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Nearshore Rockfishing
Part Four: Bank Fishing on the North Coast

By: Jim Martin
December 22, 2001

Rockfishing from the shore and jetties of Northern California is not an activity for small children during the winter months. Each year anglers - and even more beachcombers - are caught unawares by rogue swells coming from a funny direction. Most of the best rockfishing spots are in remote locations and it's best to fish with a buddy because help will be nowhere in sight. Keep an eye on the Pt. Arena NOAA buoy's swell model for conditions in Mendocino County. Usually it's best to time your trip between storm fronts. The low pressure ahead of storms systems can often produce ideal fishing and diving conditions and relatively flat water. Granted, these days are few and far between until summer rolls around, but they happen.

Like diving, bank fishing requires good public access, an increasingly rare commodity on our coastline. Most state parks along the coast offer some type of ocean access, and several years ago, a guide was published listing many of the access points in Mendocino County. ("Mendocino County Coastal Fishing & Diving Access Guide" by Rouvaishyana, available for $9.50 (incl. s/h) from the author at 31240 Digger Creek Rd., Ft. Bragg, CA 95437.)

Species identification and knowledge of behavior and preferred habitat is another part of the equation in determining where to fish. For this information, choose a fish guide. One of my favorites is "Probably More Than You Want to Know About the Fishes of the Pacific Coast," by Dr. Milton Love. Fortunately for the lay reader, Dr. Love has a bizarre sense of humor, which makes the normally dry scientific information spark to life a little. The book covers most, if not all, of the saltwater gamefish species you will encounter on the west coast. ($20 from Really Big Press, POB 60123 Santa Barbara, CA 93160.) This guide covers where the fish live (and therefor, where to fish for them), spawning habits and seasons, growth rates, and geographic distribution. It also gives the proper name for each species, which can be useful since there are so many local names for different rockfish.

One of the first things you will learn about rockfish from this book is that they are "residential" - that is, they don't move around much and specific areas can be fished out easily. That's especially true of the bottom-hugging species like "red" rockfish.

The best rockfish spots are the hardest to reach. Launching a large, sea-worthy fiberglass boat into the ocean at Pt. Arena, Albion, and Shelter Cove can be tough. At Pt. Arena, you have to provide your own sling for the hoist that lowers your boat down 30 feet into the cove. Albion has become so silted that a shallow sand bar prevents crossing much of the day. Shelter Cove's launch consists of a tractor ride through the surf. The launch at Trinidad Head threads you through the rocks on a railroad trolley. The rockfishing is and diving is outstanding at all these locations. Small aluminum skiffs, kayaks, and rigid inflatables are ideal for these launchpoints. Bankfishing spots abound along Highway One north of Point Arena.

North of Cape Mendocino, there is a whole different set of regulations, mostly for the better. There is very little pressure up there, no party boats in Crescent City, for example.

Rockfish-Crab Combos on party boats (or sport boats, as they call them down in Southern California) have already begun out of San Francisco and Bodega. Up north, the season has now been opened as well. You need to plan a trip early in the season, because once the commercial season opens, legal-size crabs get scarce in a few weeks, depending on the weather.

Part One: Changing Regulations

Part Two: Rockfishing Techniques and Tackle

Part Three: Where to Catch Nearshore Rockfish


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