Monterey Cliffs

Fishing the Monterey Cliffs

South of Carmel, Highway 1 follows a set of beautiful rocky cliffs right by the Pacific Ocean. Many turnouts provide easy access to fishable water, which is often quite deep! This brings a larger variety of rocky-shore species within reach of shore fishermen.

About this Stretch of Coast

Always keep your eyes on the ocean! Like many regions of the coast by the Pacific Ocean, big waves can be an unpleasant surprise for people foraging and fishing, and many people have lost their lives when swept away by a sneaker wave. Always check the wave forecast, and be safe. In addition, many of the rocks here can be quite slippery, so take your time when climbing these rocks to get to fishing spots.

The great part about this set of coast is that you have very easy access to deep water. Right by your feet, the cliffs drop down anywhere between 10 feet to 50 feet, with even deeper water within casting distance. What that means is a lot of fishable structure, and lots of fish! I’ve caught many nice-sized cabezon and lingcod here from shore - for whatever reason, the close proximity to deeper water means that these larger species are more plentiful.

Like the Santa Cruz coast or the San Mateo coast, a sure-fire strategy to catching fish is dropping a piece of squid or shrimp by visible structure near shore. Look for spots where the water is deep and calm, thanks to the protection of an overhanging rock or cliffside - very often a feisty black-and-yellow rockfish is lurking in the cracks and holes in the rock.

A black-and-yellow rockfish

A black-and-yellow rockfish caught along this section of coast

Often, there are kelp beds within casting distance from shore. Tossing some bait towards these marine forests can often yield great results for rockfish and perch. In addition, if you’re lucky, schools of nice black and blue rockfish can make their way within casting distance. Fishing a swimbait, or some squid under a bobber such that the bait is in the middle of the water column can be killer for these tasty fish.

One con to the fishing here is that the rocks here are very sharp. If you’re not careful, the water-honed edges will easily slice through fishing line - I typically use 50 lb braid, and I’ve lost my tackle plenty of times from just setting my rod against a rock for a few minutes. There are also lots of snags - namely, it’s pretty easy to get your line tangled around the plentiful kelp stalks. So make sure to bring a lot of spare weights.

A lingcod

A lingcod caught along this section of coast


Some of these spots have been hit quite hard in recent years, and as a result fish sizes as well as catch rates have gone down significantly. Do your part for future generations, and only take home the fish you’ll actually use and eat yourself.

A common catch here are black-and-yellow rockfish, similar to other rocky-shore fishing spots in the rest of the state. If you intend on keeping the fish you catch, keep in mind that this particular species of rockfish are classified as high in methylmercury and PCBs, and you should limit your consumption if possible.

Check out my Bay Area rockfish fishing guide.

Berkley Gulp Sandworms

Dealing with squid or shrimp for bait can be a pain, with lugging around a cooler to keep it fresh, the bait falling off the hook, and potentially even running out. As a result, I like keeping a pack of these flavor-infused plastic sandworms in my tackle box just in case. They seem to work ok for rockfish, although not as good as the fresh stuff. These worms are also one of the best baits for catching surfperch off beaches on the West Coast.
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Big Hammer Swimbait

If you don't want to use bait, this is a good all-around swimbait for rocky-shore species. I usually fish it on a jighead, or on a dropshot rig (basically a high-low rig). Try and fish the lure as close to the bottom as possible (unless you're fishing for black or blue rockfish). Brand doesn't matter a huge amount here, but some people swear by Keitechs, which I have not tried myself.
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When fishing the rocks, there is always a surprising amount of current, so you’ll need some heavy weights. I usually use anywhere from half an ounce to four ounces for my rigs. You’ll also snag and break off a lot, so make sure to bring a lot of spares. I’ve listed the weights I use below, in order of preference.

Cloth Bags

Every time I snag off and leave a hunk of metal at the bottom of the ocean, I always feel kinda bad. As a result, I recently switched to using cloth bags, which I fill with gravel and small rocks at the fishing spot and hopefully biodegrade in the ocean. I've found that these cloth bags work incredibly well. They snag much less frequently than the metal weights I used to use, and the fish don't seem to mind. In addition, they are much cheaper.
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Ultra Steel Bullet Weights, 3/4 ounce

I usually use steel weights whenever I can. While they tend to be somewhat more expensive than lead-based weights, they lack most of the toxicity and developmental impacts of lead. In regards to your own health, you should use steel weights whenever possible. However, steel weights can be hard to find in larger sizes.
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Lead Sinkers, 2 ounces

These lead weights are much cheaper than steel, and come in much larger sizes. However, keep in mind the toxicity and developmental impacts of lead. Use at your own risk.
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Disclaimer: the above purchase links are mostly Amazon Affiliate links that help me keep this website running. I use all of the above products every time I go fishing.

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