Here in the Pacific Northwest, there are 36 species of Rockfish to fish for. Yet, with 5 species of Pacific Salmon, Lingcod and the Giant Halibut, the lowly Rockfish is often overlooked as a sportfish. But fishermen who know this tasty scrapper-of-the-sea know what the rest of us are all missing and what can end up being the most fun part of the day!
On my full day charters I always try to reserve at least 45 minutes dedicated to the Rockfish when the season is open (May 1st-Oct 1st). About 95% of the time, after the first 5 minutes of searching for rockfish it’s often that everyone has at least one if not 2 or 3 fish in the boat already. They say to me, “why were we not doing this all day?” I smile and say, “well if we started with these guys you would be saying let’s get fishing for the Salmon and the Halibut.” It is nice to close the day with Rockfish to make sure everyone has a chance to fight and land a fish and to make sure everyone has some good eats to take home if they wish to do so.
Rockfish are more or less a Saltwater version of the Bass. With the looks and appetite of a colorful Largemouth Bass but the fight and habitat more like a Smallmouth Bass, you can use some similar techniques to put more of these guys in the boat and set yourself up for success.
Location, Location, Location!
Where you fish and your setup is the key to bigger and more rockfish, plus, what you use for lures is key to even bigger and more fish. The bigger, active feeding fish will always be on the current side of the structure. If you are fishing the backside of it you might be getting a few fish but there will be less and smaller fish on the backside.
Smartbaits Swimming Jesse with Jig Head = Rockfish Candy
The best tackle combo is a 3 or 4 oz jig head and a Swimming Jesse softbait from Smartbaits. I fish this combination right near the bottom or up to 10 feet off the bottom (higher when the tide is less). And boy do the Rockfish eat it up like it was candy! Oftentimes, fishermen will pull up beside me and try their gear and do drop after drop in the exact same place with not a singlebite, while the entire time I have 4 or 5 people in my boat all hooked up with fish, one after another using the Smartbaits Swimming Jesse and jig combo.
Usually we are fishing as deep as 125 feet and as shallow as 35 feet. When you are that shallow, you can even go down to a 2oz jig head but the deeper you fish with more current requires a bigger heavier head to get you down to the bottom and still be able to feel the lure. That’s when you want to use a 4 oz jig head.
To augment this tackle combo, I feel using a 50lb power pro line with a 4 foot 40lb fluorocarbon leader on the end tied directly to the jig head works best. Do not use any swivel or metal leader as this will lessen your strikes considerably.
Depending on boat speed, you may have to cast back up-current so that as the bait falls it will end up as close to straight up and down as you can get them. Just very, very, very slowly move the bait up about 2 to 4 feet then back down, trying to stay just a foot or so off the bottom on the bottom of your jig. You can even put the rod in the rod holder and it will often get the biggest fish. Worth noting, many people just move the bait way too much for the big fish to be interested. Easy does it, nice and easy.
Kids also love fishing for rockfish and so does anyone who loves that feeling of setting the hook and then a big hard tug with a headshake--that feeling you only get while fishing!
What makes the Swimming Jesse so much better than the other swim baits I’ve tried is the softer plastic that Smartbaits uses to make the bait tail action swim with almost no speed at all. That is what the Rockfish love, the results are undeniable!
Other baits may hold up well but you don’t catch any fish because they are too hard and the tails only swim when you work them hard! And this is what Rockfish and Ling Cod do not like. Remember, easy does it for these species. My recommendation is to get a bunch of bags of the Smartbaits Swimming Jesse in Greens (Watermelon/pumpkin seed) or Chartreuse and even blue (green hues seem to work better here in the Pacific Northwest) and a bunch of jig heads and head out and have a ball! With this combination, you’ve got a surefire chance of hauling in some serious rockfish!
Captain’s Note: Be sure to bring a “descending device” required by law to release rockfish that come up bloated with air. Reduce this air pressure bloating and release them back to the depth they were caught in to safely be returned.
Embrace, Catch and Release,
Preserve our resource.
-- Captain King