HuntnFish has spent many years on the water fishing and has caught nearly every species of fish in Washington State.
Rockfish is one of my favorite fisheries. One of the most exciting things about rockfish fishing is the number of different species of fish you might hook into. Here in the Pacific Northwest, there are at least a dozen different species of rockfish, along with lingcod, cabezon, greenling, and a variety of other bottom-dwelling species. The suspense of seeing what's on the end of your line adds to the thrill of catching these hard-hitting fish.
With the right presentation, rockfish are very aggressive biters. While I've caught rockfish on a wide assortment of lures, a small selection always seems to account for the majority of my catch. I encourage you to give these four top-performing rockfish lures a try, including one secret local favorite.
Fishing Gear for Rockfish
Rockfish gear is pretty straightforward: think of it as saltwater bass fishing gear. Just a heads-up, I'll be picking gear a little on the heavy side, as I'd rather be slightly over-geared for rockfish than under-geared for bigger species (like lingcod, or even halibut).
Here's what you'll need:
- Rod (boat): If you'll be fishing from a boat (or kayak), go with a rod between 6' and 8', 10- to 30-lb test rated, medium to medium-heavy, baitcasting jigging rod.
- Rod (shore): If you're lucky enough to have a pier or breakwater nearby, this can be an excellent opportunity for a shorebound angler. Go with a rod between 7' and 9', 10 to 20 lb test rated, with a fast action. A baitcasting set-up might have a bit of an edge here, but plenty of people use spinning rods as well (including me sometimes).
- Reel (boat): Medium-capacity, saltwater rated, baitcasting reel. A low-profile baitcasting reel can work here as well depending on how deep you will be fishing. Example: Shimano Tekota 500.
- Reel (shore, baitcasting): A low-profile reel will get you the best combination of casting control, casting distance, and drag control. Example: Abu Garcia Revo MGX
- Reel (shore, spinning): A 4000-series saltwater rated reel will be the ticket here. Example: Penn Battle II 4000.
- Line: Two options here, mono or braid. While braid has the distinct advantage of increased sensitivity, I generally stick to monofilament for most shallow water rockfish fishing. I personally wouldn't consider braid unless you were fishing will below 100' for larger fish. For mono, 15lb if you're casting, 25lb if jigging. For braid, a 40lb test will be a good compromise between both jigging and casting. Examples: Mono- P-Line Cxx, Braid- Power Pro
- Leader: If you like, you can always upgrade to a fluorocarbon leader, 2' to 3' or so of 25lb test, but I've never noticed a big difference.
- Lures: Another great thing about rockfish is the simplicity of the rigging. No floats, swivels, or weights to worry about, just a great lure tied directly onto the end of the line. The best lure on any given day changes based on current, available baitfish, water clarity, weather, and light conditions, so I list these in no particular order. I can assure you though, with a box full of these four lures, one will get the job done.
4. Luhr Jenson Crippled Herring
With hundreds of different jigging spoons to choose from, Luhr Jenson's Crippled Herring rises to the top of the list. Whether it's the distinct shape and flutter, strike-inducing three-dimensional eyes, or ultra-bright chrome finishes, these spoons simply seem to out-fish all the others.
- Rigging: Just tie it to the end of your line. Simple. In general, do not add bait to jigging spoons, as it will adversely affect their action. Feel free to add as much scent as you like.
- Technique: Either cast or vertically jig. Raise the rod tip three feet, drop the rod tip, and reel in some slack. Rockfish will almost always hit on the drop.
- Colors and Sizes: My favorites are white and chrome/blue. Choose the weight based on current conditions and target depth. You will need a heavier spoon in stronger currents.
Swimbaits are one of the most versatile rockfish lures. They have a wide range of rigging options, allowing you to change the presentation to match the conditions. Also, swimbaits seem to get the hardest hits. Hang on.
- Rigging: Lots of choices here. The simplest rig is to thread the swimbait onto a jig head as you would a curly tail grub or other soft plastic. This will reduce the action of the swimbait to a degree but will hook up more often if the rockfish are short-striking the bait. For better action, hook the swimbait just through the "nose" with a jig head, leaving most of the swimbait free to flex and bend. This will allow the swimbait to move more freely in the water. For the most lively presentation, try a slightly more complicated drop-shot rig.
- Technique: With swimbaits, a quick, erratic presentation seems to work best. Let the swimbait sink to the desired depth, then retrieve with a series of quick random jerks with the rod tip. Additionally, occasionally stop retrieving and allow the swimbait to sink. Just like with spoons, rockfish will often hit a swimbait on a drop.
- Color and Sizes: When choosing swimbaits for rockfish, white is overwhelmingly the leading color. The second choice would be chartreuse. Size-wise, 2' to 3" patterns seem to work best.
2. Lancer Jigs
Unless you do a lot of bottom fishing in the Pacific Northwest, you've probably never heard of Lancer Jigs. I certainly hadn't until I happened to run into the lure's designer while fishing on the Washington coast. He was kind enough to give me a few lures. I had caught a couple fish that day and decided to give it a shot. First cast, cabezon. Second cast, rockfish. The lures are pretty simple but designed with excellent attention to detail. Frankly, I couldn't tell you exactly why they work so well, they just do. I've also found their slim profile to be less snaggy in rocky bottoms. They have caught many fish for me, and are a common sight in the tackle boxes of the top contenders at the annual Oregon Rockfish Classic. "Handcrafted in the Pacific Northwest by a Real Fisherman." Doesn't get better than that. You can buy them directly from their website. http://www.lancerjigs.com/
- Rigging: Nothing fancy here, just tie it on. Feel free to try a small piece of bait on these, but keep it slim, too much and it will affect the action, something like a cut strip of squid could work great. If not, use scent.
- Technique: Lancer jigs fish equally well as swimbaits or jigs. When vertically jigged they spiral and dart on the drop, triggering rockfish to strike. Alternatively, they can be retrieved effectively as a jerkbait, using a 'twitch, twitch, pause' cadence. Either way, they really drive fish nuts.
- Color and Size: They only have three colors to choose from, and they all seem to work, however, the Silver and Black and Purple Nightmare seem to have a bit of an edge. I've caught more cabezon on the Purple Nightmare than any other lure. Couldn't tell you why. 1-oz and 2-oz sizes are great for rockfish, but they make a 4-oz too which is great for lingcod.
1. Berkley Gulp 6" Saltwater Grub
Berkley Gulp bait is amazing stuff. It is hands down the best single product combination of scent and action. You get all the fish-attracting benefits of real bait, along with the action and vibration of traditional soft plastic. Other companies offer similar products, but Berkley Gulp is the best. The scent is actually part of the molded soft "plastic," so there's no need to apply or reapply the scent. Gulp baits will keep releasing scent as long as it's in the water. When action alone isn't enough to entice a strike with other lures, Gulp gets the job done. For rockfish, I love the 6" Saltwater Grub. Lingcod love them too, just check my profile picture.
- Rigging: Thread it onto a leadhead jig. The 6" model fits well on jigs from 1 - 4 oz.
- Technique: I actually prefer a more subtle presentation with these. Due to the scent, you will often get more bait-like strikes than aggressive lure strikes. When vertically jigging, I will slowly lift and lower (rather than drop) the rod tip, allowing the curly tail to swim up and down. When casting from the shore, I've caught many fish using just a constant retrieve, as if I was fishing an in-line spinner or crankbait. My favorite though is fishing these from my kayak. I just drop the Gulp Grub to the bottom, crank up 5 feet to avoid snags, put the rod in the rod holder, and just drift with the current over fish holding structure. The scent of the bait and the very subtle jigging of the boat moving in the waves is more than enough to get fish to strike.
- Size and Color: My all-time favorite is the New Penny color. Sometimes it's all I take when I go rockfish fishing.