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Finding New Rockfish Spots

From November 1, 2012, through the end of December, the deepest California anglers will be allowed to fish for rockfish is 300 feet. This change was made to protect stocks of cowcod, and it may change back to 360 feet when the season reopens next year, but we’ll have to wait and see what the “experts” say about that. (For more information on the changes, read New Calif. Rockfish Regulations.)

There’s been a lot of chatter on the message boards regarding these restrictions and the overall mood seems to be one of gloom and doom. I can certainly understand people feeling this way and I’d be lying if I told you I didn’t feel the same way when I first heard about them.

But after giving it some thought, I realized that loosing some of my deeper spots didn’t mean that I couldn’t fish rockfish anymore — it just meant that I needed to get off my butt and find some shallower spots to fish.

With that in mind, my fishing partner Matt Kotch and I took our boat on a prospecting trip over the weekend. Our game plan was to launch out of Alamitos Bay in Long Beach, California, pick up some live squid from the bait receiver and then spend the day looking for shallow-water rockfish spots along the coast.

If you’ve ever spent any time looking for rockfish spots you know that they can be tough to find. The odds of stumbling upon a productive rockfish spot by randomly driving around the ocean are probably about the same as winning the lottery. So before heading out I devised a strategy that would narrow down our search area and hopefully increase our odds of success.

The first order of business was to decide on a depth range to fish. Matt and I have been fishing rockfish with our saltwater bass rods for the last couple of years and it’s a blast, but the reels don’t hold enough line to fish the deep stuff effectively so I decided to target areas in the 125- to 200-foot depth range.

Once I’d decided on a depth to fish, I further narrowed my search by choosing to focus on the areas surrounding two different spots where I’d had good fishing in the past. These spots were in different depths and several miles apart, so I figured that if I struck out in one area, the other could potentially produce different results.

It’s important to note the thought process that went into my choice of areas to search. There are several types of deep-water structure along the Southern California coast that hold rockfish including rocks, reefs, banks, wrecks, canyon edges and hard-bottom areas. Some of these are stand-alone spots like a wreck, reef or rock, while other spots are associated with a large geological structure such as a bank, a canyon edge or a hard-bottom area.

When you’re looking for new spots, it doesn’t make sense to search the area around a wreck or small reef as the chances of finding any other structure around it are pretty slim. But searching the area around a spot on a bank or along a canyon edge can be very productive as there are likely to be more areas associated with the geological structure.

For this trip, I chose to target areas where I’d metered hard bottom around the spots when I’d fished them previously. Having hard bottom associated with these spots indicated that these were not stand alone areas but more likely parts of a larger geological structure and therefore worth the effort to explore more thoroughly.

After launching the boat and picking up bait I headed to my first area and started by fishing a waypoint I already had in the GPS. The fish were biting and we caught a couple of nice brown rockfish before heading off to look for other areas. I did this not only to got the skunk off the boat but to give myself the confidence that if I found any other spots holding fish in the area they’d probably be biting as well.

The next step was to determine my search pattern. I have a Humminbird 1198c si on the boat and the side-imaging feature allows me to determine the direction that the hard bottom is running away from the location that I fished. In this case it was running parallel to the coast, so I headed west and zigzagged along until I ran over another rock. We made a drift over the spot for no bites, but I saved it in the GPS anyway so I can check it the next time I’m in the area.

The hard bottom that I’d been following petered out just past that rock, so I went back to the first rock and this time followed it to the east. I didn’t find another rock, but I did meter some scattered fish that looked very similar to the way the reds had marked on the trip I wrote about in an earlier story called Finding Reds at the 150 , so I stopped the boat and we made a drift on them.

The reds that I’d hoped for ended up being sheephead in the 6- to 10-pound range and after catching a few of them, I marked the spot in the GPS and kept looking. If I did not recognize the similarity in the way the marks looked on the meter, I would have just kept driving because they weren’t marking like rockfish. I can’t stress enough how important it is to not only pay attention to what you see when you’re fishing but to remember it so that you can call upon that information to establish patterns in the future.

The hard bottom seemed to end once I drove away from the rock, but by making a large circle around the spot I was able to pick up the hard bottom again as it had just veered off at an angle. After getting back on top of it I was able to find another rock that produced a nice lingcod and several big brown rockfish.

Looking back, it seems like we got pretty lucky that day by finding two productive new spots within a couple hours of searching. But I’ve heard it said that luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity, so with a little prep work and a solid strategy finding new rockfish spots isn’t as hard as it seems.

Join me next week when I’ll be sharing some tips on how to increase the quality and quantity of the rockfish you catch on your next trip.

Finding New Rockfish Spots

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Erik Landesfeind is BD's Southern California Editor and has over 30 years of experience saltwater fishing for a range of species in both California and Mexican waters. Erik is also an active freelance writer and the author of the weekly column So Cal Scene, which BD publishes every Friday. In So Cal Scene, Erik keeps all of the BD readers up to date on what's biting in Southern California. Erik divides his fishing time on local boats, long-range trips and Mexico excursions. For the past eight years, Erik has been competing in the SWBA (Saltwater Bass Anglers) tournament series and has multiple tournament victories to his credit. His sponsors include Batson Enterprises / Rainshadow Rods, Robalo Boats, Tilly's Marine, Abu/Garcia, Penn Reels, Navionics, Raymarine, MC Swimbaits, Uni-Butter Fishing Scent and Bladerunner Tackle.