The rockfish/lingcod closure is over for the year, and it’s time to go out and catch a mess of delicious rockfish. The bag limit on rockfish is 10 fish per person and is plenty to make a meal for the family and probably enough to put some away for another meal.
There are rule changes, so be sure to get a booklet of regulations from your local tackle shop and read the rules.
Remember that a patch of skin must be left on rockfish fillets that are cut at sea. One more important rule is that we are limited to two hooks when we have rockfish or lingcod aboard, or are fishing for them. A treble hook on a jig counts as one hook, so it is permissible to use a jig and run a baited teaser hook a foot or two up the line.
The Southern California Bight has some really great rockfishing spots, and my normal stomping grounds — the Santa Barbara Channel — is blessed with the best fishing in the bight. I am not a secretive skipper; I’m happy to share some of the best spots with you.
One good spot is the “12-Mile,” which is a seamount about 11.5 statute miles out of the Santa Barbara Harbor. It is also readily accessible from Ventura County harbors, but is a bit farther than going out of Santa Barbara.
The high spot on the 12-Mile is 342 feet. It is a broad sloping mesa top with plenty of rocky outcroppings. Try drifting across the high spot and out to 360 feet of water (our legal maximum depth) and then move back up over the seamount for consecutive drifts. Do some scouting around to find the best depth and side of the seamount to fish during any given set of conditions. There are plenty of quality reds here, as well as lingcod. Two hook gangions, baited with a hardy bait such as squid strips, which stay on the hook well, are great choices for this or any other deep spots where it is a real chore to reel all the way up to check your baits.
The west end of Santa Cruz Island is another great rockfishing spot. Much of this area is 80 to 150 feet deep, so it is easy to fish. At these shallower depths, we catch a lot of chucklehead, johnny bass and sugar bass, all of which are considered rockfish and count toward the 10-fish limit.
There is good underwater structure continuing out from the points of land at the west end of this island. These are great places to meter around with a fish finder and drop baits down to schools of feeding fish. While fishing this shallow, it is fun to use a single hook on a reverse dropper loop rig and catch these fish one at a time. Squid strips, plastic tails, shrimp and live bait fish all work well here.
The front side of Santa Rosa Island is one of my personal favorite areas for rockfishing because of the quality of the fish we catch there. Two great places are off Carrington Point and off Talcott Shoals. I generally fish deeper spots — 200 to 300 feet with squid, jigs and baitfish. Talcott Shoals has some great structure in shallower water. Because of its isolated location, Talcott doesn’t get fished hard and regularly, so the fish are plentiful. These are great places to use the best lingcod lure ever — the Lingslayer, available at the Hook, Line & Sinker bait shop at 4010 Calle Real in Santa Barbara.
When the weather and sea state allow a run to fabled San Miguel Island, I know we’re in for a special treat. The area doesn’t get fished much, and it has some of the most radical topography around. That adds up to plenty of big fish.
We are blessed with some very good rockfishing all throughout our SoCal Bight. Each of our islands and high spots have reef zones over which rockfish and lingcod stack up like cordwood during the winter months. Check the regulations carefully so you know where it is permissible to fish.
— Capt. David Bacon operates WaveWalker Charters and is president of SOFTIN Inc., a nonprofit organization providing seafaring opportunities for those in need. Visit softininc.blogspot.com to learn more about the organization and how you can help.