Black rockfish (Sebastes melanops) are the backbone of Oregon's saltwater recreational fishery. Recreational anglers catch more black rockfish than the combined catch of all other saltwater fish species. Black rockfish occupy the same habitat as blue rockfish; except the larger adults associated with the kelp forest and the rocky shore move into deeper water during the day returning at dusk. The abundance of black rockfish declines in the shallow water along the rocky shore during winter and increases during spring through summer into the fall until the arrival of the seasonal storms. Juvenile black rockfish rear in the shallow water of Oregon's bays and along the rocky shore. Male and female rockfish mature at 5 and 6 years respectively with both sexes attaining 12 inches in length. Older mature female black rockfish grow to a larger size than the males attaining a maximum length of 23 inches weighing up to 6 pounds. They live up to 20 years of age with the maximum life span of 26 years. Black rockfish are distinguished by dark gray to black body becoming lighter ventrally with some light gray mottling on the back. The anal fin profile of black rockfish is rounded with a greater portion of the fin slanted anteriorly.
Blue rockfish (Sebastes mystinus) rank second statistically in importance to the black rockfish. Blue rockfish normally school suspended 20 to 120 feet under the surface over rocky reefs or in the kelp forest along the rocky shore. Adult blue rockfish have a tendency to school in deeper water than the smaller juveniles, except when they are feeding near the surface at dawn or dusk in response to the dynamics of the Diel Vertical Migration. Adult blue rockfish feed primarily on forage fish. Juvenile blue rockfish rear primarily in the kelp forest. Male and female blue rockfish mature at 5 and 6 years of age respectively when both sexes attain 9 inches in length. Older female blue female blue rockfish grow to a larger size than their male counterparts attaining a maximum length of 20 inches and weighing up to 4¾ pounds. Blue rockfish have a maximum life span of 23 years. Blue rockfish are distinguished by a blue or black body color becoming lighter ventrally with vague striping of the forehead. The anal fin profile of blue rockfish is vertical or slanted posteriorly.
Deacon rockfish (Sebastes diaconus) while similar in appearance to Blue rockfish there are two distinct species. The distinction should be considered when establishing take guidelines. Researchers stated and to paraphrase, " Both groups are found off the Oregon coast. However, the discovery of the new Blue Rockfish species throws a different wrinkle into the equation. The original species, Sebastes mystinus, is more prevalent in California, while the newly identified Deacon Rockfish is found from northern California all the way to the Salish Sea near Vancouver, B.C. Photographs unavailable due to copyright infringement; so i will have to go fishing and take my own.
D. Wolfe Wagman, a marine biologist with ODFW and co-author on the study, said the discovery may in the future alter how resource managers approach rockfish harvest regulations, which have been partially restricted in 2015.
Under a federally established management system, Blue Rockfish are counted as a single species belonging to the “minor near-shore rockfish complex,” which saw significant reductions in allowable harvest in 2015. In addition to Blue Rockfish, this complex of 11 species includes China, Quillback and Copper rockfishes all three of which cannot be legally harvested by recreational fishers in Oregon this year thus concentrating angling efforts on Black and Blue rockfishes, Wagman said.
“Black Rockfish are the major target of the complex and have a separate quota, set at 440 metric tons,” Wagman said. “But the Blue Rockfish quota is much lower and ODFW is concerned that if fishing efforts exceed that quota, then all groundfish fishing would have to stop in Oregon because even incidental catch and release of Blue Rockfish would exceed the quota.”
“This may eventually lead to separate quotas, but as of now as long as they are still categorized in the ‘minor near-shore rockfish complex’ they have to be managed as one group with China, Quillback, Copper and other rockfishes in the complex,” Wagman said.
Brian Sidlauskas, an OSU ichthyologist and the university’s Curator of Fishes, said there is no reason to believe that either species of Blue Rockfish is endangered, but that population surveys need to be done.
“The original Blue Rockfish (Sebastes mystinus) is considered exploited in parts of California, but the Deacon Rockfish seems fairly robust from Oregon northward,” Sidlauskas said. “In some areas, you find the two species together, yet we haven’t seen any evidence of hybridization.”
Wagman approached Sidlauskas in 2012 and asked him to formally study the taxonomy of the Blue Rockfish. Andres Aguilar, a fish scientist from California State University, Los Angeles, who had participated in some of the earlier genetic analysis, joined the team as did Frable, who was tasked with examining the historical record, including preserved specimens housed in ichthyological collections throughout the U.S. and Canada.
Those records date back to the 1800s and Frable examined 130 museum specimens collected from Vancouver Island to northern Baja Mexico to look for differences and similarities in fish caught over the past century. To formally “describe” the two species, Frable and colleagues measured their spines, scales, eye width, dorsal fin length, tip-to-tail length, and other characteristics; and quantified differences in body shape, proportion and growth. Some of the 35 measurements were clearly distinct between the species.
“There are also some possible differences that may require more research,” Frable said. “In talking with port samplers, it seems like Deacon Rockfish are caught in slightly deeper waters, while the original Blue Rockfish is more often found closer to shore. That could prove to be helpful from a management standpoint.”
Sidlauskas said the research underscores the importance of preserving historical collections of fishes and other species.
“Ben had access to a network of ichthyology collections that provide a wealth of data over time and space,” he pointed out. “Some of these fish were preserved 120 to 130 years ago, and that historical perspective is invaluable in providing context for what we see today.”.
Click on Distinguishing the recently identified species of Blue rockfish, the Deacon rockfish, from Black and Blue rockfish is significant to meet the retention requirements while fishing for Deacon, Blue and Black rockfish.
Black rockfish, blue rockfish and the recently identified Deacon rockfish are commonly referred to as bass along the Oregon Coast. Bass are found in the shallow to medium depths among the rocky structure and kelp forest associated with the rocky shore, nearshore reefs and offshore banks. Of the two species, black rockfish are the most common bass caught in Oregon's bays and are found along the rocky structure of the jetties and breakwaters of Oregon's deepwater bays.
Bass are most active at daybreak and dusk feeding heavily on schools of forage fish that are attracted to the surface in response to the dynamics of the Diel Vertical Migration. When bass are not feeding on the surface they gather in large schools suspending at depths up to 90 feet but it is not uncommon to find them suspended between 10 to 50 feet below the surface.
Fishing from the rocky shore requires local knowledge and the patience to learn the feeding habits of the bass frequenting the area of the rocky shore you desire to fish in conjunction with the tides, time of day and the season. Bass along the rocky shore are active at daybreak and after dusk during all phases of the daily tidal cycle, but they are most active when the incoming tide of the major tidal exchange coincides with daybreak, dusk or during days with overcast skies. The outgoing tide exposes areas that are normally unavailable to anglers fishing from the rocky shore during high tide but are accessible during the outgoing tide or at low tide. Bass are active in these areas when the outgoing tide or low tide coincides with daybreak, dusk or during days with overcast skies.
During the day adult blue bass will suspend at middepth in the kelp forest while adult black bass withdraw from the jetties and rocky shore moving into deeper water associated with rocky structure before returning at dusk. Safety is the primary objective before venturing onto the rocky shore to fish for bass. Always check the Internet at www.oregonsurfcheck.com for the height of the ocean swells. It is always dangerous to fish from the rocky shore especially when ocean swells are greater than 4 feet in height.
Fishing for bass requires balanced tackle. Use a high quality medium sized 8½ foot rod with a stiff spine and a fast tip. The rod has to have a heavy butt and spine capable of pumping a large fish to the boat or the rocky shore and a flexible enough tip to load the rod with enough energy to cast the bait the maximum distance. Match the rod to a high quality level wind single or dual speed reel with a high speed retrieve or a high quality saltwater spin casting reel with multiple ball bearings and heavy duty disc drag. Each type of reel offers advantages but inexperienced anglers should use spinning reels. Fishing with high quality balanced tackle results in a higher catch ratio. The balanced tackle required to catch bass is ideally suited for most species of fish caught along the Oregon Coast.
Fishing for bass among the rocky structure of Oregon's coastal waters demands a main line that is abrasion resistant. The development of abrasion resistant braided fusion line has changed the face of fishing. The small diameter of abrasion resistant braided fusion line allows anglers to fish with a higher test strength line than conventional fishing line. Fourteen, thirty and fifty pound test strength abrasion resistant fusion line has replaced ten, twenty and thirty pound test strength monofilament line in most fishing applications. Make sure the braided fusion line you buy is labeled abrasion resistant or don’t buy it. Using braided fusion line on some level wind reels requires the use of backing to keep the braided fusion line from slipping on the spool when fighting large fish.
More bass and shallow water rockfish are taken with leadhead jigs than any other type of bait; but bass and shallow water rockfish are also taken with a variety of natural baits such as herring, greenling, anchovies, sand shrimp or market squid. Market squid are common in Oregon's nearshore waters but are rarely used as live bait.
Market squid move into the nearshore shallow water from April though September to spawn with the highest concentration of spawning squid occurring during May and June along Heceta Head to Cape Perpetua, Cascade Head, Cape Blanco, Coos Bay and Yaquina Bay. Jig for market squid at night during the dark phase of the moon by attracting them to the boat with lights. Bait market squid through the eyes with a size 2/0 hook and through the tail with the other size 2/0 hook. Market squid are most commonly used as strip bait to enhance the effectiveness of leadhead jigs.
Live bait is always the first choice followed by fresh dead and frozen. Bass are opportunistic feeders and eagerly take sand shrimp offered by anglers fishing for other fish species in Oregon's bays or along the rocky shore. The sale of live baitfish is limited along the Oregon Coast to Winchester Bay. Anglers have to catch their own live bait by jigging for herring or fishing for greenling; however, because of the limited availability of live bait most anglers fishing for bass use frozen herring.
Fishing with a plug cut herring cut shorter than the conventional plug cut herring and baited to a single hook is one of the most effective methods to fish for bass in the rocky conditions encountered while fishing from the jetty rocks and breakwater or from a boat in the lower bay or jetty channel. The best results are achieved by using herring from purple and blue labeled packages. Fishing or using plug cut herring cut shorter than the conventional plug cut herring requires the angler to impart action to the herring. A plug cut herring fished with a tight spin on a single hook is one of the best methods used to catch bass and other fish species in all depths of the water column in the jetty channel, from the rocky shore or from a boat along the kelp forest.
There are several common methods to rig a plug cut herring fished with a single hook. Tie a size 2/0 single hook or larger to a 30 inch length of 20 to 30 pound test fluorocarbon or monofilament leader attached to the beaded chain swivel on a 1 ounce crescent sinker or to a 1 ounce sliding sinker or to a 3way swivel using a 1 ounce sinker attached with a 12 in dropper line.
To plug cut and bait the herring, insert the herring into a plugcutcutter and cut the herring just forward of the anal cavity. Scrape away any of the remaining viscera. Insert a size 2/0 hook into the face of the plug cut next to the backbone on the long side of the herring pushing the hook as deep as possible exiting between the lateral line and the top of the herring. Pull the hook and leader over to the short side of the herring. Insert the hook into the short side of the herring in a manner that results with the eye of the hook imbedded opposite of the exit hole on the long side of the herring with the shank of the hook buried into the flesh of the herring above the lateral line in a horizontal position with the point laying flat against the herring facing forward. The plug cut herring is ready to fish. Watch carefully, bass are often observed feeding at the surface
Cast the plug cut herring into the school of surface feeding bass allowing it to fall several feet before retrieving it with a subtle jigging motion. Fish the plug cut herring deeper on each succeeding cast until a bass takes the bait. The falling plug cut herring should spin as it falls and as it is being retrieved. The flash, vibration and scent from the spinning herring mimic a wounded fish enticing the bass to strike. Occasionally stop the herring as it is being retrieved allowing it to fall a short distance. Bass will often strike the herring as it falls. When the strike is detected, allow the bass to swallow the herring by lowering the tip of the rod toward the water. Set the hook by raising the rod with a sweeping motion to 12:00 o'clock high. The more successful anglers have developed the patience to wait a second or two after the initial strike for the bass to take the bait before setting the hook.
When playing a bass from the rocky shore plan ahead by selecting a rock from which to fight and land the bass. Horse the bass in. Do not give a large bass the opportunity to move into the rocks for refuge. Try to keep the bass coming toward you by keeping its head up. Try moving the pole from side to side confusing the bass as which direction to go. Use the tidal surge to your advantage to lift the bass over nearby rocks rather than trying to drag a bass over the rocks. When natural bait is not available use artificial lures.
Bass provide unlimited opportunity to fulfill the expectation of catching fish with artificial lures. The opportunity is fleeting and only momentarily fulfills the recurring desire the thrill of a bass striking an artificial lure it keeps you coming back for more. The action of artificial lures mimic wounded baitfish or other prey fleeing a predator is the trigger that attracts bass to the lure. The action of the lure is built into some lures but the angler needs to impart action to other lures for them to fish effectively. The type of artificial lure used is determined by various factors. For example, floating or sinking Rapala or Rebel type lures, lightweight hard baits and leadhead jigs are very effective on surface feeding bass or in situations that require a horizontal presentation of the lure. Heavier hard baits and leadhead jigs are more effective for deepwater vertical presentation of the lure such as a Crippled Herring, Diamond Jig or heavy leadhead jigs, etc.
The most productive and most popular artificial lure is the leadhead jig. Leadhead jigs are always the first choice because of their versatility and secondly because the angler can cover a lot of water in a relatively short time. The action of the plastic tail in combination with the motion imparted to the jig by the angler make the leadhead jig irresistible to bass. Fishing from the rocky shore or from the jetties after sunset under the light from a lantern or from another source using lightweight leadhead jigs is one of the most productive methods to catch bass along the Oregon Coast. Cast light weight ½ to 1 ½ ounce leadhead jigs over bass feeding of the surface and retrieve the jig with a subtle jigging motion as the jig is falling. Heavier 2 to 8 ounce leadhead jigs are allowed to freefall to the desired depth or the bottom and jigged toward the surface as they’re being retrieved. Bass most often strike the jig as it is falling. If the jig stops falling or moves in a usual direction set the hook. When a strike is detected without a hookup, lower the tip of the rod allowing the jig to fall several feet. Lift the jig with a normal jigging motion. The result should be a hookup. Using abrasion resistant fusion line enhances the action of the jig because the line does not stretch. The plastic tails come in a variety of colors that only add to the jig’s versatility. Plain white followed by chartreuse, black, green, and clear impregnated with flakes are the most productive colors. Use ½ to 2 ounce jigs when fishing in the bays, along the jetties and from the rocky shore. Use 2 to 8 ounce jigs when fishing along the kelp forest associated with the rocky shore or over the inshore reefs and offshore banks. Add a few drops of herring or shrimp oil to the jig. The oil leaves a scent trail as the jig is being retrieved. Adding a small salted strip of market squid or a small piece of strip bait cut from a baitfish or the belly of a bass to the leadhead jig or hard bait as an attractant is an option that bass cannot resist.
Hard baits are an effective option that bass cannot refuse. Butterfly Jigs, Buzz Bombs, Point Wilson Darts and Diamond Jigs are some of the more popular hard baits. Cast lighter weight hard baits to the desired location over surface feeding bass and retrieve them with a jigging motion. Allow heavier hard baits to freefall to the desired depth or to the bottom. Bounce the hard baits on the bottom and retrieve them with a jigging motion making them dance toward the surface. As with leadhead jigs bass most often strike hard baits as they fall. The designed vibration emitted by the Buzz Bomb falling to the bottom is a powerful attractant for bass. Jigging a Buzz Bomb along the rocky structure with a subtle motion is an effective method. If the Buzz Bomb stops moving or moves in a usual direction set the hook. The most productive colors are chrome and white followed by chartreuse. Multi colored hard baits are very effective. Dark blue or green fading into white is a good example. The fact that fish see colors has not gone unnoticed by the lure manufacturers. The Buzz Bomb jig comes in every color of the rainbow, a fact that has not gone unnoticed by the bass or my wife she buys them all.
Fish can see the colors from all light spectrums. The colors (red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo and violet) of the standard light spectrum fade as they penetrate water. Red is the first color to fade and violet the last. Typically forage fish have darker colors on top fading to lighter colors on the bottom. The color scheme protects the forage fish from predatory fish looking down or up. Use blue, indigo and violet lures in combination with white to fish for salmon and other species of fish at depths greater than 60 feet. Tackle manufactures make glow in the dark flashers and lures used to fish deep for Chinook salmon and other species of fish.
Bass enter Oregon's deepwater bays during periods of minimal rainfall as early as February but usually from March through October into early November. Bass withdraw from the bays during periods of heavy freshwater runoff that usually dominates the bays from November through February. The majority of bass are caught along the jetty channel as they move into and out of the bays with the tide. The combination of the tides and time of day dictate the angler’s success. The most productive fishing occurs during the incoming tide of the major tidal exchange especially when the incoming tide coincides with daybreak, dusk or during days with overcast skies. During the day adult blue bass will suspend at middepth in the kelp forest while adult black bass withdraw from the jetties and rocky shore at daybreak moving into deeper water before returning at dusk or during days with overcast skies.
The best fishing for bass in Oregon's bays occurs after sunset from a boat under the harbor lights or from the jetty rocks with lanterns as the bass move into the bays along the jetty channel feeding on forage fish. The lights attract the forage fish that bass prey upon. You can hear the schools of bass chasing forage fish before seeing them; then, all of a sudden a bass will hit your bait. Fishing from a boat allows the angler to downsize the fishing tackle. The versatility of high quality lightweight spinning tackle is the answer to the diverse situations that anglers commonly encounter while fishing in the bays. At a minimum use 14 pound test abrasion resistant fusion line because you never know when a bull bass or one of the toothsome terrors of the deep, a lingcod, will take the bait.
Bass and the other species of rockfish that inhabit shallow water up to 120 feet deep are the answer to a prayer for anglers addicted to the thrill of catching fish with artificial lures. In the old days you could wear yourself out catching fish when the bite was on. Cast 1 to 8 ounce hard baits or leadhead jigs to the target area allowing the hard bait or leadhead jig to sink to the desired depth. Retrieve hard baits or leadhead jigs with a subtle jigging motion along the bottom then upward through the water column to the surface. The plastic tail on leadhead jigs flutter as they fall or while being retrieved enticing the rockfish to strike. When a strike is detected without a hookup, lower the tip of the rod allowing the jig to fall several feet. Lift the jig with a normal jigging motion. The result should be a hookup. Use herring or shrimp oil as an attractant or add strip bait the jig to increase productivity. Increase productivity when fishing with 3 to 8 ounce jigs or hard baits by rigging two shrimp flies or a combination of ½ ounce leadhead jigs spaced evenly 1½ feet apart above a hard bait or leadhead jig resulting in multiple hookups. Use 40 lb test fluorocarbon or monofilament for the leader line to avoid loosing a lingcod or cabezon. The heavier jig rigged on the bottom jig, will catch cabezon and lingcod while the smaller jigs will take bass. Bouncing the heavier jig on the bottom will attract fish to the setup.
Bass are a diminishing resource. Make the effort to release juvenile or unwanted bass or shallow water rockfish unharmed. Keep only enough fish to fulfill your immediate needs. Remember conservation is the key that will assure good fishing in the future. In addition to black and blue rockfish the most common species of rockfish found nearshore in shallow water up to a depth of 120 feet over rocky reefs and in the kelp forest along the rocky shore include: quillback rockfish, copper rockfish, grass rockfish, China rockfish, brown rockfish and black and yellow rockfish.
Click on Brown, Copper and Black rockfish for additional information on these three species of rockfish common to the rocky structure of the Oregon coast.
Return to the Nearshore assemblage of Rockfish Species.