Weights hit the bottom, 250 feet down, and rods bent deeply without hesitation. Shoulders and arms went to work cranking up the heavy haul. Up on the bridge, I watched the fishfinder and smiled contentedly. I knew what was coming up and how many we had to look forward to catching.
At deep color, excitement grew. Big, bright-red fish grew even bigger as they approached the surface. Anglers happily hauled big bug-eyed red snapper and chucklehead over the gunwale.
How big? These fish ranged from four to eight pounds — big enough to provide thick slabs of the tastiest fish available at this time of year. Everyone was grinning, just thinking about red snapper for dinner through the remainder of the holidays.
These are rockfish. The season ends at the end of the month, so it’s high time to go fishing. A new rockfish season will begin March 1.
In the Santa Barbara Channel, we are blessed with the best rockfishing opportunities in all of Southern and Central California. Along the mainland coast, we have easy access to a long, meandering drop-off beginning with the coast off of Ellwood and extending to near Point Conception. The area has plenty of rocky structure for rockfish to call home.
The waters surrounding the Channel Islands are loaded with reds. Santa Rosa and San Miguel islands have the biggest populations of huge red rockfish. Ways to get out to those areas include private boats, open-party sportboats and private charter services out of Port Hueneme, Channel Islands Harbor, Ventura Harbor and the Santa Barbara Harbor.
At these hot spots, anglers fish various types of productive structure spots, including rocky rubble and outcroppings, pinnacles, canyons and shelves with irregularities along the edges. A good plan is to begin a drift so that baits or jigs drop right down into rocky spots, once they have been located with a good fish finder. The important thing is to drop down immediately once the boat begins a drift. Very productive short drifts are common. Hooks tend to load up quickly with fish. As soon as the boat drifts away from the structure spot that holds fish, reel up, go back updrift and try it again. Repeat as necessary.
Regulations require that when fishing for rockfish, no more than two hooks may be used. Note that a treble hook, such as those found on many jigs, counts as one hook. So it’s perfectly OK to fish with a jig on the bottom and a teaser hook tied about 18 inches above the jig. Often times, multiple fish will be caught with this rig. The largest usually will be on the jig, and smaller rockfish will bite the teaser hook.
The limit of rockfish is 10, only two of which may be bocaccio. There is a closed season on lingcod from Dec. 1 until April 1, so they must be released. Lingcod (affectionately nicknamed “Lingasaur” aboard my charter boat, WaveWalker) have no air bladders, so they don’t suffer from baraotrauma when brought up from the depths.
— 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.