The Fish Sniffer - Take The Captain’s Advice When Rockfishing
Take The Captain’s Advice When Rockfishing

Written By: David Hurley, July 10, 2014
Species: Rockfish Lingcod
Location: Bodega Bay, Half Moon Bay, Humboldt Bay, Monterey Bay, San Francisco Bay, Golden Gate, Fort Bragg,

Take The Captain’s Advice When Rockfishing
Take The Captain’s Advice When Rockfishing Take The Captain’s Advice When Rockfishing

Are those white shrimp flies on your rod, Dave,” said Captain Jim Smith of the Happy Hooker peering out of the wheelhouse on our way to the Marin coast, adding, “Those don’t work very well along the coast.” 

I replied, “Really, OK, we’ll see if they work.” I should have known better than to disregard the advice of the venerable Captain Smith, but I found out the truth about this color of shrimp flies later in the day.

The rockfish opener from Pigeon Point in San Mateo County north to Point Arena in Mendocino County came as a welcome respite for party and private boats throughout this section of the coast, but with the fantastic halibut and striped bass action in San Francisco Bay, Bay Area boats had to choose between remaining in the bay or heading outside of the Golden Gate for rockfish and ling cod. Smith opted to take his large load of passengers to venture up the coast towards Duxbury Buoy on the June 1st opener to in search of rockfish and ling cod.

Upon reaching the reefs near Duxbury, we were joined by other party and private boats looking for an alternative to the spotty salmon action.  It is easy to always assume that rockfish are going to bite, especially when they haven’t been bombarded with gear for 5 months, but the fast drift wasn’t to their liking on this morning. In addition, Smith was right on target regarding the shrimp flies since I was surrounded by fishermen on either side that were scratching out rockfish while I was coming up empty – Lesson One for this day.

With the drift moving faster and faster, I was able to get Lesson Two as Smith called me into the cabin to say, “It is time to drift for some lingcod with some frozen herring, but your stinger treble is too small so put on one of my rigs.” After the shrimp fly debacle, I was ready to listen, and within seconds after tying on the rig and wrapping the herring with a half-hitch as instructed by Smith, I hooked up to my first ling of the day. Fishermen throughout the vessel were switching over to the trap rigs, and soon, there were more lingcod than rockfish flying over the rails.

Dale Peterson of Vallejo and Erik Neighbour of Penryn both broke the 20-pound ling cod barrier within minutes of each other while Joe Porto Sr. also pulled in a hitchhiking ling in excess of 20-pounds. Smith started working the small, semi-truck sized rocks further south along the coastline, and Joe Nowak of South Natomas was able to drag up a 25-pound ling from the shallows in 35 feet of water on a tiny rock.

Although the bottom fish weren’t climbing on, instead opting for a slow, but steady, pick, the boat was able to put together 32 limits of rockfish to go with 39 ling cod to 25 pounds with 4 of the lings over 20 pounds. The rockfish didn’t like shrimp flies, and they almost exclusively desired live anchovies.

After limiting out with rockfish, Smith returned to the bay to work the high spot in Raccoon Straits for 18 striped bass to 1 pounds. The white shrimp flies seemed to put a kibosh on my day, and although I contributed to boat limits with lingcod to 12 pounds, I was unable to land a keeper rockfish.

Part of this may be from fishing in ‘The Vortex,’ the next rod holder down from Larry ‘The Legend’ Nelson who has a tendency to vacuum up any fish within his reach.  

On the opener, Captain James Smith on the California Dawn posted a similar score with 24 quick limits of rockfish including 2 cabezon to 8-pounds, 12 lings to 20 pounds, 4 halibut to 25-pounds, and 25 striped bass to 15-pounds. The action hasn’t skipped a beat since the opener with the California Dawn and Happy Hooker averaging from limits to near-limits of ling cod per trip with the best action above Duxbury.

Rockfish action has been solid from Bodega Bay south to Monterey with Captain Rick Powers of Bodega Bay Sport Fishing offering combination trips for ling cod/rockfish/salmon with rockfish limits and an average of a lingcod per rod being the rule fishing north of the harbor near Fort Ross.

Further south in Half Moon Bay, Captains Dennis Baxter of the New Captain Pete, Bob Ingles of the Queen of Hearts, and Tom Mattusch of the Huli Cat have been traveling south to work the reefs from Tunitas Creek to Pescadero for daily limits of rockfish. Baxter has added live shiners to his bait tank to increase the opportunity for lingcod, and his son, Braden, dragged five ling cod to 18 pounds on the live bait on a recent trip.

Out of Monterey, the lingcod action hasn’t missed a beat from the hot action experienced during the past season.

Chris Arcoleo of Chris’s Fishing Trips in Monterey said, “We have been finding limits of rockfish every day, and on certain trips, our boats have also returned with ling cod limits.” The best action has been along the Big Sur coastline, but the action on the local reefs of Cypress Point and Carmel Bay remain solid.

Carol Jones of Kahuna Sportfishing reported 185 rockfish, 41 lingcod and 2 salmon released on their latest trip to Point Sur. A previous trip yielded 160 rockfish and 32 lingcod for 16 passengers.

With the salmon yet to make a consistent appearance so far this summer, the rockfish opener came just in time to offer a consistent option for northern California saltwater enthusiasts. The seasons for boat-based anglers are as follows:  San Francisco Management Area (Pigeon Point to Point Arena) - June 1st through  December 31st; the Mendocino Management Area (Point Arena to the 40/10 line above Shelter Cove) -May 15th through September 1st; the Northern Management Area (the 40/10 line to the Oregon Border) – May 15th through October 31st; the Central Management Area (Pigeon Point to Point Conception) – May 1st through December 31st; and Southern Management Area (Point Conception south to the Mexican Border) – March 1st through December 31st




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