Sports have their seasons, and one that is important to this coastal community is drawing to a close. The groundfish season — which includes rockfish (such as red snapper) and lingcod (which I wrote about last week) — ends with the year, when New Year’s celebrations reach their peak.
The annual closure is only two months long, meaning the season opens again on March 1. But during the closure, many of us sorely miss fresh rockfish dinners. Stocking the freezer is one logical reason (for those who need a logical reason) to go deep-sea fishing before the end of the year and so local boats — charter boats, open party boats, private boats and even small personal watercraft (PWCs) — will be taking advantage of good weather windows to stock up on healthy meals.
Fishing for rockfish is surprisingly good, thanks to fisheries management policies and improved stock assessment technologies. Marine Protected Areas (a ploy to privatize the sea) are not necessary for fisheries management, and they actually harm our fisheries management efforts by concentrating fishing pressure on fewer remaining open areas.
Rockfish are abundant, and they are generally willing biters. Some of our favorites are vermilion (red snapper), copper rockfish (chucklehead), brown rockfish (chocolate bass), olive rockfish (johnny bass). These and several other subspecies are all related (part of the sebastes family) and delicious. Fishing for them is fairly easy. Use a medium action rig (15 to 40 pound class rod/reel), tie up dropper loop rigs with a 10-ounce weight, bait up with squid strips or baitfish, and drop the offering to rocky reefs anywhere from 40 to 360 feet down (our legal maximum depth here in the Southern Management Zone from Point Arguello to the Mexican border). When done just right, bites usually come rapidly.
Lingcod are an even wilder success story because we have managed this population to great abundance. In all my years of fishing, I consider 2011 to be the best lingcod season I have ever experienced. While enjoying many limits of keeper lingcod (two fish, 22-inch minimum size), I’ve marveled at the abundance of juveniles in at least three class years, which means the population will remain strong in the future.
These last couple of weeks of December are a good time to go deep-sea fishing for rockfish and lingcod. During January and February, however, we are not without our possibilities for saltwater fishing because we can still target gamefish (and great table fare) such as white seabass, halibut, calico bass and others. It is also a good time to turn our fishing interests inland to enjoy trout fishing at local lakes including Cachuma and Casitas, both of which have been stocked with many thousands of tasty trout. Resident populations of bass, catfish, crappie and red ear perch round out freshwater fishing.
— 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.