Southern California Rockfishing

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,

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.


TIps and Tricks

On each and every trip I do I pick up something new from a client, and I’d like to think they learn something new from me.  A new knot, or a trick that makes private boat life, just a little easier.  Some tricks are even more amazing, and help solve major problems.  The most common thing I run into is when a client has been misled in some way, and I can set the record straight with some common sense explaining.

Bait do not need lights to live.  In fact, the light in your bait tank is for your enjoyment, just as the window is.  The bait receivers in San Diego that cure sardines for the long range boats use boxes with lids to cure the bait.  Slots in the tops of the boxes are so the bird shit can be washed off, (and maybe even for feeding the bait), not to let the light in.  Really serious private boat guys paint the insides of their bait tanks black or dark blue, and keep a cover on the tank when traveling.  Fin bait will take on that darker color, and swim hard when hooked and cast out to hungry gamefish.

To feed your bait, either when kept in the bait tank of your boat for a long time or in your private receiver, you can use corn meal.  Blood works great as well, so a cutting board bait tank lid can do wonders for your bait while you are filleting your catch throughout the day.  The blood of the fish you are cutting will drip into the tank, and your bait will eat it.  Cool huh?  If the bait in your receiver is so strong that you can’t catch it with the dip net, try throwing a handfull of cornmeal and net them as they come up to feed.  Works every time.

Squid do not need to be fed, and can not be kept in the tank or a receiver for long periods of time.  Why?  Because when they spawn, they start to die like salmon.  You can prolong the life of your tank of squid (and prevent some of the eggs that clog the drain) by placing a live bass in with the squid.  I personally have not seen a bass eat bait while in my tank, but don’t tell the squid that.  The amount of eggs in the tank will be far less if you put a bass in the tank, but I honestly don’t know if other fish work.  Mix sardines and squid, and the squid will eat the sardines.

A dropper loop is a type of rig where you have a sinker at the end of your line, and a hook dangling a ways up.  Its very common and used for everything from rockfish to yellowtail.  The problem is, a traditional dropper loop knot is a 50% knot at best.  Try tying a spider hitch to double your line (you’ll end up with a big loop.)  Simply cut the loop so you have a long line, and a short one.  TIe the sinker on the long line for dropping straight down, or tie the sinker on the short line for what is called a “reverse dropper loop” for drifting.  The spider hitch is a very good knot, much better that the traditional dropper loop knot.

Speaking of dropper loops, they are also killer for seabass.  At Catalina the perch, mackerel and other grabbers may frequently steal the squid off your hook.  Instead of a torpedo sinker, try tying on a white iron (jig) in place of the sinker.  Seabass will eat the jig without bait on it, especially when they decide to really bite.  Yellows too.  This way, you can fish two rods and if you get tired of changing the bait on the dropper loop, you can feel better about being less attentive with that rod.  I have caught many a seabass and yellowtail at Catalina with an iron with no bait on it, dangling near the bottom with the rod in the rod holder.  Another tip, it works great for rockfish too!

Another handy tip is the green stretch wrap from Home Depot.  You’ll find it where the moving and packaging supplies are.  This stuff works great to wrap your rods for traveling, or to keep that crowder net from blowing in the wind on the way back from a trip.  I love this stuff, and it never ceases to amaze me how often I use it.  Things on the boat that “tap” or “rattle” in the night can be secured with a couple wraps of this miracle plastic.  It replaces duct tape, if that’s even possible.

When its cleanup time a pump sprayer will save you time, and your clothes from bleach spots.  Again, at Home Depot you can find these small plastic pump bottles in the garden department.  Fill it with straight bleach (or your favorite squid ink dissolving solution) and pump the handle.  Simply spray it around the cockpit where needed and give things a minute to work their magic.  Scrub the tough stains then rinse.  At least you’ll ruin a few less shirts this way, as regular spray bottles will send a mist into the air and onto your clothes.  I’m sure you know what I am talking about.

Releasing rockfish and black seabass is discussed endlessly but the answer is so simple.  Lifesavers.  Yes, the candy slash breath freshener can actually save a life.  They dissolve in a short amount of time in the water, so all you have to do is tie a hook that will rust away onto a rig with a heavy sinker and place the hook in the fish’s mouth, and drop it down to the bottom.  When the Lifesaver dissolves, the fish is free, and back to the depths it came from alive and well.

I could go on and on now that I’m on a roll.  Ever set up on a small wreck and miss by just a little bit?  Next time this happens, try turning the rudders so the current will swing the boat into position.  I swear, it works.  The more current you have, the more dramatic it is.  Works with outboards and outdrives just fine too.  No more resetting for little misses.

I have many, many more.  I will write another article about different tips and tricks when its time appropriate.  Just remember to be open minded, and willing to learn something new. I love learning new, easier ways to do things almost as much as showing someone a new easier ways I was shown or figured out on my own.  Operating a private boat is hard work, so why not try something new that makes things quicker, easier and more enjoyable.



Unite As One, Or Lose It All

Recently we were informed that a new regulation has been implemented by the DFG.  The rockfish maximum depth that is 60 fathoms (360′) will be reduced to 50 fathoms (300′).  No, we were not informed that we had a say in the matter prior to the decision.  Odd, considering that we live in a democracy, where we should get a vote in the process of decisions such as these.  Instead of consulting the anglers that actually fish for rockfish, the DFG consulted an environmentally proponent panel of biologists and scientists.  Even if these lawmakers are going to continue to vote on policies behind closed doors, we should get to vote as to who is on such panels.  As of now, they are appointed and we have no say as to who is elected to such powerful decision making positions.

The truth is, we are a divided group that cannot come together as one and stand our ground effectively.  The anglers fight the free divers, the sportboat operators fight the private boaters, and different areas such as Newport fight against the Long Beach guys.  Together we make up a powerful force that can stand against the environmentalists.

The recent decision was made to protect the cow cod, a fish known for living on the deepest of rocks and structure.  Most recreational rock coders rarely (if ever) catch one, but those with the skill and equipment catch them at will and there seems to be no shortage of cow cod.  It’s obvious that there are ulterior motives to the poorly explained closures and regulations.  While the vast majority of recreational users of our local waters are the most environmentally friendly of all, we see no need for ridiculous salmon grouper limits or rock cod fishing depth restrictions.  What the end game plan is for these behind the scenes policy makers remains a mystery.  The evidence points to a complete closure of all local waters at some point in the not too distant future.  Even those who are not conspiracy theorists can see it coming.

Different groups have formed to try to unite all to battle the forces of evil, but a lack of trust keeps them from flourishing.  With no transparency, rumors of back door deals and embezzlement have flooded our fickle industry, and attempts to repair the reputation of such groups have failed.  The commercial industry stands alone with some success, but they are fighting to keep their boats and tradition alive.  The simple fact that commercial interests with their nets and state of the art equipment can sway the environmental policy makers with solidarity and money, is proof alone that we should come together as recreational users of our local waters.

If we could unite fuel dock and tackle store owners, landing operators, private and sportboat enthusiasts and operators, and tackle manufacturing giants, then we could stand on our own two feet and fight this insanity.  Shipyards and boat builders stand to lose on this deal also, and should stand with us.  Coastal cities stand to lose millions of dollars spent by surf fishermen and private boat anglers that stop to get groceries, ice, bait and pay for parking.  So local city governments should be easy to recruit.  A high percentage of hunters also fish, and the whole group could come on board with us as well as the NRA.  The number of trout and fresh water bass fishermen alone is enough to build a team powerful enough to combat those trying hard to take away what we love so much.  Lastly, surfers fall into the same category as us, “Watermen.”  If intelligently informed of our plight,  surfers might just be the straw that breaks the back of the politicians that are well paid by those trying to close our whole industry down.

So before you decide you hate someone you have not even met, just because they put on a wetsuit and jumped in on your kelp, think about it.  They could be on your team, our team.  Sportboat operators should see private boaters as one of the good guys, not the enemy (and visa versa).  The amount of on the water drama is on the rise these days and its only dividing us to the point where we are a useless bunch of unorganized crybabies.  The environmental factor is watching, and taking advantage of our childishness.

As a group the end game seems clear for us watermen.  We all want to protect the resource and take the necessary steps so it remains for our children, and our children’s children.  At the same time we want to be able to enjoy the resource responsibly today, without crippling the local economy and having our freedoms trampled by those with selfish motives.  It all comes down to how bad we want this thing, and anyone can decide to make a difference today.

Don’t just throw money into a jar and walk away, do something, anything.  Volunteer for a group that has our agenda in mind and get involved.  Recruit others, especially your kids to have a voice and an opinion.  It’s their waters that are being taken away.  Write letters, actual letters to congressmen and policy makers.  We don’t need to stomp our feet or occupy the DFG, we actually have a valid argument.  Our freedoms are being trashed with our own money, and its wrong.  If we don’t unite soon the end may be nearer than we think, and the local golf course is going to get really crowded.