Rockfish is a very loose term given to a wide variety of often unrelated fish species that are generally associated with rocks.
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Where and When?

With a worldwide distribution, though usually in cooler or cold waters, rockfish are found in most oceans and in such diverse areas as Japan, Antarctica, the Gulf of Alaska, and around many islands. Rockfish are important targets for commercial fishers in many parts of the world, including offshore international waters and frigid waters around northern Canada and USA. Recreational angling is less widespread, but is important northwards up the western seaboard of the USA, from California to the north of Alaska, with many species being targeted. While some species may be caught from the shore, most “serious” recreational rockfish fishing is carried out from boats. Not only this but many popular species, such as the vermillion rockfish, are usually caught at enormous depths, and many anglers feel it is well worth the great effort necessary to catch this species. Most rockfish fishing is carried out in daylight, there being virtually no light at the depths where the fish live. On the American western seaboard there are strict open seasons - the current Californian season opening on 1 March - but this varies state by state.

About Rockfish

One of the largest groups of fish referred to as “rockfish”, and the one most important to anglers in North America, are the more than 100 odd members of the Scorpionidae family. Most of these fish are contained in the genus Sebastes, but the species vary from maturing at less than one kilogram (2.2 lbs. ) to 5.3 kilograms (11.7 lbs ) and lengths of over one meter ( 39 in.). The body coloration differs widely, and many species have complex colours with dominant yellows, black, orange and greens. All feature a similar fattish torpedo-shaped body with bulging eyes, large mouth, large scales and spines on the head. Many are associated with rocks, along shores or in deeper waters, but these “demersal” species are only part of the picture, as there are also many “pelagic” species that are not bottom living. These more free living species often shoal while the bottom loving ones are usually solitary. The more commonly caught rockfish are the vermillion rockfish (Sebastes mineatus), copper (S. caurinus), tiger (S. caurinus), and black rockfish (S. melanopus). Rockfish are among the longest-lived fish with one species, S. aleutianus, reportedly living for 205 years. In Maryland the striped bass (Morone saxatilis) is called a “rockfish” but it is dissimilar to other “rockfish”.

How to Catch?

Local knowledge is essential to catch decent rockfish, but the captains and guides on small charter boats usually have this in abundance and are more than willing to share knowledge and help an angler achieve success. There are 56 species of rockfish in the California Bight alone and there are many nuances to targeting individual species. Rockfish are said to be the basis of the California sport fishery and these deep dwelling, but apparently good tasting fish remain very popular. While natural baits are successful and popular, it is generally agreed that the use of artificial baits, particularly jigs, usually result in larger fish being caught. In southern California there is a closed season, bag limit and also a depth restriction on fishing. After concern over overfishing, anglers were restricted to 450 ft. deep water but, an apparent recovery, has resulted in this being increased to 600 ft. Sadly, it is often difficult to return smaller fish, as barotrauma - the bloating of the swim bladder through the mouth - often kills fish that are put back into the water.