Kayak Fishing For Rockfish in California


More and more kayakers are starting to take on the big blue in search of the excitement of catching, and pleasure of eating these varieties of fish. When the forecast calls for light wind and small swell, anglers come from many miles to get some saltwater therapy. Not only do you get to be out on the ocean and see all of the amazing scenery, but chances are usually good that some rockfish and or lingcod will be hooked. There is a vibrant array of rockfish to be caught out there including but not limited to: china, blue, black, canary, olive, copper, black & yellow, and one of my favorite, gophers. Before getting out on the ocean every angler should know how to tell the difference between a blue and a black rockfish, and should also be familiar with how to identify vermillion and canary rockfish so they can tell them apart from similar fish that cannot legally be kept! There are size and possession limits on certain fish, as well as restrictions to the depths you are able to target them depending on where you fish.  If you want to avoid a ticket and be sure you are legal, read through the rules and regulations for the region you plan to fish to get all the exact details. That can all be found here:  https://www.wildlife.ca.gov/fishing/ocean/regulations/sport-fishing

Even on the nicest of days fishing, Californias coastal waters of the Pacific can be a bit overwhelming, there are a few basic things I will mention to help keep everyone safe….

– Always wear a lifejacket!!!!!!!!

– When planning a trip, try to plan on having someone to go with! Best to fish with a partner.

– A waterproof VHF radio can save yours or someone else s life.

– Multiple means of navigation, Fishfinder with GPS, Handheld GPS, compass

– Dress for immersion, wetsuit or drysuit & know how to get back on your kayak if you do fall off!!

With those basic safety tips in mind, pretty much all you need is your kayak and a place to launch it. It really can be that simple, a hand-line, hook, weight and chunk of squid will put fish on the deck. The rod and reel choice will vary from angler to angler but you do not need anything fancy to catch fish. I personally run a 6’6” medium action Uglystick Tiger and an old Shimano TR reel spooled with 50lb braid. Using 30-40lb mono-filament leaders to tie on my swimbait or iron jig, usually with a shrimp fly teaser up above. There are a ton of swimbaits on the market today but I have the best luck with Branson baits and Big Hammer brands. With these artificial fish-like lures you can catch all different varieties of rockfish, and the lingcod especially love them! To target rockfish only I will tie on a weight with two shrimp flies or other small attractants above and jig with that. In place of shrimp flies I’ve used senkos, 4” tube jigs, Berkley gulp minnows, a hook with red yarn, just to name a few, and all of these have produced rockfish for me. When the bite is tough putting a little bit of squid on the tip of your teaser can really help as well.  4oz of weight is fine on calm days when fishing shallow but on days when the drift is fast and/or trying to fish deep, you may need to go as heavy as 8 ounces. Reefs, pinnacles and drop-off points are good places to try, as well as on the outside of the kelp beds. When you find a big school it can be very fun catching two fish at a time, occasionally even three fish at a time when a big lingcod will come up and latch onto one of your rockfish!  Over time, like fishing any body of water you will find certain spots that produce for you trip after trip. If you do not want to put in the work to find these spots or do not have a seaworthy kayak of your own…. that does not mean you cannot get out and catch fish! Below I’ve listed when each management zone opens and a licensed kayak guide from each zone who can take you out and put you on the fish.  

The central California management area ranging from Point Conception to Pigeon Point opens for rockfish and lingcod on April 1st and runs until Dec. 31st. Experienced or not, if in the central CA area and want to get out on the water with a local guide who’s been fishing these waters for years, Central Coast Kayaks can make it happen! Depending on your kayaking experience, fishing experience and water conditions they can offer trips to multiple locations along the coastline, including Pismo Beach, Montana de Oro State Park or Cambria. The fishing in these waters can be very good for rockfish, lingcod, cabezon and perch. Check out the booking calendar @ centralcoastkayaks.com or call them at 805-773-3500 to discuss what will best fit your situation. Can also email them.

Tom Reilly- momentumpaddlesports@gmail.com or

Eric Tebbets- eric@prokayakfishing.com 

The San Francisco management area stretching from Pigeon Point to my hometown of Point Arena is legal to fish from April 15th – Dec31st. To go out on the water with an experienced local from this area contact Kyle Monte- Kyle@Kayakfishingsonoma.com or check him out on facebook @ Kayakfishsonoma. Serving all of Sonoma County and the San Francisco Bay he focuses on fishing fundamentals and putting you on rockfish, lingcod, halibut or bass offering “peddle drive fish for dinner trips”

The Mendocino and Northern management areas take up the rest of the northern state from Point Arena to the Oregon border. They are both open from May 1st until Dec 31st.  This rugged and beautiful, sparsely populated area can produce some gorgeous fish. Eric Stockwell of Loleta Erics Guide service in Humboldt County can be contacted via phone at (707)845-0400 on facebook @LoletaEricsGuideService or general information at LoletaEric.com.

Eric can outfit you for a trip but caters to those with own equipment who are looking to take their skills to the next level. He also offers wilderness trips, rolling kayaks down the coast and camping on the beach. Whatever adventure you go on him with, you can be sure he will take lots of pictures for you as well, photo-documenting your adventure.  

original article can be found here: http://www.yakangler.com/kayak-fishing-techniques/item/3965-rockfish-fishing-tips-california-coastal-waters