take. It would be wise to fish the sand dabs before heading to your favorite rockfish spots, as being in possession of rockfish while fishing in waters deeper that 300 feet could cause you some problems with the DFW officers if you were boarded.
While targeting rockfish know that 2 hooks is the maximum allows at a time for each rod, again staying within the 300 foot depth limit. Salmon Grouper no longer have a size limit and the limit you can have in possession is 3 per angler. Sculpin you can keep 5, and the size limit is 10 inches, sheepshead 5 also with a minimum size of 12 inches. Cabezon need to be at least 15 inches with a limit of 3 and their cousins the lingcod need to be 22 inches with a limit of 2 per angler in possession. All cowcod, canary rockfish and yelloweye rockfish are protected and must be released.
Bag limits are the confusing part so read carefully. You can keep 10 rockfish total, with no more than 3 salmon groupers and cabezon included. This is called the RCG complex and excludes sheepshead, sculpin, whitefish and lingcod. You may keep a limit of each of these in addition to your 10 rockfish and all the sand dabs you want. Now the limit becomes a total bag of 20 mixed fish in possession per day per angler of the fish listed above, with all the sand dabs you want on top of that.
Now we add the cowcod conservation areas to the mix and it gets even more complicated. These are special areas set aside to protect the cowcod from being accidentally hooked and brought to the surface, where its virtually impossible to release them effectively.
While fishing in cowcod conservation areas the deepest you can fish is 120 feet unless you are targeting sand dabs. Special restrictions are placed on what you can have in possession and is limited to Sculpin, lingcod, sheepshead and whitefish. If you catch any of the other rockfish outside the cowcod conservation area then move into the boundary and get boarded, you may have a hard time explaining yourself, so best to avoid that situation.
There is more to fishing rockfish successfully than simply driving to a waypoint and dropping to the bottom. Things like surface and subsurface currents, bait and artificials, tides and time of day and all the gear involved. Like anything else in fishing, a very small percentage of anglers do far better than the masses using some special techniques and knowhow. That in and of itself, is a whole book worth of information. For now, you are now armed with the information you need to head out confident you know the regs.
Always check the link I provided above before you go rockfishing, as the CDFW watches how many of each species is caught through sportboat and commercial logs, and may close or alter the fishery at any time.