Im seeing red and it looks tasty! On March 1, rockfish season opens between Point Conception and the Mexican border. After two months of seasonal closure, my taste buds are all set for mouth-watering nibbles of savory fish. Of the many species of fish collectively referred to as rockfish, one of my favorite to eat is the vermilion, also known as red snapper. This opener dramatically increases our fishing opportunities and kicks off our fishing season.
Where can we go to catch these delectable denizens of the deep? That’s fairly easy. Use a chart with good bathymetric data and reliable navigational aids, to locate rocky structure in 180 to 360 feet of water. In the Santa Barbara Channel, there are slides, canyons, reefs and wrecks in the allowable depth range, which collectively hold tremendous numbers of rockfish. Check with local tackle shops and on the message boards for hotspots of the moment.
Rigging for rockfish can be relatively simple. One very effective rig is a double dropper loop. Put the line through the eyes of two hooks and then tie off to a weight big enough to drop quickly to the bottom, given the depth, velocity of current, and strength of the wind. Typically the weight will be anywhere from 6 ounces to one pound. Slide the two hooks up the line and tie each one into its own dropper loop about 18 inches apart.
Pin a strip of squid onto each hook. It is also helpful to pin a live anchovy or sardine on the hook along with the squid strip. Other surefire baits include shrimp, bloodworms, rock crabs and octopus. Soft artificial baits, such as Berkley Gulp! baits stay on the hooks well and attract bites.
Jigs — heavy iron — are also great rockfish attractors. Red snapper and chucklehead both love jigs. It is helpful to note that a treble hook on a jig counts as one hook, toward the maximum two-hook rig. That means it is perfectly OK to tie a teaser hook into a dropper loop about 18 inches up the line from the jig, thereby allowing for bringing up multiple fish. To really make this rig double-deadly, dress up the jig and teaser hook with plastic baits or mylar filaments, and then pin on strips of squid.
Pay close attention when dropping the rig to the bottom. Once it hits the rocks, quickly reel in the slack and lift the weight about a foot off the bottom. There are two reasons for this quick adjustment. One is that weights and jigs have a tendency to hang up in the rocks if allowed to drag across the bottom. Raising the rig up a foot reduces hang-ups and the resultant tackle losses. The other reason to react quickly once the rig hits the bottom is that rockfish aren’t exactly shy, and they often bite instantly when the bait comes within their reach. A slack line makes it difficult to detect a strike, and fish are commonly lost. A couple bumps on the line is the signal to start winding the fish up. A slow steady wind is best. If the line is cranked up too fast, a fish may twist off.
Capt. David Bacon operates WaveWalker Charters and is president of SOFTIN Inc., a new nonprofit group providing seafaring opportunities for those in need.