Jigging in Saltwater for Bottom Fish

Here the term “Bottom Fish” will refer basically to rock dwellers like Rockfish (sea bass, or their many cousins), Ling Cod, and it’s cousin the Kelp Greenling, or Cabizon to name a few.   By definition from the regulations by Washington Dept. of Fish & Wildlife, “bottomfish” does not include halibut. apparently as they have their own quota and season

One of your main encounters will be Black Rockfish (Sebastes melanops) which are widely distributed along the Pacific coast from central California to the Gulf of Alaska inhabiting nearshore areas at bottom depths of less than 300 feet.  Adults are schooling and associated with irregular, rocky bottom or underwater structures, though at times may be found actively feeding on the surface.  They are long lived, reaching sexual maturity at about 8 years and can live to be 50.  Females are slightly larger than males as they mature.

A 9 year old male fish will normally have a fork length be 40cm (15.75″) and weigh 1.15 kg  (2.54#), while a female fish the same age will normally be 43cm (17″) weighing 1.37 kg (3.02#)

The 30 year old male fish will normally be 46cm (18.1″) and weight 1.60 kg (3.53#), while a female fish the same age will normally be 50cm ( 19.7″) weighing 2.40 kg (5.3#).  This info was taken from fisheries documentation, however I have caught them 21 1/2″ long and have documented a  21″ Black Rockfish weighing 4 1/2# .

In fishing terms, jigging is a method used to fish whereby you attach a weighted lure in the end of the line, let it down, raise the rod tip slightly or twitch it, let it back down, and repeat again.  Sometimes it is really that simple, but there can be a few other requirements depending on a multitude of factors.


Mixed bag of Black, China, Vermillion & Yellow Tail Rockfish Ling Cod, Cabizon, Black Rockfish & Kelp Greenling, the makings of lots of Fish & Chips for the crew

Be Able to Identify the Species :  Since some of the fishing regulations only allow certain species to be taken in specific areas, you will need to be able to positively identify what you catch.  Do your research and get color reference photos or purchase a few books.  The one I have found to be fairly complete was compiled and published by the University of Alaska under a Alaska Sea Grant, Marine Advisory Bulletin #25 which is in a spiral bound 6″ X 8 1/2″.  The cover and all the pages are waterproofed.  This was revised August 1988.

For a link to WDFW bottomfish photo identification along with where they are found and other information  CLICK HERE.



 Locations May Vary :  We all seem to think that sea bass (rockfish) are basically bottom dwellers that stay close to rocky structure or in kelp beds.  Yes, but not so all the time.  It is this writers opinion that some of these fish prefer a more of a open water environment as you will find schools of them following bait just as salmon do.  I have caught considerable numbers in open water during my early years (40 years ago) as a commercial salmon troller, but they were never on the deep gear.  I have also found them sport-fishing in the Neah Bay area again in 140′ of water, with a few on the bottom while others were near the surface or suspended at 45′.

Usually these upper water rockfish are black rockfish which are larger than their rocky oriented cousins (same species of fish, but possibly some have found if they follow baitfish they can eat more regularly).  If you can locate any of these schools, you can usually pull 2 or 3 in a drift, then you will have to move around looking for them on the surface or on the sonar for another pass.  It is not uncommon to have these run over 21″ long, where their bottom dwelling cousins, a LARGE one may be 17″.

I have also seen them feeding on the top of the water at Cannon Beach OR and at Neah Bay WA.  In the Cannon Beach area, they had driven baitfish into a large cove where all you could see for over a mile was rockfish breaking water, gulping in bait.  This was one experience where I just wish I had a camera.   The Neah Bay sightings were considerably smaller schools of rockfish and as long as you could keep close enough to cast into them without spooking them, you had action.  It works best to back the boat into them, which gives you a fishing platform closest to them.  If you get to close, they will dive down but may not come back up within sight.  In circumstances like these on the surface, it is best to cast spinners to them.

However if you go after the bottom dwellers, you will also pull browns, coppers, vermilions, chinas and other possible subspecies.

Usually a large male sea lion claims this rock just east of the Tattosh slot seen in the background.  Fish can be pulled right around this rock. Jigging for rockfish in protected water off the northeast side of the Tattosh area with a west wing blowing.

Water Depth :  Since rockfish have swim bladders, it is advisable to only fish at depths that you can release the small ones unharmed.  This means that if you fish deeper than about 60′, when you bring them to the surface, this bladder will force the stomach to pop out of their mouth.  Sometimes this depth is not practical as you may be fishing in an area where the bottom may be 40′ at the start of the drift and end up at 150′.  The 60′ depth is not magical number but usually bringing any fish from deeper than that, it is considered a dead fish unless you do something soon to relieve the pressure.  I have even seen their eyes get glazed, pop partially out if from deeper depths like when fishing for halibut at 400′.

It appears that different sub specie of rockfish react differently to being brought up from deeper water.  In waters near the 100′ level, Canary rockfish seem more prone to having their stomachs pop out than other specie.

There are some methods of returning them slowly in a inverted plastic milk box to depths of below 60′ then allow them to acclimatize to that water pressure, then they may swim off.   Another method is to lightly puncture this protruding organ with a needle or fish hook which allows the internal air to escape.

The more scientifically approved method is called “Venting”, in which you use a hypodermic needle to just puncture into the belly cavity right behind one of the pectoral fins at a slight forward angle.   CLICK HERE FOR LINK  Do not push it far enough to puncture the stomach or intestines.  When the needle enters the body cavity, you can see the belly deflate, where you can hear the gases escape.  Once the pressure is released the fish will retract the parts in question and recovery has been proven very effective.

The above is explained as:  Spiny finned fish have closed swim bladders that help produce sound and maintain buoyancy plus they hold nitrogen, oxygen plus carbon  dioxide.   When these fish are reeled up from the deep, the gas molecules expand, possibly rupturing the bladder.  The escaping gases then fill the body cavity, forcing the eyes to bulge and the stomach to protrude out the mouth.  If the gases are not released (or vented), the fish can’t submerge, which makes it an easy target for predators.

There is another method that uses a “Sheldon Fish Descender”.  This is a elongated wire with a long “S” shaped one side, a swivel on top, an eye on the bottom of the plain wire that goes to a weight.  In use you insert the sharp S configuration thru a thin membrane of the fish’s mouth, attach a weight and then the swivel to a reel.  Let the line out to where the fish is below the magic 60′ point, wait until he becomes more active, starts wiggling, jerk the line so the descender becomes unhooked and the fish swims off.

As sportsmen we can not condone ANYONE to continue to kill fish, while continuing to fish, just for the sport of it.  These fish that are just thrown over the side are prime targets for seagulls or seals.  With the bladder extended, they can not dive under the water, as it is like a person with a life vest on.  The gulls will first pick out the fish eyes, and next will pick out the bellies.


Mother nature’s design of a  fish eating machine, also known as a
Ling Cod.
A Double on Black Rockfish using leadhead jigs & curly tails

Rod :  Here, like many other types of fishing, the gear is as important every bit as much in this method as salmon trolling or mooching.  Sure you may catch these fish on any rod, but the right combination will up your odds considerably.  If you are boat fishing you do not need a long rod, where a medium rod in the 7’ to 7′ 6″size seems to work pretty well.   Anything longer that this handicaps you when you need to reach out, grasp the leader to be able to lift and bring the catch aboard. 

 One relatively inexpensive 7′ boat rod is Okuma Lead Core Trolling “Classic Pro”  rod that has a recommended line weight of 10-25# with lure weight of 1 1/2 to 3 ounces.  However these recommended lure weights appear to be for casting, not just for letting a weight over the side.  For this type of fishing, I have used 10 ounces effectively on this rod.  This rod is a 2 piece design which can be stowed in a small space but is about the right length to be used on a small boat even with other passengers on board and has a good backbone with a sensitive tip.  I just looked and Okuma has discontinued this rod. Another good rod would be the Shakespeare 7′  “Ugly Stick” that has a line weight of 8-20#.



Too heavy a rod action will hinder your ability to detect a bite if they hit the lure as it is dropping (which happens many times) or if they are not being aggressive that day.  Too light a rod puts a lot of strain on the rod if you have to up go to a 10 or 12 ounce weight.

For the bank bound fisherperson, a longer rod, even up to 10’ will be found to work better for you.   These rods would probably need to be in a medium sensitivity or heavier depending on  where you are fishing & the weight you are casting.

Reel :   There are 2 basic methods of boat fishing for these fish.  One method will normally require considerable casting, with light jigs toward rocks with lighter leadhead jigs of from 3/8 to 1 ounce.  Here a boat would need to be positioned near the rock structure where you would be casting & you retrievinga lot more here than in any other method, you may consider a open faced spinning reel with a retrieve ratio of at least 4 to 1, with upwards to 5 to 1 +, being better.  Since these are normally bottom dwellers, you will need to cast allow the lure to sink possibly to 50′ or so, & then reel in in erratic stop/go motions.

For spinning reels, you will need a reel that can hold about 150 to 200 yards of approximately 15-20# test monofilament line.   The amount of line is not the criteria, but the size of the reel to handle this size of fish is the issue.  If you are boat fishing off deeper underwater rocky reefs where the casting is not an issue, then about any large steelhead or a small salmon star-drag reel will function quite well.

I use a Shimano Sahara 400 open face spinning reel for shallower water, then a Shimano Triton TR100 or TR200G, if I was going deeper with less casting.  On these deeper reels I use 30# Power Pro with 25# or 30# cheap monofilament leaders.  However, in the last 3 years I have tried the line-counter level wind star drag reels which I am very impressed with them in that you can watch the boat’s depthfinder, then your counter, place your jig 2′ above the bottom therefore having less hang-ups.  The Shimano Tekota TEC400LC, Okuma Magda Pro MA 20 DX, and Cabellas Depthaster DM 20 would be good choices.  You do need a reel with a good drag system where the above reels fit this bill quite well.  As you never know when a large Ling Cod may attach your lure and/or the small fish you are reeling in.   And doubles of nice size rockfish are not uncommon and greatly accepted.

Then for those who want lots of action using a trout rod, the problem exists in that your line needs to be a MINIMUM of 20#, because of the possible abatement off surrounding rocks or the fish’s teeth cutting the leader.

One word of advise is that after you use any rod or or reel in saltwater, it is a good idea to wash them off with fresh water, then with soap also before you put them away.  Do not use a hose that has a lot of pressure, but just enough to flush off any salt residue.  Warm soap and water surely will not hurt either.  Then after they are dry loosen the drag which allows the friction drag discs to not become stuck.

A double of nice Black Rockfish using shrimp flies Another double of normal size Black Rockfish taken on jigs

Line :  For the spinning reels, most fishermen still use the monofilament line of about 20# size.  When using the spinning gear you will normally be fishing shallower water and not subject to abrasion on underwater rocks.

For the level wind reels, you may want to fill the spool about half full with 20# mono, then top it off with 125 yards or so of one of the new Spectra braided type lines in from 20# to 30# size.  The size line is not for catching big fish, but to allow for abrasion on the rocks and also for recovering a snagged jig.  This type of fishing is where the spectra type lines really pay off, because it has no stretch, and since it is a very small diameter, allows you to feel the take on the jig, plus reaching the bottom with less weight.  After using it for a day, it may be beneficial to cut off 10′ or so, then retie your swivel and snap to eliminate any possible abrasion on the lower end.

My personal preference is 30# Power Pro.   However if you hang the bottom with the boat is drifting fast, do not grab the line to break off unless are prepared for a bad finger cut as this stuff has a mean disposition when fighting back.

Using too light a spectra line is detrimental in that IF you do get a big one on and with this small diameter line when it comes to the side of the spool if a fish is really pulling, this line WILL sink down against the spool edge.   You may not know it until you are letting out next time, it may well be tucked in so deep that when you put the rod away, later take your time and use a crochet hook to try to untangle the problem.  Sometimes even untangling is impossible where the whole spool of line needs to be cut off.  Been there done that.

When using a spectra type line here you can feel fish hitting the line if going thru a school.   About 2005, we were fishing in about 140′ off Duncan Rock at Neah Bay, the boat owner did not have his sonar sensitivity adjusted so we could see clearly closer to the surface.   After pulling a fish from 130′, when letting back down, I felt something ticking the line when it got to about 45′.   I hesitated, put my thumb on the spool to be better able to discern what was happening.    I let off and it only moved a few feet before I immediately had a fish on.  When I pulled it in, a cousin was on the other jig also.  Dropping it back over the side, then stopping at the magical 45′ level each time, I pulled 3 sets of doubles in one drift.  I would never have felt this school of fish (or known what it was) if I had monofilament line on.

You will find that if you attach a large barrel swivel at the end of your mainline and a large snap to it for the leader, these metal objects give you something to hold onto when pulling the fish out of the water. then into the boat instead of trying to hold onto just the leader.

Sacrificial leader :  Most deepwater fishermen use about a 24″ – 30″ (depending on the gunwale height of the boat and the fisherpersons height) leader of 25# weight mono attached to mainline snap, in a small loop knot.  This leader has the first loop about 6-8″ down, then 2 or 3 large loops tied about 16″ apart, then the large bottom loop another 8″ -10″ at the bottom.    This sacrificial short section of lighter leader is where you attach your lures and the weight on the bottom.  The reason here is that you normally do not net these fish when you bring them in the boat, but merely lift them into the boat by grabbing the swivel/snap at the upper end of the leader, then lift them into the boat.  The leader therefore needs to be short enough that you can clear the gunwale with the fish if they are on the bottom hook.  This short sacrificial section is so that WHEN you DO get snagged on the bottom, that this lighter line (say 25#) will break off so you can get all of your mainline back.  Many times it will just break the bottom jig or sinker off giving you back the other lures above.

Here I can attach a leadhead jig to the bottom loop or snap and at the upper loop, I use a 6/0 or 7/0 mooching hook (using no weight) with a curly tail attached.  This gives you a double presentation where if the the fish are concentrated, when you get a hit, don’t be really fast in pulling it in once the hook is set, as other fish have seen the frenzy, they try to get in on the action, many times you will bring in a double.  I have even have seen a sea bass on the top lure with a ling cod going after the bass, but takes the bottom lure.  Also using this type of leader will help keep you from loosing some of your mainline if you snag up as you want it lighter in able to break off.  If you need more weight, replace the upper hook with another leadhead jig.

If you happen to be after or encounter Ling Cod, these fish have humongous sharp teeth and can cut a mono leader to achieve their freedom.  So if you are targeting ling cod deep either use heavy mono or a wire leader at your jigs.

Lure :  Here you have many choices.  From the leadhead jigs to Point Wilson Dart, BuzzBombs, Crippled Herring or shrimp lies are popular lures.  Many times you will find jigs available made by an enterprising local angler.  One that seems to be worthwhile to give a test drive is the Grim Reaper.  It’s design was given some thought in that it is heavier on the rear, allowing the tail to sink first on the drop.  This will make for a better feel when the fish hits the lure, which is usually on the drop.  The color and sparkle are protected by a clear shrink wrap, instead of just a paint job.

If the fish are not many, then the lure may be of some importance, but from what I have sampled, if you get the lure in the right place, about anything will catch fish.   However I have found pearl, lime green or white are a darned good colors to start with.


Top lure is a Lindquist 16 oz Halibut/Ling Cod jig
#2 is a 4 oz spire point with a 6″ swim tail
#3 is a 2 oz bullet nose with a 5″ Berkley Curley tail
#4 is a 1 1/2 oz bullet nose with a 6″ swim tail
#5 is a 3/4 oz round head with a 3″ tail

Above are an assortment  of various jig tails ranging from 7″ down to 4″ size






Top is a Point Wilson Dart “Herring” in 6 oz
#2 is a Les Davis Mooch-a-Jig in 4 oz
#3 is a Grim Reafer in 2 1/2 oz
#4 is another point Wilson Dart but in 2 1/2 oz
#5 is a home cast jig with swim tail in 2 1/2 oz
#6 is a Buzz Bomb in 2 1/2″ size

Here we have a  3 oz. spire point jig rigged on 30″ mono of about 25#, using a dropper knot for the upper tied lure about 1 1/2′ apart to a snap on the bottom.  The top could be a smaller jig  to increase the total weight. 

Here is a jig combo that proved very effective on a WDFW bottom-fishing tagging trip.  This one has BIG real type eyes, two tone blue sides & top with a cream belly & has a slightly red splash on the nose

Of the leadhead jigs, I prefer either the “Spearhead” or “Spire Point” sometimes called a bullet nose type shown above.   The spearhead moulds are not made in sizes above 4 oz.  The Spire point can be made up to 20 oz.   Both of these are shaped like a pointed bullet, with the nose of course forward.  The hook eye comes out about the middle of the bullet, so that the bullet tip hangs pretty much horizontal in the water.  The special thing with this type, WHEN you hang up on a rock, give it a little slack then twitch the rod tip a few times.   I have found that over 95% of the time it will come free.  I do not think the hook is what is caught on something, but when the jig nose is pulled into a crevice, the twitching allows the pivot point to move enough to allow the stuck nose to tip down, allowing it to become unstuck.  If I use a regular round headed jig, the pivot eye just pulls the jig tighter into the rock where you will not get the lure back.

The one thing I have not mentioned yet here is that with these leadhead jigs, you thread a plastic worm up over the hook.  I have found that it works best if the tail is in the upward position when it is on the hook.  Worm size usually will be dictated by the specie and size of fish you expect to catch.  Usually a 5″ plastic swim tail worm works well for most rockfish.   If you go too long, the fish just bite off the tails, then don’t get hooked.   If you are targeting strictly Ling Cod or Halibut, then you will want a longer 6 or 8″ tail.  Color can just about be what ever you favor.   White will work about any time.  Purple, or brownish green, pink all work.  One favorite is a white tail with a red or orange head, or a green tail and orange head, if you can find them.  Some days they prefer one color then the next day something totally different, therefore the idea of using 2 different colors on your leader until you find what works is good.

I am not sure just how they are supposed to be placed on the jig hook, but  they seem to give better action if the tail is curled upward.   Most jigs have some sort of a worm retention other than just the hook, so you usually hook it so the front part of the worm can be slid up onto the rear lump on the jig body.   In use when moving thru the water, the worm’s tail will wobble, creating a swimming motion that seems irresistible.   As for color of the leadhead jig themselves, about any color works, but since you may loose many,  I don’t bother to paint them anymore.  I just leave them as cast in the natural silvery lead color and use the plastic worm for a color.  If they get tarnished I just wire wheel them to brighten them up.   A pretty painted color seems to catch more fishermen.   If I was to paint them, it would white with a splash of red.  When you get jigs into 5 ounce and larger most have provisions for stick on eyes.  If the bite is slow, sometimes the person jigging with a lead-head jig that has large eyes on it seems to be the only one catching.  For some reason large eyes on fish lures seem to be an attractant at times.    Something to think about adding to your jig heads.

Size of jigs depends on where you are, how deep you are fishing, plus the tide or current.  I have found 3/8 to 1 oz. jigs work fine when casting into and around the kelp beds then swimming the jig in the upper to mid water column.  For deeper water or where a current or tide is, then you will need heavier possibly even up to 6 oz.   If I had to pick only one size, that would be hard to make a choice, so I would say a 1 oz and a 3 oz. would be a compromise.   But that will change on the water depth and tidal current.   This way if you are using the above dropper you can replace the salmon hook with the 1 oz if you need more weight.   Sometimes if the wind and drift are strong, even an 8 oz jig may be needed.   You can put the trolling motor in reverse, back into the wind to slow you down if need be.   You can not head the boat bow into it as wind gusts will not be coming from the same exact position each time as the wind will catch the bow from different angles and you will be trying to correct one way only to in the next 3 minutes go the other way.  Higher cabin boats tend to be blown around more than open boats simply because the cabin presents more of a sail for the wind to catch.  Another thing to try is to put out a drift sock or two, this will slow you down.

If you plan on doing a lot of jigging, maybe you and your fishing buddy might consider purchasing a mould, then casting them yourself, once you figure out what size and shape works best for you.    Do-It  http://www.do-itmolds.com/ makes a whole line of do-it-yourself jig and sinker moulds.

A keeper Ling Cod & smiles to go along with it. The same Ling on the left that cut the leader as it was netted, leaving the pipe jig crossways in it’s mouth

Another popular method is to use shrimp flies.  These are made with a chenille body tied to a 7/0 hook with a goodly amount of colored Nylon type wings.  The wings can be in many colors from red, pink, orange, blue or clear glitter.   Bodies are usually a lighter color like white, yellow or orange.  These are intended to imitate shrimp or small baitfish and are quite effective.

Here the usual method is to attach them to a dropper leader no longer than 24″ long by just threading a dropper loop thru the large hook eyes, then attaching a sinker of appropriate size on the bottom to achieve your purpose.  This dropper usually is designed to fish 2 flies at a time.  This sinker can be anywhere in weight from 4 to 12 ounces.  These flies can be purchased in a pre-rigged setup of 2 or a package of 12 unrigged for about $5.

The most common brand are sold by Danielson and are made in China.   I suspect these are made by child labor or where quality control is not a prime concern.  One thing I have found is that on some of them, the head wrapping stings may not be wrapped really tight, tied nor sealed with a shellac, which after a few dunkings or fish encounters they may loose their wings.  It is a good idea to inspect the merchandise before purchasing, or just consider you may need to re-shellac the head windings before usage.  Also some of them may not be the sharpest out of the package.

As said before at the end of the mainline I like a large swivel with a Duralock snap.  This swivel really is useless, except it gives you a grasping point in the line when pulling these fish over the side.

When tying these droppers, I like to keep them short enough so that when you pick up the fish, bring it on over the side that you do not have any chance of knocking the fish off as you come over the gunwale.   My upper dropper loop is 6 to 8″ below the loop for attaching to the mainline.  These loops need to be about 2″ so the loop eye can feed thru the hook eye, then back over the fly.  This way they can be quickly replaced. The second dropper loop is about 16″ below the upper & the leader to the sinker is another 8 or 10″ down.

All my knots are simple overhand knots.  You will loose many of these leaders so tie up extras, no sense of using good knots.  These overhand knots usually hold reasonably well, but are not overly strong, making a weak link if you snag on the bottom so you do not loose a lot of hear other than the sinker.  A regular dropper loop knot can be tied, but it is a pain to tie at times, and these overhand knots don’t pull out, they may snug up if you get hung up or a large fish is on below, but so what.   The upper knot is small as all it is needed is to be able to snap into the mainline snap.    This gives me a handhold when lifting the fish aboard.

Any type of sinker will work here, however here oddly enough when compared to jigs, I have found that the round cannonball seems to not get snagged as bad as some of the others, maybe because it can roll.

An assortment of shrimp flies Here 2 shrimp flies attached to a dropper leader with weight

If you find these Black Rockfish on the surface, the lure I found works great is a combo spinner/weedless hook/curly tail unit that has enough weight to cast yet not heavy enough to sink rapidly.  The part that makes these weedless is that the point of the hook is slightly imbedded into the curly tail body.  The ones shown below are 3/8 ounce.  But for this type of fishing, I think a bit heavier to gain you some casting distance, especially if you are casting into the wind.  I am going to make up some of my own using 1/2 or even 3/4 ounce of lead.

The head of the curly tail is secured by a wire right behind the hook eye.

These also work great for casting into kelp beds & not becoming snagged.

Weedless weighted spinner bait.

Hooks :  Hook size is usually from a 5/0 to 7/0.   Here it is important to have sharp hooks.   I have found that the smaller hooks used on jigs from 3/8 to 1 1/2 oz are pretty sharp as they come from the box, but the larger cadmium plated hooks usually need sharpening with a file.  They may even have to be touched up after being hung up & you are lucky enough to retrieve it.

Live Bait :  At times when you are reeling in a smaller Rockfish or Greenling, a Ling Cod will decide you took away his meal, grab onto it himself.  Or save the smaller Greenling, keep them alive to be used for Ling Cod bait later.    Yes, it is legal to use live bait in Washington state saltwater areas using natural bait.  Here you would use 2oz sinkers with a single hook through the Greenling’s nose and then sent it back down to swim around.

If this happens and you are pretty sure what the situation is, SLOWLY reel in, but not being aggressive as the cod is not really hooked except by it’s long teeth engaged into the smaller fish.  When you get the two of them near the surface, (say under the surface about 10″) have your partner quickly get the landing net out, with you NOT bringing the Ling Cod out of water, scoop both of them in.  Sometimes if the Ling resists and goes down as you bring it near the surface, have the netter place the net in the water, but hide it under the boat until you can get both back near the surface again.

Here a LARGE Ling swallowed a decent sized halibut

 The Method :  This may depend somewhat on where you are fishing.   But typically you need to be close to, or over rocky structure or near kelp beds, which these fish tend to hide around.  The wind and the tide play a very important role for this kind of fishing.  Ideally you would like a calm day with no wind or tidal current.  But this is simply dreaming for ocean fishing.  So you have to make the best of it, either fish only at a slack tide, which can be only a couple of hours, but then the wind may be doing it’s thing at this time also.  If the a current or wind is there, you will either have to live with it, use heavy lures, or put the motor in reverse to slow your drift down.  Another thing is that there is lots of locations where these fish may be residing.  Here you need to find an island or a point of land that protects you from the wind.  You may well have to change your lure to match your location.

The methods can probably be divided into 2 basic types of fishing.  (1) could be casting and retrieving in a more horizontal manner while letting the jig sink, while (2) could be vertical jigging.  Number 1 could turn into number 2 type at the point when the jig was under the boat.  In jigging, you need to cast out, allow the lure to sink to near the bottom or to a depth where you see fish on the sonar screen, twitch the rod tip up so the lure moves 12″ to 16″, then drop the rod tip so the lure flutters back down.   Don’t do the giant yank-a-roo when jigging!  That moves the jig WAY too much and the fish can’t catch it or get tired of chasing it.  Reel in a few cranks, repeat the procedure.  Many times the fish will hit the lure as it flutters back down, if in this case the hit will not be dramatic, except when you feel the tug on the line as you start to reel again.  Here is the need for a rod with a sensitive but powerful tip.  Some fishermen use a controlled drop so they can feel a strike by a fish on the drop, however this takes some mastering.

Most of the bottom where you will find these fish is rocky, tends to reach out and can grab your lure if you try to drag it along the bottom.   You can donate many pounds and dollars worth of jigs to the fish gods even if you try to be just above bottom.

Some areas will have these rocks showing above water, while others do not.  The areas out of Westport are the “do not” ones however there are a FEW underwater reefs.   Here a GPS is needed to locate them.   A good depthfinder/fishfinder may well be beneficial also.  Below is a fantastic picture of a screen taken while charter boat Hula Girl, while bottom fishing off the Point Grenville area considerably north of Westport in the spring of 2006.   What you are seeing here is MANY small baitfish being forced to the surface by black rockfish.  This was during a WDFW rockfish tagging trip, the number of black rockfish caught by 10 fishermen and tagged in one day numbered 751.  The bottom was at 131′ but the fish were caught at about 1/2 that.   Water temperature as seen on the screen was 50.5 degrees.

This tagging trip was one of many where WDFW has an agreement with the Westport charter boats.  WDFW charters a boat, invites 10-12 fisherpersons aboard.  The coastal area is plotted off into GPS sections and the boat drops anchor over known reefs for about 1/2 hour per reef.   Rods and reels are used, the fish are brought aboard, placed in a live tank as quickly as possible.  The WDFW biologists sex, measure, then implant a chip in each fish and it is placed back in the water.

Later in the year, when the charter boat fleet is sport fishing where they may encounter black rockfish, they fillet the catch, then save the carcasses.  The carcasses are placed into plastic garbage cans, at the end of the trip the cans are dropped off at the WDFW berth where the carcasses are ran thru a scanner beeping if a tagged carcass is encountered.  The chip is recovered from this carcass, is then processed into a study to be able to find out the growth, and movement of these fish.

That’s a lot of bait & fish under this boat

On the Washington coast, rocky structure occurs mostly only on the northern coast.  However these are somewhat isolated, with only 2 Indian towns being your access points to the ocean.    The southern one is at LaPush which is west of Forks, with the other at Neah Bay on the northern tip and just inside the straits.  These are both long drives form anywhere, but have LOTS small rocky islands and underwater obstructions that bottomfish inhabit.

These fish live in a fish eat fish world, where the looser is ends up food for a larger fish.  Therefore most of them tend to stay in or near rock structure or kelp where they feel protected, but yet are close enough to smaller forage fish that they can get dinner with little effort.  Any structure that also has kelp nearby is an added attractant.

A couple of refinements to the above method is to use a second lure 2′ above the bottom one, when you hook a fish, raise it up enough to clear any submerged structure, put the rod in the holder with the fish still hooked, but with the lurestill in it’s mouth.  Now you may have other fish concentrated around this suspended, fighting fish, thinking there is something going on here.  Many times you will get a second fish on the other lure.   While doing this have your partner fish near you for action.   Another method akin to this would be to take the hooks off a lure, use it as an attractor in the same manner.  Now you and other fisherpersons aboard can concentrate at this location.

If you do not get a hook up within say 5 minutes, move to another location, maybe only 50′ if underwater structure is there.   The only times I have seen fishing above open gravel bottoms and not rocky structure is in the spring of the year, apparently when small fishes, (sand lance, etc.) appear to be spawning in this gravel as evidence by the photo of the sonar screen above.

Rod Holders :  It is advisable to have rod holders on the boat, not to put the rods in for fishing, but if one of you get a large Ling Cod to the boat and your buddy needs to net it, he really needs a secure place to put his rod while he is devoting attention to netting your fish.  Otherwise it is very possible he may very well donate a rod and reel to the fish gods (been there-done that).  Rod holders also come in handy if you need to put your rod down when you need to dig into your lunch sack or grab a new leader to be ready to change lures.

Rocky islands near Umatilla Reef, a choice Bottom fish location  One of the Revetments at Westport’s point, with the river’s bar in the distance  A large built in fishbox with nearly a limit for 3 fishermen & a WDFW fish-checker counting.

 Boat Fishermen :  For the boat fisherman, the possibilities are endless.   The easy ones are a rock structure that is visible above the waterline.  From near these rocks, you cast as close as possible, let your lure settle a bit, twitch your rod tip, crank up a couple of cranks.  Let it settle a few seconds and crank up again.  You may have to find the depth level that the fish are located at by letting it settle more and deeper next time.

 Exposed Rocks :  This can get tricky as until you have been there, as you do not know whether the rock drops off to 40-50′ or has snaggy little brothers right around it.  Feel it out carefully.

One method that I use is to get close to rock structure or kelp, get in a position that allows you to cast next to the structure or kelp, then simply put the motor into slow forward, move only enough to position the boat or keep it under control.   Kick it in and out of gear as you so your partners cast near the structure as you move slowly move along.   This way you are far enough away that you do not spook the fish, but allow you to move enough to cover some of the area.

One location shown me by a member of our fishing club, where you fish a pocket on the seaward side of an island, where you need to be CLOSE to the rock.   I am not as brave as he is.   Here, with the waves smashing the rock, I let my partners fish and I back in, with the bow pointing out AND with the main motor RUNNING in neutral shifting into forward to control my position constantly, as one sneaker wave along with inattention could be disastrous as many times you might be only 30′ from the seaward side of the rocks.  I don’t like to fish like this, but sometimes we fishermen do crazy things to catch fish.

Submerged Structure :  In many of of the prime nearshore fishing areas of the upper Washington coast and outer Straits, there will be rocks that may be “awash” or just under the water surface.  Here it WILL be beneficial for you to (1) have a good chart, be VERY observant (2) either know the area, (3) go slow until you do know it.   Some of these are just underwater sharp spires that will not show on a depthfinder, but they can be very aggressive when they take a bite out of a prop.   Here you need to really be there at a LOW tide and observe any protruding rocks, but remember them in relationship to the visible ones or stay out of the area.   Otherwise props can get costly to be repaired, take it from one who knows.   It is advisable to carry a spare prop. 

Some areas do not have much rock structure above the water surface.  And since these fish live near that structure most of the time, you may have to resort to Bathymetric charts to find them, or be watchful of your sonar when you are moving about.  If you happen to find sea-mount, mark it on your sonar unit so you can position yourself over or near it.  These fish usually seek cover from the currents behind and on the lea side.  Many times you can also see the fish on your sonar & may be able to maintain a position above them so that you have a good chance to catch some.

Another thing to look for is a sunken ship, which provides shelter to these fish.   Most of these are marked on the NOOA charts.

There is one method of finding submerged structure that bottomfish hang around, and that is Bathymetric Fishing Charts.   These are designed only for fishing, not navigation as you are looking for rock or gravel structure.    With today’s modern technology you can tap into free internet NOAA charting at http://www.ngdc.noaa.gov/mgg/bathymetry/maps/area5.html     Other than that, finding much of this submerged structure is to share information with other fishermen as for GPS numbers.

This type of structure are usually in deeper water and may be effected by the tide to the extent that you may have a hard time maintaining a position for long enough to do much successful fishing.   On these, your best bet may be on the protected or lea side where the fish have some protection from the current.  There are a couple methods used here.  (1) Anchor.  (2) Throw a small marker buoy over that has a 2# weight attached to a long enough line to mark your spot. (but pick it up when you leave).  For a marker jug, I like a one gallon Orange Juice jug, because it is a different color.  (3)  Expand your GPS so you can see precisely your boat movement in a close-up mode.  Using these methods you can usually stay close enough to maintain a position.

Some fishermen say to put the motor in reverse, back into the position (over a pinnacle), OK it is easier in reverse, however it is hard to control the boat if there is much current running, or the wind blowing, if trying to maintain a position, or worse, trying to getting back onto it.   Do not confuse this method of trying to stay on a good spot as compared to the previously mention of doing the same just to slow the drift.  Some of these underwater structures may be small, even the size of a small room in a house, so this makes it hard to find, harder yet to maintain a position over.   So the skipper many times does not get much fishing if he is occupied with maintaining a fishable position.  A problem with this method is that you WILL have salt spray get into and under your cowling, therefore you need to spray a protective coating on your engine, wash it off when you get back ashore otherwise after a few years, your powerhead paint will peel off and all your bolts will become rusted.

If you find a good location, it will usually provide you with excellent fishing for many years if you do not over exploit it, as the fish tend to congregate there year after year.  That is why most GPS numbers of the good locations are very well guarded and not revealed by the most dedicated fishermen.

 Bank Fishermen :  As a bank bound fisherman, a wide variety of rockfish, including Sea Bass, Greenling, Cabazon, Perch and Lingcod, can be found along the rock jetties as well as the rock revetments surrounding most marina breakwaters.  However, here you may have to be ever observant of the tide, sneaker waves & slippery rocks.   So wear your PFD’s.

Where to Fish :  Listed below are a few of the starting spots for boat fishermen at the various normal fishing locations in the Pacific Ocean off the Washington coast.

Neah Bay Waadah Island 48-23-02 124-34-95 36′ Bottomfish
  ”       “ Seal Rock 48-23-67 124-31-70 30′ Bottomfish
  ”       “ Duncan Rock 48-24-333 124-44-553 113′ Bottomfish
  ”       “ Kelp Beds off the garbage dump area 48-23-82 124-41-93 42′ Bottomfish
  ”       “ Umatilla Reef/Bodeiteh Island 48-11-23 124-47-26 60′ Bottomfish
LaPush Quileute Needles 47-52-53 124-38-27


    “ Carroll Island 47-58-50 124-43-75 . Bottomfish
    “ Awash Rock 47-58-90 124-43-72


    “ Sea Lion Rock 47-59-58 124-43-65


    “ The Rock Pile 47-57-00 124-50-21


Ling Cod
Westport Inside end of South Jetty 46-54-70 124-10-40 20′ Bottomfish
   “ Submerged rock off Ocean Shores 46-56-852 124-14-526 84′ Bottomfish
   “ Submerged rock west of Copalis Rock 47-08-030 124-16-870 96′ Bottomfish
Columbia River A Jetty 46-16-00 124-02-25 15′ Bottomfish
      ”           “ End of South Jetty 46-13-95 124-03-40 20′ Bottomfish
      ”           “ Dump Site 46-14-79 124-10-41 78′ Bottomfish

Landing the Fish :  Most times you do not need a landing net, as you can simply lift a 2 to 5#  fish into the boat with a mono leader of 20-30#.  However be observant of how well the fish is hooked, do not try to yank it up and over the gunwale, but slow AND easy is best, or if the hook is barely holding, grab the net.

According to Washington State regulations it is unlawful to use a gaff hook on these species.  So it may be wise to have a landing net readily available, instead trying to hand-line a large Ling Cod in and take the chance of loosing it.  Sometimes these big Lings are not hooked but only by their holding onto a smaller kelp greenling or sea bass.  If so you need to net them rather quickly.

Here the net is readily available

Taking Care of Your Fish :  It greatly improves the meat if you bleed any fish that you catch as soon after they are aboard the boat.  This can be done by opening the mouth, either clipping most of the gills on each side, or entering from the rear under the gill cover and cutting gills with a serrated hook blade knife.

If you use a cooler and bleed the fish, you might consider finding a rubber or plastic grating that will allow the blood to be separated from the fish.  As seem in this article.  Or pull the drain plug, drain the blood out.  However wash this off the deck before someone slips or it has a chance to dry.

If you have a built in fish box, the ones with a macerator pump in the outlet are great as you can wash out the fish and pump out the blood as well.  If yours does not have a drain, that may take some thinking, or improvising to get the blood out.

However a gaff hook may come in handy for moving the fish in or out of the fishbox/cooler or in preparation to filleting as they are slimy and have sharp spines on the top fins.

Cleaning the Fish :  Most of these fish will be filleted, the small bones can be removed, cut into sections, then dipped in batter and deep fried, but that can be covered on another article.  I had made a aluminum shelf over part of the motor well on one side of the stern and have a wash-down pump on board to wash off the blood and scales after cleaning.  After a few rockfish trips and cleaning sessions, I decided that there has to be a better way of cleaning the fish so as to not have all the blood and SCALES washed into the bilge crating a rather unwanted smell after a few days.  The solution is now to use a small fold up table at the dock to do the cleaning on.

Filleting knives have rather thin flexible blades.   It really helps to use a filleting glove on the non knife hand.   I do not like the loose weave rubber glove as it seems to collect fish scales and slime.  One brand used by many is Atlas Fit rubber coated palms and loose weave Nylon uppers.

For a link to a rockfish filleting article, CLICK HERE.

Limit & Restrictions for Washington State :  2010 ocean regulations allow a retention of Total of 12 BOTTOMFISH.  A sublimit of 22″ minimum on Ling Cod, 2 Cabizon BUT no more than 12 total per day in Marine areas 1 thru 3 & 4A.   BUT Check the regs out each year as they can change where it is rather embarrassing when the fish checker boards your vessel.

In the straits starting at MA 4B and all the sound, check your regulations as they are more stringent.  4B is 6 rockfish of only black and blue variety (blues being relatively scarce) which means if you catch a copper, brown or china you have to release them.  And the length is increased to 24″ on Ling Cod.   Marine area 12, (hood canal) is closed to botomfishing.

Oregon has an ocean limit of 6 rockfish per day.

Just a note of information that a 21″ Black Rockfish weighs 4 1/2# and  a 34″ Ling weighs 13#.

Read your regulations as changes sneak in yearly & it has become painfully aware that you can not legally fish in these areas without a GPS & probably a lawyer aboard.  Also, it is not that uncommon to have different WDFW personnel interpret the regulations differently & give out the info for the same area differently.

Addition to WDFW 2010 Saltwater Regulations : 

  Pages 107, 108, 109 – Marine Area 3, 4 & 5,  160′ (20 fathom) Closure Coordinates:     

Rockfish (east of the Bonilla-Tatoosh line, Year around with no minimum size Daily limit 6.  Only BLUE & BLACK may be retained (see BOTTOM FISH section on next page)

Rockfish (west of the Bonilla-Tatoosh line, Year around with no minimum size Daily limit 10.  No CANARY or YELLOWEYE may be retained.  No retention or possession of rockfish seaward of a line approximately 20 fathoms May 21-Sept. 30 (except when HALIBUT is open) See 20 fathom restriction on previous page.


May 21 – Sept 30, fishing for or possession of BOTTOM FISH is prohibited seaward of a line approximately 20 fathoms from the Bonilla-Tatoosh line south to the Queets River, described by the following coordinates.  Bonilla-Tatoosh line is described as a line running from the western end of Cape Flattery to Tattosh Island Lighthouse then in a straight line to Bonilla Point Lighthouse on Vancouver Island.

48° 23.90’ N 124° 44.20’ W
48° 23.60’ N 124° 44.90’ W
48° 18.60’ N 124° 43.60’ W
48° 18.60’ N 124° 48.20’ W
48° 10.00’ N 124° 48.80’ W
48° 02.40’ N 124° 49.30’ W
47° 37.60’ N 124° 34.30’ W
47° 31.70’ N 124° 32.40’ W

Page 109   “Fishing for BOTTOMFISH prohibited in waters deeper than 120′ as defined by coordinates listed shown by the dashed line in the chart”

BOTTOMFISH Closure Coordinates with A being the on the Bonilla line south of Duntz Rock & the letter points being seaward of the shoreline running east in the straits.


48° 23.90’ N

124° 44.00’ W


48° 24.10’ N

124° 40.00’ W


48° 23.61’ N

124° 36.46’ W


48° 17.71’ N

124° 21.24’ W


48° 15.96’ N

124° 14.43’ W


48° 11.91’ N

124° 02.02’ W


48° 09.93’ N

124° 34.51’ W 


48° 11.02’ N

124° 31.13’ W

(I) 48° 08.53’ N 124° 06.02’ W
(J) 48° 11.45’ N 124° 06.02’ W
(K) 48° 08.22’ N 124° 06.02’ W

The above regulations are to protect endangered Yelloweye & Canary rockfish. which are normally found beyond this 20 fathom (120′) depth.  This however does not effect MOST near shore fishermen who target strictly sea bass & lingcod.  It however would limit a ocean fisherman if you tried to fish for the deeper Ling Cod off some humps or rock piles beyond this closure line.  However the straits restrictions, does restrict fishermen from fishing for bottomfish around the popular Duncan Rock just north of Tatoosh Island.

One of the benefits of being on the water is the sights you see,  just minutes after this humpback whale blew, (the fog in this photo) it poked it’s head up within 30′ of the boat & looked at us, then dove UNDER the boat, but the camera had just then maxed out it’s chip.  I could see bubbles coming up under my bow.

Copyright © 2005 – 2013 All Rights Reserved

Comments are closed.