Fishing Tips and Techniques for California Rockfish and Groundfish

bocaccio salmon grouper

The epic summer and fall fishing days in Southern California have come and gone. The holidays are approaching which often coincide with cooler weather and sluggish offshore fishing for SoCal anglers.  Fortunately, there are still great fishing options this time of year which includes our excellent rockfish fishery. There are numerous different species of rockfish in Southern California that come in various sizes and colors. Some of the most common catches in our waters include Vermillion Rockfish “Red Snapper”, Boccacio “Salmon Grouper”, Olive Rockfish, Starry Rockfish, and Flag Rockfish to name a few. Aside from the various types of rockfish to target there is also a possibility of hooking into Lingcod, California Sheepshead, Ocean Whitefish, or California Scorpionfish “Sculpin”. Rockfish inhabit the deep-water structure along our coastline and outer islands. While the outer islands provide larger size models of rockfish, it is feasible to fish along the coast for a few hours and load up these excellent table fare fish.  

Rockfish Setups  

With the constant advancements in the fishing tackle industry, the old days of using heavy reels and stout rods for rockfish are long gone. Lighter tackle is preferred by anglers which entail a medium action rod in the 7 to 8 feet range paired with a medium sized conventional reel. My personal preferred setups for rockfish include an Avet MXL loaded with 50-pound braid and a mono or fluorocarbon top shot (anywhere between 20- and 40-pound test) paired with a Seeker 6470. This combo is mainly used to fish a dropper loop with cut squid or live sardine. My other go to setup consists of a Shimano Tranx 400HG loaded with 50-pound braid paired with a Cousins GC80H and is utilized mainly for jigs. Although, any old conventional rod and reel or spinner setup will work just fine for bottom fishing.   

rockfish fishing setups

Double Dropper Loop for Rockfish 

One of the most common and heavily utilized rigs for fishing rockfish, especially on party boats, is the dropper loop. The dropper loop is a simple rig to tie and yet very effective for fishing live or dead bait near the bottom. A double dropper loop rig is my go-to for fishing live or dead bait for rockfish. Having the ability to tie on two hooks and fish with two baits on the double dropper loop is a great way to increase catch rate. To create the double dropper loop rig, simply tie a barrel swivel to the top of the leader using your preferred knot. The barrel swivel will be tied onto your main line. Coming down the leader, create a loop and tie a double surgeon’s knot; this loop created is where you will either tie your hook on or loop the line around the eye of the hook (either method works). Repeat this process again for the second hook. Then create another loop with a double surgeon’s knot to loop on desired weight size depending on depth and current. When tying this rig ensure that you have at least 24 inches between hooks and 12 inches from the bottom hook to the weight.  

how to double dropper loop

Jigging for Rockfish 

My favored method to target rockfish and other bottom fish is jigging. Jigs such as a Colt Sniper, Tady 4/0, or Diamond jig are great for dropping down for rockfish. Any jig with enough weight to get to the bottom quick and has some flash will work perfect. Once the jig reaches the bottom, give it a few cranks off the bottom and then drop it back down again. Repeat this process until you are hooked up. I also like to add a strip of squid or two pinned to the treble hook of the jig for added scent.    

rockfish fishing jigs
Left to Right: Colt Sniper, Tady 4/0, Diamond Jig

Rockfish Spots 

sculpin fishing groundfish

Rockfish spots are all along our coast and out along the islands. Any hard bottom spot in 200 to 350 feet of water will most likely hold fish. While many of the popular larger hard bottom spots in Southern California will produce consistent and quality fish, there are numerous smaller rockpiles right off the coast which can be great for private boaters as these spots receive less pressure. Paying close attention to the sonar while zig zagging around in depths ranging from 200 to 350 feet of water you can locate these smaller rockpiles which can produce good grade fish. With some effort and time on the water you’ll have a few go-to spots that can produce consistent hauls of rockfish year-round. Ensure that you understand the current depth rules, species regulations, rockfish seasons and closures at wildlife.ca.gov before heading out on your next trip.  

Preparing Rockfish    

Once you’ve loaded up on these bottom dwellers it’s time to enjoy the catch with friends and family. There are endless ways to prepare the mild tasting white fillets of rockfish and is a great way to introduce kids and new anglers to enjoy their catch. My personal favorite ways to prepare rockfish are beer-battered rockfish tacos with all the fixings as well as ceviche style.  

rockfish tacos
rockfish ceviche

Bottom fishing for rockfish may not be the most glamourous or exhilarating type of fishing but it is a great option for anglers who may not want to run offshore but still bring home fillets for the dinner table. You never know what type of rockfish or bottom fish you might pull up making this style of fishing great for both new and experienced anglers. Make sure you try some of these tips and tricks next time you are targeting rockfish and most importantly, enjoy the time on the water learning new methods to bring home the catch of the day.  

Kevin White grew up in Southern California and became an avid angler fishing both freshwater and saltwater. His passion for fishing stems from a young age fishing for Northern Pike and Largemouth Bass in Upper Michigan with his father and grandfather. When he is not working as an engineer for one of...