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Catching Roosterfish

By: Eric Brictson

Prize RoosterfishAn angler will see the roosterfish come up on and boil on the trolled bait. They will typically circle and whack at the offering before actually crashing on it. Other strikes can be so aggressive that all an angler can do is switch the reel into gear and set the hook right away!...


Roosterfish patrol the shoreline searching for schools of baitfish. They will corral mullet and sardinas into tight balls and then attack. Slow trolling live bait close to the shore is the most productive technique for hooking into these fish, with mullet being the favorite bait and sardinas second on the list.

They prefer sandy beaches that include some rocky structure in the proximity. Typically they are found within 100 yd. to 200 yd. off of the shore, and when the baitfish are abundant, it is common to see the roosterfish actively feeding. They will work right in the heavy surf and occasionally even end up on the bare sand while chasing bait. This is a very impressive sight to witness the roosterfish in a feeding frenzy and really gets an angler itching to get their rod and try their luck at hooking into one of them.

Roosterfish on the line Equipment that is most suited for use from boats are medium action bait rods, rated for 20 to 50 lb. Line, 6 to 7 feet long, matched with a quality high speed reel, with conventional casting type preferred. Penn 500 s & 535, Shimano TLD 15-20, Daiwa SL50H or similar models, all can be good choices. Monofilament lines are standard, with the majority of anglers using 20 to 50 lb. test; 30 lb. seems to be the most popular strength of line for trolling bait.

Ordinarily a 4 to 6 foot length of mono leader is used, with 50 to 80 lb. preferred. It depends on the clarity of the water and how aggressive the fish are. When the water is crystal clear, it is better to use the lightest leader in order to attract strikes, but when the roosters are particularly abundant and the water is stirred up and not too clear, then an angler can use the leaders up to 100 lb. Roosterfish do not have sharp teeth but never the less they can wear through lines and do have a barbed gill plate. The most successful anglers with the highest hook up ratio typically use a 50 lb. leader and 30 lb. main line. There is always the chance of hooking into another species such as sierra, pargo, jack crevalle, amberjack or cabrilla when you are fishing close to the shore line. It gives an angler better odds not to have a big snap swivel on your line because this will spook the larger more weary roosters, but instead just run a medium sized black ball bearing trolling swivel that has no additional clips and is in the 75 lb. to 125lb. size.

Short shank bait hooks are best and the size used depends on the type of bait being trolled. With sardines, hook sizes of # 1, 2, 1/0 & 2/0 can be used. When using the larger baits like mullet, mackerel or caballito, you should tie on a 4/0 to 7/0 hook. In order to help present the bait as lively as possible, you should tie on your hook with a loop knot such as the two wrap hangman's knot or a uni-loop knot. It is important to always have a lively bait on that can be seen swimming as naturally as possible. Baits should be trolled between 50 and 70 feet behind the boat, if you have your bait out too far it can be harder to set the hook due to all the stretch in the mono line.

Roosterfish on the beach More often than not, an angler will see the roosterfish come up on and boil on the trolled bait. They will typically circle and whack at the offering before actually crashing on it and sometimes this can take quite a while, but it is important to be patient and let the fish take the bait and swim away with it before setting the hook too soon. Other strikes can be so aggressive that all an angler can do is switch the reel into gear and set the hook right away. When a roosterfish really has decided to take the bait, they usually will head down towards the bottom and often will come at the boat while they are swallowing the bait, making it difficult to get a good set. An angler has to be alert to where the line is heading in the water, and, if it is coming towards you, reel like mad and keep the line as tight as possible. These fish do not have that tough of mouths, so it is not necessary to set the hook too extremely hard, but instead just firmly and at a 45 degree angle, two or three times, always being ready to reel any slack as fast as you can. Right after feeling the hook they will usually make their longest run and frequently they will jump and shake their head during the fight as they try to get rid of the hook.

At times they can be seen feeding in an area but will not swim towards the trolled baits or they are in a spot where the waves are too high to risk maneuvering the boat. This is when it can prove effective to cast a live bait to the feeding fish and entice them into striking. It is always a good point to remember that if you do have a strike and you end up missing it as you try to set the hook, you need to throw the reel back into free spool and be ready for the roosterfish to turn around and come back for a second try; more often than not they will return. If your bait has been weakened or has died you can twitch it and then steadily reel it in to give it some lively action and by doing this you can often coax the fish into taking the bait.

It is important to always stay alert and keep a close eye on your bait. Mullet, particularly, will actually jump into the air and become very agitated when a hungry rooster comes close. This is always a tell tale sign that something is most likely about to happen and for the angler to be ready to go into action.

The best chance for locating larger Roosterfish is typically from May through July and usually peaks right about mid June. This is when huge schools of migrating mullet move inshore along local beaches and attracts the roosters, as well as other gamefish. When the surf picks up, the bait becomes scattered, which makes them more vulnerable from the attacking fish. Usually the fish will be more actively feeding when there is a decent size swell running. Average size of the fish in this early summer season can be 30 to 40 lb. and every year there are specimens that weigh 70 to 90 lb. taken. At other times of the year when the water conditions are to their liking, roosterfish will go on the bite, but these are usually smaller fish in the 5 to 20 lb. Range, although at any time of the year the big ones can show up and are always unpredictable this way. They prefer the water to be clean and ideally close to 75 degrees. A small roosterfish will attempt to eat a bait that is practically as large as they are, but this can prove to be impossible to actually hook them and in the process can empty the bait tank in short order.

Roosterfish on the beachAt other times the roosters will hit trolled rapalas and on the higher speed dorado, tuna and wahoo type lures. Jet and lead heads that are dressed up with hoochie type squid or octopus skirts are one of their favorite and have accounted for many quality fish, but the general rule is if you have live bait, use it before trolling artificials, but when the bait is not available or has run out for the day go ahead and try the lures; they seem especially effective when there is only minimal amount of baitfish in areas close to the beaches.

The largest schools of roosterfish that are encountered are generally of smaller fish and during the winter or spring- time, the largest fish come in early summer but do not always run in big schools. When a run of roosterfish is in, you will notice that the local surf anglers go into full action. With a mix of handlines and rods, they chase the feeding fish up and down the beaches throwing all types of hardware and bait at them. Best success off of the beach is usually on mullet, which are snagged with big treble hooks or caught in throw nets and then cast back out to where the fish are seen feeding.

Experienced lure fishermen can often out fish the anglers that are using bait. This is generally when the surf gets big and the fish can only be reached by casting 70 to 100 yd. Some of the more serious surf fishermen use graphite composite rods that are 10 to 13 feet in length, with high capacity spinning reels equipped with a fast retrieve ratio, they give just the right amount of leverage to reach the surface feeding action and are relatively light with medium to heavy back bone. Heavy surface lures like RANGERS in the 4 to 5 oz. size prove most affective and the technique is to cast out as far as you can into the boiling fish and then reel as quickly as possible. It is impossible to reel too fast for these fish and this way they never do get a very good look at your lure. When the fish can be seen working bait very close to shore and the surf is not large, other casting lures such as Crocodiles and Hopkins can work, the best size being 2 to 3 oz. and in the various chrome color patterns.

Fly fishermen also have enjoyed a good share of success on roosterfish when using three to six inch surface flies in the sardina and mullet patterns. Techniques can vary greatly but typically include trolling flies in order to locate the schools of fish and then casting to them; also slow trolling mullet as teasers and chumming with live sardinas are popular methods. These fish are quick and like to attack fast moving objects, so it is important to remember to strip your line in at a swift pace. There are frequently sierra mackerel in the same inshore waters as the roosters and with their razor sharp teeth it is necessary to use a section of wire leader connected to your fly, lure or bait. Other species in these same inshore waters that have also been taken on the fly include pompano, pargo, needlefish, jack crevalle and cabrilla. They can all be enticed to hit a fly if it is presentation is right and the conditions are favorable. Ten weight fly rods are the most commonly used but some anglers prefer a lighter nine weight or the heavier eleven. Anglers using 20 lb. tippet have landed roosterfish weighing up to 40 lb. and jack crevalle close to 25 lb. These fish are extremely powerful and accustomed to living inshore in the rough surf environment, and their endurance will test even the most skilled of anglers, and particularly on fly equipment.


  • Common name: Pez gallo, papagallo
  • Scientific name: Nematistius pectoralis
  • Size: 10 to 30 lb. average, but can reach 100 lb.
  • World Record: 114 lb., taken out of La Paz, Baja in 1960
  • Range: Eastern Pacific, ranging from Gulf of California to Panama
  • Distribution in Baja: North to Magdalena and throughout the Sea of Cortez.
  • Found: Inshore-onshore, along sandy stretches of beaches with rock outcroppings mixed in.
  • Description: Gray back, silver body with two pronounced diagonal stripes. Pectoral fin long and sickle shaped, dorsal fin very elongated and supposedly has a likeness to a rooster's comb, hence the common name. Tail fin is deeply forked as is typical of all members of the jack family.
  • Commonly taken on: live bait, with mullet and sardinas their favorite. Rarely taken on lures, but when feeding will hit surface jigs. One of the top gamefish found in Baja, a furious fighter with unequaled stamina, unpredictable slashing moves, jumps and long screaming runs. Due to its distinctive first dorsal spines it can easily be identified. Sportfishermen typically release these fish after taking a few photos to remember them by, but local residents do enjoy eating them; the meat is very dark but is used in stews or machaca, which is a process of drying the flesh with salt to preserve it.

    Eric Brictson writes the weekly Gordo Banks Pangas fishing report from Baja, San Jose Del Cabo, and can be reached through their website at


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