Pacific Rockfish encompass a wide variety of groundfish that range in size, color, and behavior.  Found in the deeper environments off our coast ranging in depths as shallow as 60’ to several hundred feet. They love structure and are quite aggressive when presented with bait or lure. As for locating them, their name is accurate in that they prefer rocky outcroppings and ledges.  

As a sportfish in California, it is one of the most important to our community. It offers a year-round opportunity (except for Jan and Feb), entry-level tackle demands and tactics, very reasonable access from the coast, and provides great table fare. It’s one of those species that I think many take for granted, there are not many places in North America that provide basically a guaranteed fishery, which makes the slow winter and early spring months tolerable.  

Resource: CA Dept. of Fish & Wildlife

With catching also comes releasing, and with releasing Rockfish well that’s not so simple. In the process of being reeled to the surface, they experience Barotrauma, which is the effect of ascending several atmospheres in the water column in a very short period. The results of Barotrauma are bulging eyes, bloated abdomen, and stomach filled with gas and extruded from the mouth. This last part is what causes difficulty in release, by not allowing the fish to descend back to its environment due to having a gas-filled cavity forcing it to float stomach up. While Barotrauma itself is not fatal the effects can cause death. 

I’ve seen it time and again from anglers and I myself have even been guilty of releasing a rock cod that has had its stomach expanded with gas only to have it float away unable to deploy back to the bottom. Thankfully through fisheries management, proper release tools and methods have been identified for these deep-water natives that need a little assistance to get them to reacclimate going from surface atmosphere to the deep they’re accustomed to. These tools are easy to use and ensure that the next generation will be able to enjoy this fishery for generations to come.  

Today, several Rockfish Releasing/ Descending devices are available and without trying to pretend that we’re experts on any specific one, we can tell you we’ve tried just about all and they all do a great job, we’ve collected a small list for reference. 


  • Upside Down Milk Crate: while this is the simplest and probably cheapest option it is also the most cumbersome and space inhibiting which can be a nuisance in a small skiff. 
  • Inverted Barbless hook with weight: another very cost effect technique, simple and easy on the pocket. One thing to note with this technique is that you should rubber band or zip tie your hook to the sinker so the hook remains vertical and upside down so the fish is able to slip off once the angler begins their retrieve back to the surface.
  • Commercial Fish Descender/ Shelton Fish Descender: the fish descender works very much like the inverted Barbless hook with weight. Ideally, it just pulls the fish back to the bottom and upon starting your retrieve back to the surface releases the fish. 
  • Seaqualizer Descending Device: The most technical and probably the best descending device out of the stated options. Made up of a lip gripper and pressure sensor, this device allows you to select what depth to release your catch through different settings. Simply it grips the fish by the jaw, you deploy the apparatus and fish and begin your descend, the rest is taken care of. 


  • You should look to release your fish at close to an approximate depth as where it was originally hooked. 
  • This releasing process is made much easier by having a rod designated to release, outfitted with a descending device. 
  • You should look to release your catch as soon as possible once de-hooked.
  • For 2022 take limits and depth restriction have been adjusted, make sure to check in with the latest regulations for Rockfish:


  • SAC (Sportfishing Association of California) has been at the forefront of working with this fishery and expanding awareness and techniques for releasing Rock Cods. You can find more information here: SAC Rockfish Barotrauma and Release Guide
  • The California Department of Fish and Wildlife; as with fishing for any species you should check in with your local fisheries department to make sure you are abiding with all regulations.