To target the mid-water rockfish like blacks and blues, try lighter tackle.
I've been having a lot of fun using a 7' spinning rod with a Shimano 4000
spincasting reel. There's an endless variety of paddle-tailed swim baits
that can be rigged on darter-type jig heads in weights of 3/8 oz. to 2 or 3
ozs., depending on the current and wind conditions. For line, I use Berkeley
Fireline in the 2-lb. diameter, 6# test weight. This stuff seems to
eliminate line twist while allowing you to really scale down your baits to
the minimum. The line is so thin it's actually hard to see, yet I've landed
12-pound lingcod on this line.
The plastic swimbaits are ideal for casting out and covering different
water. You aren't limited to fishing directly under the boat as with
deep-water rockfishing. After the lure hits the water, let the jig drop down
through the water column. Sometimes the fish will be right on top, boiling
at the surface on calm days. In heavier current, the fish will hang around
structure and kelp beds in deeper water. You can fish the bait all the way
back to the boat, at various depths, until you locate the fish.
Black rockfish, along with blues, are aggressive feeders when they're on the
bite, so I usually move to a new spot if I haven't gotten bit on the first
few casts. By fishing the top half of the water column, you increase your
chances of targeting "keeper" fish rather than the bottom-hugging lingcod
and red rockfish.
Size of the swimbaits can vary from a 1" chunk of plastic grub all the way
up to 5" swimbaits like Tomcod Fishtraps that have proven very effective on
the troll for albacore and even salmon. About the size of a large anchovy,
they come with painted darter jig heads in 2 oz.- 4 oz. weights.
In deeper water, heavy tackle and large lead jigs like diamond bars, Gibbs
minnows and dart-shaped jigs like the Gibbs Floorwalker are the rule. I've
seen lots of home-made jigs, including short lengths of stainless pipe
filled with cement or lead, with an eye for attaching the line and another
for the treble hook. But in the nearshore, this is a bit of overkill, since
the bait tends to be small in shallow water, and includes small crabs,
shrimp, squid and the occasional baitfish or juvenile rockfish no more than
an inch or so in length.
Bass and walleye fishermen often have a blast using freshwater tackle on
nearshore rockfish like blacks and blues. Once I watched a fisherman from
Colorado catch a limit of blacks (10 fish) drifting a chartreuse walleye
grub just off the kelp beds. He'd just cast back behind the boat and set up
his drift along the kelp lines and didn't even bother jigging.
Although I've never tried it, flyfishing for rockfish on flat days is a
definite possibility. Years ago there was an article in Field and Stream
about a guide who developed a technique of fly-fishing for lingcod off the
Noyo Harbor jetty.
So far I've covered the techniques while fishing from a boat, but many
people fish from the banks, jetties, or rocks in the nearshore. Since the
overall impact of shore anglers is so minimal on offshore rockfish and
lingcod, the DFG has excluded this type of fishing from the rockfish
closure. So, if you are lucky enough to catch a lingcod or red rockfish from
the rocks, you can keep it. Landing a fish amid the dense kelp that overgrows
the rocky coastline during the late fall months can be a real challenge.
Most anglers use long (9'-10') spinning rods and line heavy enough to yank
the fish out of the water. Since snagging bottom is even more of a problem
from shore than on a boat, improvised (free) sinkers are devised from small
tobacco pouches filled with sand, or old spark plugs, and rusty bolts. With
lighter line connecting the weight to a three-way swivel, the rig can be
broken off, saving the hook and leader.
Sometimes the water is so snaggy the only way to fish it will be with a
float with a weighted dropper to keep the bait off the bottom. Suspended at
mid-depths, drifted through a crevice of whitewater, this rig will take a
lot of blacks and blues from shore.
Top baits include frozen squid, or small crabs and mussels that can be found
on the spot. Abalone guts (from legally taken abs) are deadly, especially
for cabezon which live in very shallow water and seem to eat nothing but
dungeness crab and abalone - and they taste like it. Cabezon can be
determined from lingcod by the fleshy "horns" that protrude from their
foreheads. Cabezon are legal during the "rockfish closure" while lingcod
must be released (unless you catch them from the shore or rocks.)
If you're a freediving or scubadiving spearfisher, the same rules as with
skiff fishermen apply. But the lost art of poke-poling, for wolf-faced and
monkey-faced eels, seems to be legal this winter. Wearing a wetsuit or
waders, you take a long bamboo pole and wire an eyelet loop at one end. Using
100# leaders of 6-12 inches or so, and a heavy 6/0 hook, baited with squid,
the business end of the poke-pole is tucked inside nooks and crannies at low
tide. Swift reaction is necessary when the eels strike, as they will coil
their tails among the rocks and become impossible to dislodge. Smoked eels
were highly prized among the Portuguese fishermen who settled along
California's north coast.
Part One: Changing Regulations
Part Three: Where to Catch Nearshore Rockfish
Part Four: Bank Fishing on the North Coast