Rockfish are caught in the Pacific ocean and are found in large numbers from southern California to northern Alaska. Personally, I have fished for rockfish in Alaska on bottom fishing trips when running charter boats. There are 130 different species of rockfish. Rockfish are frequently caught when fishing for halibut, ling cod, and salmon.
In Alaska, they are lumped into two categories, pelagic and non-pelagic rockfish. Common Pelagic rockfish are dusky rockfish and black rockfish. Pelagic rockfish are often caught in water ranging from 40-200 feet deep and swim in large schools around rock-piles and reef structures.
Non-pelagic rockfish are typically found in deep water from 100-600 feet deep near bottom structure. These fish are less common and include the quillback rockfish and yelloweye rockfish. Most pelagic rockfish that get caught are 7-30 years old compared to non-pelagic rockfish that are typically 15-75 years old but can live to be over 150 years old.
Rockfish are relatively easy to target and are a great eating fish. It is important to locate rock fish with a fish finder before dropping baits. This is especially true when anchoring in one spot. If you are drifting you can locate fish while you drift. Depending on the current rockfish will move around rock piles and humps. Fish can be piled up on the hump, down-current, up current or on a certain depth on a ledge. It is important to move around initially and find the fish! In strong currents 1-2 pounds of weight is needed to get the bait near the bottom where the fish are typically located. This can make feeling the bite and setting the hook difficult. Using small circle hooks and less weight when possible makes fishing for rockfish easier and more fun, especially when fishing with kids! There are specific limits for each type of rockfish so be prepared to use a fish descender or fish shallower water once a limit is reached to ensure that the released fish survive.
Here Are the Best Rockfish Fishing Lures, Baits, and Rigs
1. Mooching Rig for Rockfish
A mooching rig is typically baited with herring. This is a common technique used for salmon fishing but also works the best for rockfish when you are fishing in under 200 feet of water. Rockfish can be caught on almost any structure you find in the water. Typically I look for a shallow peak in about 60 feet of water with deeper water around the peak. While drifting over the peak I look for rockfish on the fish finder on the bottom or suspended above the bottom. This tells me what depth to target the rockfish when mooching. Typically the schools of rockfish are suspended 10 to 40 feet off the bottom. The large non-pelagic rockfish are usually right on the bottom in water deeper than 100 feet. In the video below I show how to hook up the bait and how to mooch.
This is a pre-made 40-pound leader with a 4/0 and a 5/0 hook. The length is about 6-feet. Each hook is tied to the leader with snell knots. The herring is hooked on using the front hook. The hook is placed through the membrane on the bottom jaw of the fish. It then comes around to the other side of the fish and is placed through the center of the head securing it in some meat. The back hook can hang free or be placed in the top of the back behind the dorsal fin. Having the trailing hooks helps with the bite to catch ratio. When you get a bite when mooching you need to reel up any slack quickly.
This red 1 1/2 inch slider is where the lead weight is attached. This slider is placed above the bead swivel on the mainline. Sometimes this slider is black but red is the most common color. A gum pucky can be placed in front of the slider but this is optional. The long side of the slider goes toward the bead side on the rig. The swivel makes it so mooching weights can be quickly put on and off the rig. When traveling from location to location the weight usually stays on the rig and is wrapped around the reel of the fishing pole.
Six Bead Swivel
A six bead swivel is the most common type of swivel used on a mooching rig. Any quality swivel could be used. I have used a ball bearing barrel swivel and it works great as well. The swivel helps minimize the line from getting twisted as the bait spins. The mainline is tied to one end of the swivel and the leader is tied to the other end of the swivel.
Round Ball Sinker Weight
A lead weight of 6 or 8 ounces is used when mooching for rockfish. Banana weights were common for years but most people are using round weights these days. The swivel on the slider rig is placed through the metal ring on the weight. This is a quick way to add and change weights throughout the day. In a current, the 6-ounce weight is best as it is easier to reel up. In a strong current 8-ounces is often needed to reach the bottom.
2. Circle Hook Bottom Rockfish Rig
The best bait to catch large pelagic rockfish is lots of fresh bait on a circle hook. This is how we fish for halibut but sometimes we have to move and do not fish certain areas because we would catch too many rockfish. This rig also lets you fish deep and in strong currents. In the video below I show exactly how to make this rig. Typical bait includes herring, pollock, pink salmon, squid, and octopus. When targeting rockfish you want the bait to be very close to the bottom. If you are targeting halibut and lingcod the bait should be about 15-feet off the bottom which should reduce the number of rockfish that will be caught. Rockfish show up good on the fish finder right on the bottom. If the bottom is varying in-depth and not flat chances are there will be rockfish in that spot.
A size 14 hook is perfect for rockfish. Typically I use a size 16 hook because I am mostly halibut fishing and then also catch rockfish. I tie a perfection loop and put the loop through the eye of the hook. This makes the hook tip role into the fish’s lip. I explain and show how to make the rig in the video below. These hooks do not rust and stay pretty sharp. If you use the same hook for a month straight I would recommend sharpening the hook.
Round Lead Cannonball Weight
This weight comes in sizes from 1 ounce to 4 pounds. These round weights work perfectly for bottom fishing. I typically use a two-pound weight. A one-pound weight typically works in under 200 feet of water. If there is a really strong current a three-pound weight is needed to keep the rig on the bottom.
Green Braided Twine Leader
Size 21 braided nylon twine works great for making leaders. This is often referred to as ganyen line. This spool comes with 915 feet of rope. In the video, I show to tie the knots with this twine. The exact line I was using was in the video was Ashaway tuna leader, green in color. This line had a solid braided nylon core with a line strength of 150 pounds. This comes in 1 pound spools for around $50.
A size 8/0 barrel swivel works for two of the swivels of this custom bottom rig. Any large barrel swivel would work. One of these swivels is tied between the mainline and the twine. The other swivel is tied to the monofilament line and is attached to the snap swivel on the end of the twine. This makes it so the bait can be quickly changed out. Typically I have several of the bottom leader hooks baited up and ready to replace the old bait when a fish is caught or the bait is checked.
Size 8/0 snap swivels are used to attach the lead weights and to attach the bottom leader to the twine. Any large snap swivels would work for this. Always make sure the swivels are closed before dropping the bait.
Heavy Monofilament Leader Line
A clear 100-pound leader line is used for the bottom leader. Rockfish and halibut are not leader shy and many people including commercial fishermen just tie the hook directly ganyen or twine. I like to have a clear leader. I have had the 100-pound line break a few times when leadering large halibut that I was trying to release.
In the video above I show how to tie the best bottom rigs for big rockfish and halibut.
3. Chicken Rig for Rockfish
The most common way to bottom fish all over the world is to use a chicken rig. This rig has a weight on the bottom and two hooks that are tied about two feet apart using dropper loop knots. The mainline is attached to the rig with a barrel swivel. The weight on the bottom can be tied to or wrapped around a perfection loot knot. In the video below I show how to tie these knots. The hooks are baited with dead or live bait depending on what is available.
Rockfish typically eat herring, sand lace, other rockfish, and crustaceans. Cut herring is a great bait to use for all types of rockfish. If the baitfish in the area are sardines, anchovy or smelt that would be a good option as well. Cut the bait into one or two-inch pieces and put a chunk on each hook. If you are targeting bigger fish put the whole baitfish on the hook. Rockfish typically bite as soon as the bait is on the bottom. So be ready to set the hook and check the bait after you get a bite, especially if you do not get a bite for a while.
Cirlce Hook for Bottom Rig
A circle hook works good because it is hard to feel the bite of small rockfish and properly set the hook because of the large weights typically needed. With circle hooks, the fisherman does not need to set the hook. Size 5/0 is good for small rockfish and 8/0 is good for large rockfish.
Seguar Fluorocarbon Leader Line
50-pound Seguar leader line for the leader material. In reality, expensive fluorocarbon is not needed for rockfish. Any 50-pound fishing line that is available will work. If you are just going to catch rockfish even a 20-pound line would work. Eventually, a big fish will bite though so I like using 50-pound lime for bottom rigs.
AFW mighty crane swivels 310-pound strength. One of these swivels is used to tie time the mainline to the leader line.
Bottom Rig Weight
For chicken rigs, one ounce to one pound weights are typically used. It depends on the depth of water and the strength of the current. If the current is really strong a 2-pound weight might be needed. If the rockfish are small it might be hard to feel a bite with a two-pound weight on the line.
In the video above I show how to tie the best dropper loop for chicken rigs.
The mega bite jig is 9-inches in length and weighs 14-ounces. This large jig is good for big non-pelagic rockfish. I would recommend trying a teaser hook about 18 inches above the jig. This is done by tying a dropper loop in the line and sliding the loop through the eye of the hook. I show how to do this in the video below. A piece of cut bait should be added to the teaser hook. This adds scent and will probably catch more fish than the jig itself.
Jigs are good to have in the water because the jigging motion attracts fish and keeps them hanging around the other lines as well. These jigs are a bit large of small rockfish but defiantly catch large fish. If you do not need large weights to fight the current a jig with a teaser would be my number one rockfish rig.
5. Mega Bite Max Rockfish Swim Jig
These swim jigs are 6 ounces and 8 inches in length. These come in 9 different color patterns. Four of the color patterns are glow in the dark which helps attract fish in deep water. The two hooks on then bait help the bite to catch ratio. These jigs are perfect for catching rockfish in under 100 feet of water. They look similar to herring a common fish for rockfish to eat. A teaser hook can also be tied above these jigs. Pieces of cut bait such as squid can be placed on the hooks to add scent to the jig.
6. Squirrely Shirely White Jig
Gibbs Delta 8 ounce jig with a white lead head and white tail. This is a very popular jig for bottom fishing. This works well to catch rockfish, halibut, and lingcod. Again I would recommend placing a teaser hook with bait about 18-inches above the jig. This jig has a sleek profile and sinks quickly.
7. Hoochie Squid Skirts for Rockfish
This gold star Mother of Pearl Twinkle Skirt is a must-have beneath all hoochies. Alone is looks like a fly or a sand lace. When added to a hoochie it gives thickness and flash to the bait. The plastic dome at the front also spaces the hoochie further forward on the hook. Otherwise, beads are needed for spacing. I put this on a mooching leader with two snelled hooks. This could also be placed on a single open eye hook using a barrel swivel and bead for spacing.
Goldstar Hoochie For Rockfish
Goldstar green glow hoochie skirts. These 4 1/4 inch squid baits work great to catch both rockfish and salmon. These can be placed on a mooching rig or on the dropper loops on the chicken rig. Rockfish are pretty aggressive and will bait most baits. The advantage of a hoochie over cut bait is that it will not come off the hook. When using live bait after 10 seconds on the bottom you normally catch a fish or have the bait stolen. Having bait and hoochie makes it so you still have bait in the water.
Rockfish Release Devices
Rockfish have a swim bladder that does not vent. When reeling fish up from depth rockfish suffer from barotrauma. This when the swim bladder expands even the eyes of the fish can pop out of their sockets due to the pressure change. The fish is going to die unless it is brought back to depth with a fish descender. There are mand fish descender devices. The state of Alaska requires that all rockfish caught at depth are released with a rockfish release device. People are also encouraged to practice fishing techniques to reduce the number of unwanted rockfish to be caught. This can be done by fishing for other species first. Also when fishing for halibut and lingcod keep the bait 10-15 feet off the bottom. It has been shown that less rockfish will be caught and will not affect the catch rates of halibut or lingcod.
Seaqualizer Fish Descender
Fish descender. It works by attaching the fish to the clip, adding a weight and tying the other end to a fishing pole. The fish is sent back to depth and when the line is pulled up on the fish releases. This is the best way to release fish that are caught in deep water. If the rockfish is large the seaqualizer will need to be clipped to a downrigger weight and descended using the downrigger.
In the video above I show the many different types of rockfish release devices.
Simple Fish Descender
This simple fish descender works well for releasing small rockfish with a one-pound weight. If the rockfish are two large even three-pound weight will not get them to sink. This is when the seaqualizer needs to be hooked to the downrigger to descend the rockfish.
Fish Vent Tool
Fish vent tool or needle. Do not use a fish vent tool. It is illegal in the state of Alaska. This works by placing the needle under a scale of the fish to release or vent the air from the swim bladder. The fish should then be able to swim back to depth. Studies have shown that the survival rate is much higher if a fish descender is used to bring the fish back to depth without puncturing the fish a needle. The main problem with venting a fish is the injury might not heal and the fish will die. Often time the puncture area becomes infected.
Types of Rockfish
Yelloweye rockfish are a common type of rockfish to catch and get up to 3 feet long which is about 40 pounds. Female yelloweye rockfish have over two million egges and give live birth. This fish is sometimes called an Pacific red snapper.
Quillback rockfish are common non-pelagic rockfish to catch and get up to 2 feet long. It has shark venomous quills on its dorsal fin and also gives live birth.
Dusky rockfish are a very common fish to catch and get up to 20 inches long which is about 10 pounds. Female dusky rockfish have over 100,000 eggs and give live birth.
Food Quality of Rockfish
Rockfish is one of the best-eating fish in the north pacific. Similar to grouper it is often sold in restaurants. Rockfish do not have a high fillet weight to total fish weight. For comparison halibut get 65 percent yield, salmon get a 76 percent yield and rockfish get a 49 percent yield. This is comparing the weight of the fish gutted to the filet weight with the skin on. These rated do vary based on the size of the fish. Black rockfish get the highest yield percentage at 56 percent. Recreational anglers can keep three of these per day in Alaska and are often targeted with salmon or halibut fishing is slow. Nonpelagic rockfish have a much lower quota, for example, only one yelloweye rockfish can be caught per angler per year. This is because these fish have a slow growth rate and long life.
Thanks for visiting Global Fishing Reports. I hope these suggestions help you catch more rockfish!
If you have any suggestions for top rockfish lures and baits, leave a comment below!
Captain Cody has worked on charter fishing boats in the Florida Keys, Virgin Islands and Alaska. Cody grew up in Pennsylvania and has also done extensive freshwater fishing including bass fishing tournaments. Cody strives to provide detailed information about the best fishing gear and tactics to help both novice and experienced anglers have a more productive and enjoyable time on the water. Cody also has a background in aerospace engineering and neuroscience but really only takes pride in being good at one thing and that is fishing!