Your Guide to Catching Bay Area Rockfish from Shore
Rockfish are one of our favorite fish to catch from shore when we’re fishing the ocean. They fight hard, bite aggressively, and you can catch them on pretty much anything. The number one rule is location - make sure you’re fishing the right spot! Keep reading for more details.
How to Catch Rockfish
Before we dive into the details, just a gentle PSA to always keep your eyes on the ocean! There can be big waves by the ocean, and people foraging and fishing the coast here have been swept into the water by rogue waves. Always check the wave forecast, and be safe.
Where do I fish?
Rockfish like rocks, as you can probably tell by the name. You’ll never find rockfish far from structure - they often hide under boulders or ledges underwater, waiting to ambush prey. What this means is that in general, you always want to fish as close to structure as possible - try and fish as close to the bottom as possible, in order to keep your bait and lures in the strike range for these fish. Note that there are some exceptions to this rule - in particular, blue and black rockfish are often suspended off the bottom by a number of feet.
What this means is that when you’re out at the coast, try and place your bait near visible structure - this means boulders, rocky outcroppings, and ledges that make prime rockfish habitat. You’ll likely get snagged, but that’s probably where the fish are going to be! Bring a good pair of polarized glasses to help you find this structure. In addition, try and fish the deeper water if possible - rockfish in general like deeper water, and only a few rockfish species come very close to shore. If you’re fishing an area that you know to be extremely rocky, you can instead just try casting as far as possible into the deeper water away from shore.
In general, when you’re fishing for rockfish from shore, we don’t think you really need a heavy duty setup. We like a medium or medium-heavy rod with any reel you’re willing to get scraped up. However, because you can get snagged so often, we like using heavier line if possible - you might be able to get away with just using 20-25 lb mono, but we prefer 50 lb or so braid with a 40 lb mono topshot. With this heavier line, it becomes much easier to pull your hook out of cracks and through the kelp that covers the California coast.
If you want specific recommendations:
Penn Pursuit 6000 Reel
Quantum Optix 6000 Reel
Ugly Stik GX2 7' Medium Heavy
Shakespeare Alpha Bigwater 12' Medium Heavy
PowerPro Braid 50 lb
Berkley Trilene Big Game Monofilament
Fishing with Bait
When the goin gets tough, natural bait is always the way to go. If a fish sees a piece of squid or fish, it’ll bite and hang on even in the worst of conditions. When you’re fishing for rockfish, I usually recommend squid, shrimp, or pieces of cut fish. Shrimp often works great, but unfortunately the surfperch like it a lot as well - sometimes they’ll hit the squid before your bait even hits bottom. So if you want to just target the rockfish, try and stick with the squid or fish. Anywhere from a small piece to a entire squid or fish will work for the rockfish.
How do you actually rig these baits up? Well, I like using a so-called high-low rig - a setup where your weight is placed at the end of the line, and two hooks hang off dropper loops a few inches above. You can buy these rigs on Amazon, or just tie them yourself following the guide here. Sometimes when fishing for rockfish, I won’t use the top dropper loop to avoid potential snags or tangles. I usually use anywhere from a size 2 to a size 6/0 hook for rockfish - they tend to have large mouths, so the larger hooks are helpful for good hookups.
Here are the sinkers I use for my high-low rigs:
Ultra Steel Weights, as heavy as you can get (usually up to an ounce)
Recently, I started using a Texas-rig style approach for fishing my bait, a familiar term if you’ve ever fished for bass before. In its simplest form, it’s an egg or bullet sinker like the one I linked above that’s allowed to slide freely on your line, at the end of which you tie on a hook. I’ve found that it tends to snag somewhat less, and it’s much easier to maneuver around beneath the water to fishy-looking spots. However, it’s much harder for your bait to drift naturally with this style of setup. Try it out and get your own thoughts!
Fishing with Lures
When fishing from shore using a lure, in general you want to use a similar approach to bait. Try and fish as close to the bottom as possible - I like basically hopping my lures over the bottom repeatedly. You’ll get snagged up a lot, so try and use heavy tackle.
In terms of hard baits, most people use some sort of jig, which can get pretty expensive. As a result, I like sticking with soft plastic setups. I like using the soft plastics on a Texas rig or jighead if I plan on covering a lot of water, or a high-low rig for a more finesse presentation. Probably my go-to soft plastic is the Big Hammer Swimbait, which is pretty easy to find and not particularly expensive (but really any swimbait shoould work):
Big Hammer Swimbait
You can also probably use any other generic soft plastic, including bass-style plastics.
A lot of fishermen also like using something called a shrimp fly:
What are some good spots?
Really, the best strategy is to pull up satellite view on Google Maps, and look for rocky locations on the coast that look accessible. Good places to start are Pigeon Point, Davenport, Santa Cruz, Carmel, Muir Beach, and Jenner.