Best Bait for Rockfish – How to Catch Rockfish

Geoff Stadnyk in Baits & Lures on

The Best Bait for Rockfish – What you Want to Drop Down

rockfishA sport fishing boat runs a few circles over a mostly sandy bottom. The Captain knows a structure of rock is nearby, and takes a couple minutes to pin point it on his sonar. When he sees it, he pulls up past it in a practiced motion. Well aware that the wind and current will pull the boat (see also how to not get seasick on a boat) back to the rock pile when he drops his anchor, the Captain also leaves enough room for the 30 excited anglers on board to drop their lines down, and back on top of it. Fishing the productive grounds of Mexican waters 100 miles south of the border of California, these boats absolutely kill it. They’re equipped with live bait tanks, and saltwater brine freezer systems.

Though most saltwater anglers would prefer to chase larger game species, rock fishing is a lively alternative when targeted species don’t bite. They can be fished in the off season when game fish have departed the area, or just for a relaxing day on the water. Most of these species are prime eating. Fish Tacos for everyone! Whatever the reason you decide to go after these fish, knowing the best bait for rockfish before you leave will certainly aid you in your catch.

Where Can Rockfish be Found?

canary-rockfishThough the name makes it pretty obvious where these fish like to live, there are certainly other locations you’ll find them besides rocks. The simple rule is that any kind of structure has the possibility of holding rockfish. Sunken ships, man made barriers, underwater pipelines, or any large object can provide the cover that rockfish desire. The sonar comes in real handy when it comes to rock fishing. So does knowledge of different structure locations in the area you plan to fish.

Yellow-Eye-RockfishRockfish are most often thought of as saltwater fish, though don’t tell that to a freshwater striped bass fisherman. Striped bass, or Striper as they are known often get the label of freshwater rockfish. Striper are also found in the oceans and seas. Saltwater rockfish cover a vast amount of ocean fish species, and identification adds another aspect to your fishing experience. If anyone asks you how a tree fish got its name, don’t fall for it!

Rockfish can be found in almost every saltwater body on the planet, though the change in species will vary widely in different locations. Cold waters of the Northern Hemisphere are known for their immense microscopic food supply, which results in huge rockfish closer to the top of the food chain. Smaller plankton organisms source the food chain closer to the equator, and lead to smaller rockfish in general (though monsters still exist). Rockfish are often quarantined during certain months of the year, and some species are completely off limits. It’s a good idea to know the local regulations concerning rockfish.

2 Effective Setups for Rock Fishing

One of the keys to rock fishing that I’ve learned over the years is realizing that rockfish will quite literally try to rock you. They hide in those rocks, and often find holes that they can duck into for cover. You can be sure if you hook one, that it’s going to run straight for that hole. If it gets there, your chances of pulling it out are slim to none. For this reason, a lot of rock fishing is done with the best-braided line.

Braided Fishing Line

To avoid losing your hooked rockfish, use a braided fishing line.

KastKing SuperPower Braided Fishing Line

This best-selling braided line will help you tie a more secure knot for your effective rock fishing setups.

Reaction Tackle Braided Fishing Line

This braided line is made to be extremely robust and survives the harshest situations in catching rockfish.

Piscifun Onyx Braided Fishing Line

This braided fishing line has high abrasion resistance to avoid rock fish coming off.

Recommended Braided Fishing Line

The fabric like material that is used in braided line has virtually no give. You’ll feel every nibble, cause the line won’t stretch at all. I personally have never minded the stretch of mono lines, though I’ve learned to reel and lift with my rod tip when I set the hook on deep biting fish.

There are so many different setups and rigs that can be used to rockfish. Access another guide to rock fishing at I’m going to tell you about the two that I’ve most often used on the many rock fishing trips I’ve fished, and worked. We’ll go over how I tie them up (they’re very similar), and how I fish them. Ready? Let’s go.

Dropper or Double Dropper Loop:

dropperloopR11The dropper loop is the setup I used most of my life while rock fishing off the coast of Southern California, and the Northern Pacific side of the Baja Peninsula of Mexico. This setup consists of a torpedo weight at the end of your line. Above the weight (anywhere from 1 – 4 feet) you tie the dropper loop, then attach your hook to the loop. Tie another loop to create the Double Dropper Loop. I’ll use an improved clinch knot to tie on the sinker, and I had to learn the dropper loop knot (which isn’t the easiest at first). The hook is attached to the loop by feeding the loop through the ring of the hook, then over the hook and back down, pulling it tight.

The way I fish this setup is to drop straight down to the bottom until my line goes slack, and I know my weight has landed. Then, I’ll reel my line up 3 or 4 turns so that the weight doesn’t get stuck in hole. This also gives me a little wiggle room to keep those fish from rocking me. I’ll wait until I feel anything more than just a tiny nibble, then I’ll reel up fast 3 or 4 turns as I lift the rod tip. I do it in one quick, fluid motion. Remember I use a monofilament fishing line with that stretch, and the reeling isn’t necessary with braid.

Monofilament Fishing Line

In a double dropper loop setup, selecting the best monofilament fishing line is critical.

Berkley Trilene Big Game Monofilament Fishing Line

For a big rockfish, this monofilament fishing line has a lot of fighting force.

Stren High Impact Monofilament Fishing Line

For all coastal and offshore fishing, this monofilament fishing line is durable.

KastKing World's Premium Monofilament Fishing Line

Anglers may feel confident catching rockfish in any condition and using any technique with this monofilament fishing line.

Recommended Monofilament Fishing Line

If you hook something big, it can often feel like you’re stuck on the bottom. Don’t give up right away. A bigger model will start taking line once he knows he’s hooked. For the average size rockfish, once you have them hooked reel them up slow and even. Any twists in your line will spin out as you retrieve, and if you go too fast you can spin the fish right off the hook.

Using the Surgeon’s Loop:

surgeonsloopR8Not too long ago, I started using the Surgeon’s Loop instead of the Dropper Loop. The Surgeon’s Loop is so much easier to tie, and I feel is just strong (if not stronger) as the Dropper Loop. The setup and technique remain exactly the same here. It’s only the loop knot that changes. You can also double up (or triple, whatever!) on the Surgeon’s Loop.

Some anglers also use super glue on their knots to make the knot stronger and prevents it from unraveling.

What to Put on Your Hook to Offer the Best Bait for Rockfish

Cut bait works very well for rock fish. They go absolutely crazy for it. Pre frozen and cut up squid will often produce bites on every drop. The rewards aren’t always as great as far as the size of your catch with cut bait. If this happens, add that double loop and use a live sardine or anchovy on one hook, and cut bait on the other.

rockfish1Jigs can also produce good size fish. Scampi jigs that look like squid, with a chunk of squid on the hook can be devastating to rock fish. Just drop to the bottom. Reel up 4 – 5 turns, and start using your rod to bounce the jig up and down.

Squid Bait

Artificial squid is an excellent choice for rock fishing.

Rock Cod Squid Rigs

These squid rigs are proved to be effective in catching rockfish.

Recommended Squid Bait

Octopus Bait

Octopus bait is another excellent rock fish bait.

Octopus Swimbait Soft Fishing Lure with Skirt Tail

This reusable and long-lasting octopus bait will undoubtedly attract rock fish.

Recommended Octopus Bait

Jig Bait

One of the most successful baits for getting rockfish is jig bait.

Booyah Boo Jig Bass Fishing Lure with Weed Guard

This jig bait has been successfully used to catch rock fish.

Recommended Jig Bait

Some of the incredible species of rockfish that abound off of Southern California include; Sculpin, Lingcod, Sheepshead, Boccacio, Vermillion rockfish, Tree Fish, Jonny Cod or Bass, White Fish, and the list goes on quite a ways. Rock fishing can also bring up a shark that’s feeding in the area (though teeth will usually cut anything but a steel leader). Big Halibut, and grumpy Sand Bass are also often found just off the edges of good structure. It’s been a pleasure to share what I think is the best bait for rockfish. I certainly hope this information proves useful to you. I assure you that it’s worked very well for me over the years, and over the rock piles.

Geoff Stadnyk

Geoff started fishing as a child in the gorgeous lakes of Mammoth, while on family vacations. His fishing experience includes the use of fly rod and reel. Guided trips along the Madison and Gallatin rivers in Montana, the Frying Pan and Animus in Colorado, and the Deschutes river in Oregon have all paid off and helped make Geoff the angler and writer that he is today.

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