Feature Article: Rockfish Opener

Rockfish opener brings new rules, big fish for excited anglers

BY BOB SEMERAU/WON Staff WriterPublished: Feb 20, 2019

SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA — After waiting for what seems like a lifetime, the two-month-long embargo on rockfish ends for Southern California anglers in just a few weeks on March 1. For those fishing along the Central Coast from Point Con­ception up to Pigeon Point, the wait will go on another month, with rockfish season opening April 1.

Either way, there is good news in the form of opportunities to get larger reds, chucklehead, sheephead and other groundfish as they are officially known. This year the California Department of Fish and Wildlife has established new regulations allowing sportfishing anglers to fish in much deeper waters than any time within the last 20 years.

blackpearllingBLACK PEARL LING for angler Dale Carlton, left.

“We were sorry to see the lingcod limit dropped back to a single fish per day, but the fact we can fish in deeper waters — some of which have been off-limits for many years — will give our anglers plenty to be thankful for,” beamed Bruce Harwood, Manager of Virg’s Landing in Morro Bay.

“The Black Pearl will be doing a reverse 1½-day trip each month at least, to maximize lingcod limits and get on top of the quality fish in deeper water.

“We will be able to fish some deep holes closer in to the harbor, which means less travel time and more time to fish. We’ll also be doing a weekly heaviest bag contest starting when the season opens, April 1,” concluded Virg’s manager, Harwood.

That sentiment has been echoed all along the coast as landings and boats prepare for the season.

In Santa Barbara, home of Stardust Sportfishing, boats Stardust and Coral Sea, owner and Capt. Jason Diamond is excited about the upcoming season. The new depth limit will open up waters that haven’t been touched in forever.

“At Rosa, Santa Cruz, San Miguel and the coast, it’s going to be really something. It’s going to be stinking good, the fish are a lot larger in deeper water at times. Everybody should come out and fish and get your personal best red or lingcod,” Diamond said.

loadsofredsLOADS OF REDS will be filling sacks after the rockfish opener for 2019.

Channel Islands Sportfishing Company, Oxnard, has some interesting plans in place to take advantage of the changes, according to landing manager Mike Thompson.

“While our ¾-day boats should see some better-grade fish, it’s our overnight boats that will really benefit. Aloha Spirit owner/oper­ator Shawn Steward plans to target the quality fish with his lingcod special. The boat will go for limits of lingcod and then shift over to the deeper water for the big reds and chuckleheads,” reported Thompson recently.

Normally a San Diego boat fishing the Colonet area, Chief is headed to Hooks Landing in Oxnard for the upcoming rockfish season.

“I am very excited about going north to fish the Channel Islands this year with all the changes,” reports owner/oper­ator Captain Rick Russel. The 90-foot sportfisher has been reworked throughout the interior, offering new staterooms, bunkrooms, heads and galley refinish, and will soon have reverse 1½-day and two-day trips out of Hooks.

“Fishing deeper into the cowcod preservation zones will give some great opportunities for quality fish for some huge reds and more. We can look at fishing Tanner and Cortes banks as well after many years being off limits,” said Captain Russel.

At Berth 55 Landing, Long Beach Sportfishing, owner and Capt. Steve Fukuto is eagerly anticipating fishing the deeper water. “We obviously expect to find bigger fish, there’s no question the quantity will be there. It will be up to the anglers to get the right setup down. We find jigs like the ColtSniper, Jax Jigs, and Megabaits come up with bigger rockfish than double dropper loops,” he said.

RED ROCKFISH LIKE this taken last season by WON associate Ted Reed will be overshadowed by the size of the deep-water fish in the coming year.

Long Beach Sportfishing’s Eldo­rado will have a lot of new territory between 20 and 40 fathoms to explore at San Nic., and the Victory which fishes locally on the Palos Verdes shelf or at Catalina will be able to go very deep, all the way to 75 fathoms.

Fukuto said the Sportfishing Association of California has distributed descending devices to all its boats, and his crews are ready to put them to work. “Our crews took a course on how to do it, so any non-legal such as cowcod or small fish can be safely released,” he said.

Faith, the 58-foot sportfisher out of H&M Landing in Point Loma, will also take advantage of the chance at big fish.

“The opening up of new areas, with deeper water and some areas not fished for two decades, means we should find exciting, big fish. The lingcod are not really an issue for us since we don’t often target them,” said Faith owner oper­ator, Captain John Guess.

“Some anglers are not used to fishing the 75-fathom waters, but rockfish are best taken deep. If you’re a ‘rockfisherman’ you get it, and that’s what you do,” concluded Captain Guess.

From the Mexican border to the Pigeon Point, this year promises to be the year to fill your freezers with rockfish by catching your share of the really big fish.

RON FOGARTY FISHES the Western Outdoor News charters for big sheephead and more.


A decrease to the daily bag and possession limit for lingcod from two to one fish in the Mendocino, San Fran­cisco, Central and Southern Management Areas. The Northern Management Area lingcod bag limit remains at two fish.

Boat-based fishing for ground­fish in the San Fran­cisco Management Area opens on April 1, two weeks earlier than last year.

California scorpionfish (some­times referred to as sculpin) is now open year-round in the Southern Management Area.

The Rockfish Conservation Area (RCA) boundary has increased to 75 fathoms (450 feet) in the Southern Man­agement Area.

The depth limit has increased to 40 fathoms (240 feet) inside the Cowcod Con­servation Area, where select groundfish species may be taken or possessed.

The 40 and 75 fathom depth boundaries are defined by federal waypoints and can be found in Code of Federal Regulations Title 50, Part 660, Subpart C.

Take and possession of bronze spotted rockfish, cowcod, and yellow­eye rockfish remain prohibited statewide.

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