Chasing Washington’s Inshore Seabass (Rockfish)

Inshore Seabass Rockfish

One of the most fun, easy, and low-pressure ways to spend your time on the water comes in the form of chasing inshore seabass. In the Pacific Northwest, this includes your blue rockfish, black rockfish, and yellowtail rockfish. There are other species, but I prefer to target Blues and Blacks because they produce a great yield, and reproduce quickly. As with any fishery or opportunity, I urge you to approach the task at hand with a plan for success.

To be successful at chasing inshore seabass, your first step starts before you even touch the water and it involves a vital piece of equipment; your chartplotter/fishfinder! I have a 1KW Airmar Thru-Hull transducer tied to a Raymarine e127 as well as a second CHIRP transducer. Seabass fishing is a fishery that demands top of the line electronics in order to ensure you are on the fish (or they under your boat). Take your electronics off of auto and adjust them for the conditions you fish. This will give you confidence in your electronics and help you avoid second guessing your ability on the water.

With that taken care of, the next step involves understanding the local haunts for our black and blue friends. Any system of rocky outcroppings, pinnacles, and drop-offs produce the perfect setting for the plethora of bass that roam the western seaboard. Before you ask for your buddy’s super secret squirrel coordinates, take a look at a marine map or a highly defined bathymetric chart and study the bottom composition and contours. Look for the ‘R’ symbol for rock and dramatic depth changes in the 30 to 100-foot depths. This is where success can be had. After studying the charts, pick a half dozen places that are high potentials for the noted quarry.

At this point, I am sure the fishing juices are flowing in your mind, but you’re not quite ready yet.

You have to make the right offering to our spiny friends and all gear should be rigged and ready before you come close to your port of launch. Preparation is everything and as my high school and college coaches have engrained in my mind….BY FAILING TO PREPARE, YOU ARE PREPARING TO FAIL!

For my seabass system, I use a double rig setup. It consists of a jig or jighead on the bottom and a dropper loop with grub tail or shrimp fly about 2 to 3-feet up the line. I like to use 2 to 4-oz. leadhead jigs and Big Hammer Swimbaits in a variety of fish attracting colors (Pacific Chovy, Green Sardine, Shad, and Toast). For jigs, Point Wilson Darts, Mega Baits, and Crippled Herrings work well and would take the place of the lead head jig.

The fact that we are chasing a fish with the word “rock” in its name should set off a red flag in your mind.

They live in and around ROCKY structure, not exactly a fisherman’s best friend. It is a wise idea to go with two assist hooks for your jigs and leave the treble hooks at home. That is, unless money is no issue and you like to practice tying new knots (only joking).

Now you’re ready! Cruise out to the first hole and watch your sounder. If I don’t see any marks, I don’t even drop the lines. I move on to the next hole and so on, until I find the mother load of bass. I define “the mother load of bass” as paydirt, aka haystacks, aka a full sounder (where you start fishing). Your sounder is your indicator that you have found them.

Drop down the double rigs and start loading up. Check the regulations for your area to confirm the bag and size limits.

You should work the water column in the depth where the bass are marking. Sometimes, you only have to drop down 10 to 20-feet to be in the zone. They are voracious and will have no problem blasting your jig, swimbait, or shrimp fly.

Seabass are not the only predator that inhabits these types of waters. That’s right, the King of the Coast, Mr. Lingcod roams the zone with ill intentions. Lingcod are also quick to snatch up your swimbait, but they are also quick to latch onto your seabass.

If you feel like your seabass put on a few pounds, reel very slowly as it is most likely a lingcod that has taken advantage of the seabass’s situation. When you bring up the lingcod, do not let his head break the surface of the water and slide a net underneath him. He won’t let go of the bass until they’re both in the net, in your boat!

Inshore Seabass Rockfish

Seabass fishing off of the Pacific Northwest Coast is a great venue for getting kids into fishing. It’s also a great fishery for alternate methods that include fly fishing.

Pick your tides, watch the weather, and then make it happen! With the right plan, it can be non-stop action for some of the tastiest morsels in the sea.


Capt. Tommy Donlin, the BD Outdoors Pro Staff representative for the Pacific Northwest, has more than 20 years of experience fishing the waters from Sitka, Alaska, to Clarion Island off the coast of Mexico. He chases everything that swims off the Washington coast, including tuna, salmon, lingcod, ha...