The Fish Sniffer - Hooking Big Lings And Rockfish In The Shadow Of Morro Rock
Hooking Big Lings And Rockfish In The Shadow Of Morro Rock

Written By: Dan Bacher, August 29, 2014
Species: Rockfish Lingcod
Location: Morro Bay,

Hooking Big Lings And Rockfish In The Shadow Of Morro Rock
Hooking Big Lings And Rockfish In The Shadow Of Morro Rock Hooking Big Lings And Rockfish In The Shadow Of Morro Rock
Hooking Big Lings And Rockfish In The Shadow Of Morro Rock

When I arrived early at the docks at Morro Bay Landing to go fishing on a half-day bottomfish trip aboard the San Pedro Special, I saw three people there waiting until people began boarding the boat for the half-day rockfish trip at 8 a.m.

Looming over us was the iconic Morro Rock, an extinct volcano that dominates this gorgeous section of the California coastline.  

Arturo Torres, a truck driver from Bakersfield, told me that his wife, Marlene, and son, Sebastian had never been fishing before or ever on the ocean.

I told Arturo, “You’ll catch the big lingcod of the day.” He probably thought I was crazy for predicting that.

Over the next hour, the rest of the 19 anglers began to arrive. Some were seasoned anglers like Stephanie Waechter and Zak Clapp, who are getting married in October, and Marvin Elliott of Atascadero, while others were novices like the Torres family.

At 8 am. Captain Chris Soto gathered everybody together at the side of the store and gave a talk about safety procedures and what was in store for the day of fishing. “After you get aboard the boat, it will be an hour boat ride until we get to the spot, the area near Point Buchon, south of the harbor,” he said.

We all got aboard the boat and made the boat ride. During the boat ride, deckhand Simeon Villalobos made breakfast burritos in the galley for those who wanted them.

When we arrived at the spot, Soto stated, “We’re in 180 feet of water. Let your bait down to the bottom and then reel up or you will get snagged on the bottom.”

He also said to ask one of the deckhands, Meghan Fox and Villalobos, if they needed help with the gear or getting unstuck off the bottom.

On the first drift, the anglers began catching a mixture of yellowtail, olive, blue, starry and rosy rockfish, mostly on shrimp flies tipped with squid strips.

Arturo Torres hooked a live squid on one of his shrimp fly rigs when he reeled it up to the surface and then dropped it back down. He soon hooked up a huge fish. Torres slowly and carefully worked up the fish towards the boat. When it emerged near the surface, it turned out to be a big lingcod.

Deckhand Fox gaffed the fish and put the 9 lb. lingcod on the deck.

I told Torres, “You see, I told you that you would catch a big lingcod today.”

As we drifted over the reefs a number of times during the trip, other anglers were trying to catch a fish bigger than Torres’ lingcod. Stephanie Waetchter and Zak Clapp targeted lingcod all morning with a variety of big swimbaits on 8 oz. jigheads. They caught limits of lingcod and released a lot of shakers around 21 to 21-1/2 inches long, but none as big as Torres fish.

“We fish just for lingcod when we go on party boats,” said Waetchter. “We get our limits every time.”

Marvin Elliott landed a couple of quality vermilion rockfish, as well as a keeper lingcod, but nothing the size of Torres fish. “I caught the big rockfish on squid and the lingcod on swimbait,” said Elliott.

We stopped fishing about 1 pm. On my last drop, after catching rockfish all day, I hooked a lizardfish, a species I’ve never caught before, and a sanddab.

The total count for the 19 anglers was 97 rockfish, 8 vermilion rockfish and 8 lingcod.

And completely in accordance with my belief that a novice angler, Arturo Torres, would catch the jackpot fish of the day, he did indeed go home with the 9 lb. lingcod and the jackpot money!

“That fish fought really hard,” Torres said. “We came on the boat to have fun and I ended up going home with money too. In addition to the lingcod, my wife and I landed 14 rockfish.”

I had a lot of fun catching rockfish also, although I didn’t get the jackpot like Torres did. This was the third time I had ever fished Morro Bay. The first time was in the summer of 1975 when I camped at Morro Bay State Park with a bunch of friends from the University of Santa Clara.

While they went shopping and walked around the harbor, I asked them to leave me there to fish the shoreline with some squid baits. I ended up catching a strange kind of fish that I’d never seen before or even heard of.

I asked one fishermen that walked by to look at it. “That’s a sarcastic fringehead,” he told me.

 According to the Aquarium of the Pacific, “Although usually less than 10 inches long, sarcastic fringeheads are fearless and extremely aggressive, charging anything that approaches their burrows. The sarcastic part of their common name is attributed to their temperament and the fringehead to the distinctive appendages over their eyes.”

I’ve never seen or hooked one of these fish since in the thousands of hours I’ve spent fishing on the ocean.

Morro Bay Landing, located on the Embarcadero right on the waterfront, opened in July of 2013 as a central place on the Morro Bay waterfront to offer fishing and whale watching and tours of the bay.

They are booking half-day rockfish/lingcod trips, from 8 am to 2 pm, during the season, along with ¾ day shallow water, light tackle fishing trips that run from 7 am to 3 pm on Thursdays and also ¾ day trips on Saturdays. The landing also books albacore fishing trips in season when these species show in fishable numbers. 

Morro Bay has been a  commercial fishing port supplying seafood to California markets and restaurants since the early 1900’s and has also long been a destination for sportsmen and visitors to California’s Central Coast.

Glenn Fukumoto, who I have known for years, is Morro Bay Landing’s Store Manager. Glenn is supervising the expansion of their specialty fishing tackle inventory to suit the avid sportsmen and women in Morro Bay and surrounding areas.

You can’t go fishing out of Morro Bay without checking out Morro Rock State Historic Landmark. Morro Rock formed about 23 million years ago from the plugs of long-extinct volcanoes, a member of the “Nine Sisters” of volcanic plugs.

Home of nesting Peregrine Falcons, it is closed to any climbing or disturbance. Morro Rock was an important navigational aid for mariners for over 300 years as its height of 576 feet made it the most visible in a chain of nine peaks. Portuguese explorer Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo named the rock “El Morro” in 1542. In Spanish "Morro" means crown shaped hill.

Sometimes called the “Gibraltar of the Pacific,” this rock is the last peak that extends from San Luis Obispo to Morro Bay.

The rock itself was mined on and off until 1963. Morro Rock provided material for the breakwater of Morro Bay and Port San Luis Harbor. In 1966 a bill was introduced which transferred the full title to the State of California.     


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