Location: Lake Almanor, CA
|Want to catch rockfish from shore with lures? If so, I've thrown together this dandy little post to help get you started. This is intended to help out the folks that are just starting to dabble their feet in the soft-plastic rockfish world. Seasoned lure anglers won't find any "new" info here--hence, that's why it's called "the basics." What follows is what has worked for me in my shore rockfishing endeavors. Hopefully it works for you as well!
Your Rod, Reel, & Line
Different strokes for different folks. The best outfit for this type of fishing should be the one you're most confident using. But, I'll give a few recommendations. First, stick with an outfit that you'll be comfortable casting for long periods of time. You don't want to tire yourself out just from casting. Second, I've found rods longer than seven feet to be more effective than shorter rods. A longer rod allows you to make longer casts, and can help give your bait a more vertical presentation and reduce the risk of snags. A medium- to heavy-action rod is preferred, since you could be tangling with some large fish such as cabezon or big lingcod. I use a 8.5 foot Ugly Stik Lite spinning outfit, rated for 15-30 pound line. It's basically a heavy river salmon rod.
Your reel can be just about anything, conventional or spinning. Whatever you choose, be sure it can cast relatively light weights, say all the way down to 3/8 of an ounce. My reel is a Quantum Catalyst pTi spinning reel, loaded with 20 pound monofilament. Conventionals provide better line control and sensitivity, but I suck at casting into the wind with them, so I stick with a spinning reel.
As for a line, try to find one that has both high abrasion resistance and castability. I've always been a fan of Berkley Trilene XT and Maxima Ultragreen. I prefer at least 17 to 20 pound test, though my buddy Darrell has landed some hawgs using 12 pound test. If you want to go above 20 pound, mono becomes less manageable for this type of fishing, and you'll want to invest in braided line. Stuff like PowerPro is extremely strong and has zero stretch. The only problem with the braids is their abrasion resistance isn't too hot. To combat this, you can add a topshot or leader of heavy monofilament to the end of your braid, so the mono can suffer rubbing against the rocks instead of your braid.
Hooks: Go for the EWG worm hooks, the ones that bass anglers use for fishing plastics. The Gamakatsu EWG worm hooks in 3/0 to 5/0 sizes are great. I also really like Bass Pro Shop's XPS Superlock hooks, which are only a fraction of the price you'd pay for Gamis.
Weights: For Texas rigging, pick up bullet weights ranging in size from 1/4 to 1oz in weight. My normal go-to weight is 3/8oz, and I'll vary this weight depending on the depth I'm fishing and current speed. Egg sinkers in the same sizes can also work. For dropshotting, you can use pencil lead or Slinkies. Slinkies are pieces of parachute cord that are stuffed with lead BBs. You can vary the weight of both. Pencil lead gives you better bottom contact and sinks faster than Slinkies. Meanwhile, the flexible nature of a Slinky makes it less "grabby" than pencil lead on the rocks. I recommend trying both to see what you're most comfortable with using.
Beads: Any color bead that's about 8mm in diameter will be fine. The bead is placed in between your bullet weight and hook to protect your knot from the weight.
This is the fun part! The consensus among most anglers is that rockfish will eat absolutely anything you throw at them. While this is often true, there are times when the fish will become picky and snub their noses at many offerings. No joke, I've had days where I could actually see black or blue rockfish that would completely ignore my lure until I either changed the size or color of my bait. There are tons of plastic baits on the market, so I recommend trying to keep it simple and have a few different baits with you in light and dark colors. The picture below shows a few of my favorite lures and colors.
From top to bottom: soft-plastic stickbaits, flukes, tube bait, soft plastic crawfish, and curlytail grub (left).
The old adage of "bright colors for bright days, dark colors for dark days" is a good rule of thumb. Keep in mind what you're trying to imitate with these lures. Your typical rocky-shore fish will be munching on what's living in the rocks: small rockfish, greenling, gunnels, and crustaceans. When a school of baitfish shows up, such as anchovies or smelt, then you'll want to "match the hatch" and use a light-colored bait. Some days the fish will hit anything you throw out there, in which case color selection doesn't matter. But, you'll want a variety of baits with you for those days when the fish are less cooperative.
Do they work? If the water clarity's less than 3 feet, I believe adding scent to your bait makes a difference. Adding a scent trail to your plastic allows rockfish to find it more quickly in dingy water. Use whatever you want here, I've had luck with the Smelly Jelly line of Sticky Liquid scents in anchovy, sardine, krill, and 'Halibut Feast' flavors.
Time to Rig Up!
Texas Rig: The Tex Rig is a great all-around setup you can use for several different applications. Start out by sliding on your bullet weight, followed by a bead. Then tie on your hook. In this example I'm using 40 pound fluorescent line so it's easier to see.
Now it's time to rig your plastic bait on the hook so it's weedless. This part's been a little troublesome for my friends, so I'm gonna show it step-by-step here. For this example, I'm using a fluke. Take your hook and pierce it through the nose of the bait, push it through about 1/4 inch, then bring the hook point out of the underside of the nose of the bait. It should look something like this:
Next, slide this bait up the hook until you reach the bend at the top of the hook. When you start pushing the plastic through the bend, turn the bait upside-down:
Holding the plastic, pierce your hook through the bait so it's sticking out the top of the bait. Be sure the bait is straight! If it's curled up or twisted, it'll spin in the water.
The final step involves burying your hookpoint just beneath the skin of your plastic. This gives you a plastic bait that is weedless, yet makes it easier for you to set the hook through the plastic and into a fish. Here's a close-up of the top side of the fluke, with the hook point buried just under the skin of the bait:
The finished product should look something like this:
A rig like this is perfect for hopping along the bottom, and is particularly useful for fishing in holes and caves. If you're targeting the schooling-type rockfishes such as blacks or blues, you can switch out the fluke for a curlytail grub and swim that above the rocks. Remember to set the hook with weedless rigs! Unlike an open-hook jig, you won't hook fish just by reeling. You need to set the hook to bring the hook through the plastic and into the fish's lip.
Drop-shot Rig: This rig is the "hot thing" among freshwater bass anglers. Turns out it works great for other species as well, including rockfish. While the freshwater bass dropshot rig uses a round cannonball-type weight, the rig adapted for rockfishing should use a weight that's less snag-prone, such as pencil lead or Slinkies.
To make a dropshot rig, tie your hook onto your line with a long tag-end of line trailing off it. The tag end can be whatever length you want, from 12 inches to a few feet. You can use whatever knot you like, I prefer either a Palomar or a double clinch. At the tag end, tie on your weight.
Typically I'll just rig up my plastic weedless, but you can also rig it up wacky-style if you prefer. What's nice about the dropshot rig is you can fish a plastic just above the bottom without having to move it much. Be sure to jiggle/shake your rod to make that plastic dance and look alive. This is a great method for fishing slowly in small areas.
A few other tips
- Don't sit in one spot all day! Keep moving around so you can find actively feeding fish. With plastics, you're able to cover lots of water relatively quickly.
- If the water's murky, you'll be better off using real bait instead of lures.
- Jetties that allow you to get close to the water are perfect for plastic rockfishing. Rocky shorelines that allow you access to deeper water are also good.
Before you know it, you'll be hooking into fish in no time:
What cha lookin at my gut fer?