Bay Area Rockfish

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.

Your Gear

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

A reliable all-around saltwater reel. The 6000 Reel fits 335 yards of 50 lb braid, which is a perfect amount for rockfishing or crabbing or other ocean-related fishing activities.
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Quantum Optix 6000 Reel

A much cheaper alternative to the Penn reel. Will definitely get the job done without taking a big dent out of your wallet. To be honest might be a better investment, considering how badly your reel will get beaten up from getting scraped by the rocks.
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Ugly Stik GX2 7' Medium Heavy

A classic fishing rod. People brag about it being sturdy enough to be a good deterrent for anyone who might bother your fishing.
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Shakespeare Alpha Bigwater 12' Medium Heavy

It can be nice to have a larger rod for casting distance. This rod has worked quite well for me, and has proven itself sturdy enough to cast heavy crab traps long distances, so it'll probably handle whatever rockfish might bite.
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PowerPro Braid 50 lb

My go-to braid fishing line. It's very nice quality, and I've never had to deal with phantom tangles or line breaks or anything like that. It casts pretty well too.
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Berkley Trilene Big Game Monofilament

My go-to mono fishing line for rockfishing. This stuff is super tough, and does really well even when rubbed up against the rocks. I use 40 lb as topshot or leaders for my braid setups, and 20 lb on my mono-only reels.
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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.

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:

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 Weights, as heavy as you can get (usually up to an 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.

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

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 in terms of swimbaits, but some people swear by Keitechs, which I have not tried myself.
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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:

Shrimp Fly

Tip these with strips of squid or fish, and fish it like a high-low rig. It basically gives your bait a little extra attraction to draw finicky fish in..
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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.

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.

We’ve written articles on rockfishing from shore in San Mateo County and Santa Cruz County - check them out!

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