The Fish Sniffer - Rockfish Go On The Attack Off Bodega Bay
Rockfish Go On The Attack Off Bodega Bay

Written By: Dan Bacher, August 3, 2014
Species: Rockfish Lingcod Saltwater Salmon
Location: Bodega Bay,

Rockfish Go On The Attack Off Bodega Bay
Rockfish Go On The Attack Off Bodega Bay Rockfish Go On The Attack Off Bodega Bay

Bodega Bay in Sonoma County is most well known as the setting for “The Birds,” the chilling 1963 suspense/horror film directed by Alfred Hitchcock. The classic firm, loosely based on the 1952 story "The Birds" by Daphne du Maurier, depicts a series of sudden, and unexplained, and violent bird attacks on Bodega Bay’s residents over the course of a few days.

To the diehard angler, Bodega Bay is best renowned known another type of attack – the “salmon attack” on anglers’ baits that takes place every July in local waters. The big kings generally move down from Fort Bragg, Shelter Cove and further north, feeding on krill, anchovies and herring, as they proceed forward on their migration to the San Francisco Bay and then into the Central Valley rivers to spawn and die.

It has been during July that I have experienced my two best salmon fishing trips on the ocean. The first was in 1999 when Allen Bonslettt, then the Fish Sniffer publisher, and I trolled with Dick Pool, owner of Pro-Troll and the administrator of Water 4 Fish, that I experience the best king salmon fishing that I’ve ever seen. For two days, we caught early limits of big Chinooks averaging 20 to 25 pounds and going up to 40 pounds while using anchovies and Rotary Salmon Killers behind dodgers on downrigger rigs.

Then last year, I made an exciting afternoon salmon trolling adventure during mid-July with Captain Dave Hammond of Delta Pro Fishing that produced limit fishing for big, bold Chinooks in the 12 to 25 pound class. These were some of the hardest fighting Chinooks that I have ever hooked, with one of the largest salmon I’ve ever battled getting away right near the boat.

This year the fish appear to be later than normal, about three weeks, as they make their way southward towards the Golden Gate. With the exceptions of some spurts of hot action, salmon fishing has been spotty, so Hammond and other captains are offering passengers of doing bottomfish/salmon combos at times when the salmon action is tough.

“The salmon season this has been like night and day from what it was last year,” he said. “It’s been slow and inconsistent. We’re still waiting for the fish to come down from Fort Bragg and Shelter Cove.”

He also noted that the fish anglers have been catching are a mixed grade, ranging from 6 to 27 pounds.  

On the other hand, anglers have no reason to despair, since rockfish action has been excellent and many trips have yielded limits of lingcod. “The lingcod fishing is better than I’ve ever seen it,” said Hammond.

On the day before the Fish Sniffer trip with Captain Hammond on July 18, the four anglers fishing with Hammond caught 3 salmon to 20 pounds while trolling anchovies and spoons. They landed limits of lingcod to 12 pounds and rockfish while using shrimp flies, tipped with herring pieces.

On the day we fished, the salmon fishing was tough, but the rockfish action was superb for Fish Sniffer subscribers Kathy Wilson and her father, Don Hartsock, and Mike Zablosky. While we caught fish on straight white shrimp flies, the hottest lure was a 7" red shad plastic worm with a long wavy tail.   “They are for bass fishing but saltwater fish love them,” said Wilson.

“This is where we nailed limits of lingcod and rockfish yesterday,” Hammond said, as we arrived to fish off the spot in around 85 feet of water. “There’s lots of fish showing on the graph. Start off with straight shrimp flies at first and then we’ll put on pieces of herring.”

We started catching some black, blue and gopher rockfish, but it was a slow pick at first. On one of the first drifts, I landed a 26-inch lingcod that grabbed a rockfish while my rod was in the holder as I took photo of Kathie catching a monster 10 lb. vermilion, one of the largest I’ve seen in recent years.

“I caught it on the plastic worm hooked on the shrimp fly,” she said. Her dad put the worm on one of his shrimp flies and he soon brought up a cabezon.

While the fish we were catching were quality ones, the lingcod and school rockfish weren’t biting like they had the day before, so Hammond moved into shallower water near shore.  As we fished, we could see in the distance Fort Ross, the Russian outpost that is now a state park,  as cars and trucks moved back and forth along Highway 1.

We finally found a school of rockfish that wanted to bite. Over about a 30-minute period, we finished catching our limits.  Most of the fish were black rockfish in the 2 to 4 pound range, with some China, gopher and copper rockfish mixed in. “This was a great day for quality rockfish,” said Hammond.

During our three hours of salmon fishing, we ended up with one salmon weighing 10 pounds, caught by Wilson. We trolled with herring and lures 5 miles straight off Bodega Head over 50 fathoms of waters.

Deckhand Carson Hammond, Dave’s son, put out three rods including two on downriggers at 80 feet and the third rod outfitted with a lead sinker on a sinker release.

“I use only three rods to avoid tangles,” said Hammond. “I troll with green label herring with cable baiters because the biggest baits produce bigger fish.”

Hammond has a great system for rotation of the rods when trolling. He asks everybody to pick a number – and anglers go in order to grab the rod when a fish is hooked up, based on how close they are to the number Hammond has chosen. After Wilson landed her fish, we reeled in lines with several scratched baits, but we didn’t hook any more fish.

While we never had the “salmon attack” that day, the rockfish were definitely attacking our baits. It was a great day of fishing with wonderful company as we enjoyed perfect, flat calm weather. Some boaters who toughed it out that day did catch full limits of salmon.

All three anglers went home with fishing rods and Kershaw folding fillet knives. Everybody bagged limits of exceptional rockfish. Kathy landed the biggest rockfish, her 10 lb. vermilion, while her dad nailed the top non-rockfish of the day, 6 lb. cabezon. I landed the only legal lingcod, while Mike bagged a big vermilion, as well as some monster black rockfish.

“What a resource we have here,” said Hammond after we landed our limits of quality rockfish.

Hammond plans to continue booking salmon trolling and rockfish/salmon combos out of Bodega Bay through August. For more information, contact: Delta Pro Fishing, Capt. David Hammond, Phone number: (916) 479-3492, E-mail address:

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