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Feature Article: Rocfish Season

Rockfish season opens soon, are you ready?

BY BOB SEMERAU/WON Staff WriterPublished: Feb 23, 2018

Top tips for filling the freezer

OXNARD — Each year, anglers from Morro Bay to the Mexican border await the opening of rockfish season with anticipation sharper than a spoiled kid on Christmas Eve.

All along the SoCal coast, the fishery is closed to boat-based angling from Jan. 1, 2018 through Feb. 28, 2018. The daily bag and possession limit is 3 fish within the 10-fish aggregate limit (includes all species of Rockfish, Cabezon and Greenlings), with a minimum size limit of 15 inches total length.

With that being said, now is the time to get it together and be ready for the action come March 1.

Gear-up for the way you like to fish.

loadedupandLOADED UP AND heading for home — limits all around for this happy group of rockfish anglers.


Some folks think a stiff one is the best answer. But in truth, a stick with a little limber to it such as a medium action rod, gets fish more often than a stiffy. Reason being is that with the advent of braided lines, each tap and tug from a few hundred feet below gets telegraphed into an angler’s hands, so takes are not often missed. Being ready to set the hook is easier when you are in touch with your bait.

Also, for bait fishing and for jigging, having a longer rod helps too.

“I like a longer rod that gets out past the other anglers when I am fishing the rail on a party or charter boat,” says seasoned WON associate and ling-killer, Ted Reed. “I can control the fish, have fewer tangles and keep my catch away from other fish coming in.”


Tiny-diametered braided lines in some hefty test-breaking strength can be loaded onto the new, smaller reels like Daiwa’s Saltiga SASD30HA Star drag in a 30-wide and 6.4:1 gear ratio for fast easy reel-ups. This rugged beast holds 280 yards of 50-pound braid. Top that with 10-to-20-feet of 30-to-40-pound Yo-Zuri fluorocarbon leader, and you’re good to go for easy touch rockfishing.


The standard two-hook ganion rig, with or without shrimp fly, has been the go-to rig in SoCal waters for many years. Tying up a bunch of Shrimp Flies can be a rewarding preparation and with simple instruction from YouTube videos. Oregon Mark has an easy to follow video with everything you need to know. Just remember, two hooks only in California waters.

Bait or jig?

Some folks just love a jig and when it comes to rockfish, they are hard to beat. Rockfish Zen-master and all-around world-class angler, Harry Okuda makes excellent use of the iron but is always ready to go with the flow for success.

“There’s no real secret. I just spend a lot of time fishing and a lot of time at the rail,” Okuda humbly shared between fish on a recent trip. Changing tactics to suit the conditions seems to be part of Okuda’s success plan as well. His expert use of jigs, multi-hook ganion rigs and custom-made shrimp flies are applied as needed throughout the fishing day.

Another fan of the jig is frequent WON charter angler and winner of the 2015 Ventura Sportfishing Rockfish Rumble, Luther Terrell of Los Angeles. Terrell took top honors with his 17.74-pound lingcod that bit a Christmas Tree-patterned Cribb’s jig that Terrell had picked up at the landing before departure.

Everything seems to work well some of the time and changing up is the right answer when the bite gets tough. Finding the right bait, live sardines or cut squid, or selecting the right jig, dark-colored copper or shiny chrome diamond, can often make all the difference at the moment. Lingcod seem to prefer soft plastics and swimbaits, often tipped with a flutter of squid strip trailing behind.


When fishing bait or jig for bottom dwellers, the key element is plenty of action. Keep baits and jigs moving, whether with a simple jigging motion, up and down just off the bottom, or a full-blown Bump N’ Grind.

The Bump N’ Grind can produce fish when they all seem to have lockjaw.

Advice from deckhands can be the most valuable tool in the box when things get tough. On one fall trip out of Ventura Sportfishing running to the Channel Islands aboard Island Spirit, deckhand, Matt Villanueva gave sage advice.

“Try the Bump N’ Grind, by dropping down your squid strips to touch bottom, then lifting twice and grinding down; lift twice and grind down slowly,” advised the crewman. The idea is, with the “Bump N’ Grind,” you not only work the bottom, but you also work the lower water column. “This gets rockfish when all else fails because if the fish are not biting near the rocks, they may have moved up off the bottom.”

Of course, fishing a jig along a rocky bottom can get dicey, with lots or iron left down deep when the boat heads for home. Again, always check with the deck hand to help get off the rocks when your favorite jig gets hung up. If you’re on your own, try letting the line loose allowing the fish to swim it off the rock if bit, or the jig to fall off easily.

Charters and Landings

Western Outdoor News offers a whole raft of charters for anyone looking to get out and fill their freezers. All the charters are hosted by an editor from WON and feature plenty of free swag and special fun. Check out the 2018 charters at .

CenCal Coast boats out of Morro Bay and Avila Beach run north and south to waters getting very little fishing pressure.

High up on the list of landings going for rockfish are the big three working the Channel Islands: Hook’s, CISCO’s and Ventura Sportfishing. During the season, fish reports are not exaggerated when almost daily, all the boats report back with limits of rockfish and lingcod, along with smatterings of halibut, occasional yellowtail and white seabass in the mix. The three landings combine to make up nearly 20 boats available to work the local islands, and Hook’s has been added to the WON Charter group for 2018.

Running two boats now, Sea Landing in Santa Barbara goes out to Santa Rosa on almost a daily basis, as well as making inshore coastal runs. Big lings are the specialty at Sea Landing and again, limits are the norm.

Midway down the coast, Long Beach, Pierpoint, Redondo and 22nd Street Landings all make trips around the rockfish bite, running offshore to Catalina and San Clemente Islands and locally at the Horseshoe Kelp. Pierpoint features Pacific Star, a WON charter boat, with Captain Mike Bullard at the helm, known locally as “Rock Daddy” for his legendary rockfishing skills.

Farther south, Newport Landing, Davey’s Locker and Dana Wharf all set out for the islands to bag rockfish in season and have their own special inshore spots.

Oceanside Harbor now has two operators, with Helgren Sportfishing’s six-boat fleet and Oceanside Sea Center’s two-boat fishing operation going where the bite is most consistent.

Down San Diego way, Fisherman’s Landing, H&M, Seaforth and Point Loma send out boats for the best rockfish bite in the area, with many boats heading below the border to Coronado islands and beyond. An annual WON charter aboard Chief has been a favorite for anglers year after year, running to Punta Colonet for rockfish and yellowtail each December.


Some of the best rockfish action can come with some of the nastier weather conditions. Trips can be canceled at the last minute due to wind and storms coming in from offshore, causing dangerous conditions beyond the limits of most local boats. But even with wind and waves that will roll a boat so the rail seems as if it is dipping into the sea, the fishing can be off the charts at times. Boats always adhere to a “safety first” mantra and none will put passengers at risk.

Preparation, planning and a little bit of luck can make rockfish the best target for local anglers. When the weather’s right and conditions are good for fishing action, the rockfish bite can be as exciting as any other. With loads of tasty fish going into the sacks, and some huge, almost prehistoric-looking creatures waiting to be filleted and taken home, rockfish can be the top of the SoCal fishing food chain.


Patriot Avila, (805) 595-7200

Virg’s Morro Bay, (805) 772-1222

Hooks, (805) 382-0402

Ciscos (805) 382-1612

Ventura Sportfishing, (805) 676-2474

Sea Landing, (805) 963-3564

Long Beach, (562) 432-8993

Pierpoint, (562) 983-9300

Redondo, (310) 372-2111

22nd Street, (310) 832-8304

Newport Landing, (949) 675-0550

Davey’s Locker, (949) 673-1434

Dana Wharf, (949) 496-5794

Helgren’ s (760) 722-2133

Oceanside Sea Center, (760) 450-0403

Fisherman’s, (619) 221-8500

H & M, (619) 233-6624

Seaforth, (619) 224-3383

Point Loma, (619) 223-1627

ROCKFISH ZEN MASTER, Harry Okuda, right, gets a hand with his big ling taken while showing his prowess at the rail.

stardustgetstheSTARDUST GETS THE rockfish from Santa Rosa Island while fishing out of Santa Barbara.

scoringbigis410SCORING BIG IS what it’s all about and the right secret weapons can add to the catch.

ROCKFISH LIMITS CAN be the norm when the season gets under way March 1, 2108.

CAPT. PAT CAVANAUGH, left, displays a larger model ling taken by WON associate Ted Reed while fishing Pacific Dawn out of Ventura Sportfishing.


Let’s get ready to Ruuummmbbbllle!

Put your rockfishing mettle on display in the 6th annual WON Rockfish Rumble

Knock off all that winter rust and kick off your 2018 fishing season with Western Outdoor News’ first saltwater event of the season, the 6th annual WON/Ventura Sportfishing Rockfish Rumble, slated for Thursday, April 26.

Anglers on four limited-load Ventura sportboats — Pacific Dawn, Pacific Eagle, Island Spirit and Amigo — will vie to bag one of the day’s three biggest rockfish, with a $1,000 jackpot payout set to be split amongst the gold, silver and bronze. The biggest fish on each sportfisher will also be good for an awesome prize, along with plenty of swag and raffle prizes to go around from the likes of Costa, Yo-Zuri, Sufix, VMC and more!

Field reporter Bob Semerau will be on-site for the Rumble to document all the action for an ensuing story in WON, giving you a great opportunity to not only win some cold, hard cash and prizes, but also make your mark in the pages of WON and have rockfish bragging rights for the rest of the season.

So far, the Pacific Dawn is already sold out for the Rumble, and the other trio of sportfishers are filling up, so make sure to sign up now and lock in your spot! The extended ¾-day event is just $105, which includes the $10 jackpot, so don’t miss the action.

Sign up for the 2018 Rockfish Rumble online at by clicking on the WON EVENTS tab, or call sales rep Austin Jones at (949) 366-0726.

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