Santa Cruz Cliffs

Fishing the Santa Cruz Cliffs

Between Ano Nuevo State Park and Santa Cruz, a few parks allow for coastal access to a few cliffs that tower over the ocean, where the brave can drop their lines into fairly deep water with just a short cast. A few locations let you get a bit closer to the water - try and scout these out on Google Maps beforehand.

About this Stretch of Coast

Always keep your eyes on the ocean! Like the San Mateo Rocks, this section of coast can have some big waves, 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. In addition, many of the rocks here can be quite slippery, so take your time when climbing these rocks to get to fishing spots.

In general, this stretch of coastline provides a nice mix of rocky and sandy-shore species. I’ve caught many jacksmelt fishing the top of water column around here - they can be a lot of fun on light line, with strips of squid or small lures. In the middle of water column, perch are quite common, especially when fishing with shrimp. Fishing deeper in the water, rockfish, cabezon, and lingcod can be caught in the rockier areas, but they tend to be somewhat sparse - my catch rates have never been particularly high. However, these fish tend to be larger than their cousins to the north in San Mateo. The rocks here are also particularly snaggy, for whatever reason, so bring plenty of spare tackle. In sandier areas, I’d assume there would be flatfish and croaker, but I haven’t caught any myself.

Be careful when fishing these cliffs - many are quickly eroding, and a single false step could end up with you plummeting into the ocean. In addition, the waves here tend to be somewhat larger compared to the coastline north and south of this stretch, so if you find a spot closer to the water use extra caution. There can also be a decent number of surfers near the beaches, who can be somewhat confrontational to nearby fishermen (from personal experience).

A striped surfperch

A striped surfperch 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.

Most of the rockfish I’ve caught 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.

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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