Rock Fishing Rigs — How to Catch Big Rockfish

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Rockfish look powerful, but they don’t fight much. You’ll be spending more time hoisting up your heavy rock fishing rig so be prepared for that.

It would help if you had specific rock fishing setups to lure this bottom-dweller out of the depths and onto your hook. The fish is quite well known for the quality of its meat, so you can also fish it for consumption as well as for sport.

A few pre-made rigs you can try:

  • Aqua-Clear Dropper Rig
  • Large Bait Dropper Rig

Listen to this post on the Cast & Spear Podcast

Rock Fishing Rigs Worth Trying

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Rig 1: Dropper Loop Rig

Also known as the blood loop knot rig. You leader will have one or two dropper loops around 12-18 inches apart from each other and a loop knot at the bottom for attaching your weight.

The line you use should depend on the size of the Rockfish you are targeting. Bigger ones require heavier lines, especially if you are fishing around structures. 

The size of the weight or sinker should depend on the strength of the current and how deep the water is:

  • 5 to 10 ft – ½ ounce weight
  • 10 to 15 ft – ¾ ounce weight
  • More than 15 ft – 1 ounce or heavier
  • 8+ ounces isn’t uncommon when going deep with decent current

Similarly, the size of the hook you use will depend on the size of the baits you use. If you are targeting large Rockfish, use whole bait, such as an entire shrimp, and increase the hook’s size accordingly. 

California Rockfishing Rig Setups

Rockfish is plentiful in California waters. Anglers have a particular name for the rig setups they use to get this fish. It’s called ‘gangion,’ which means having multiple hooks in your rig.

Simple Gangion Rockfish Rig

To tie this setup, you will need two-barrel swivels, a 30-pound mono line about four feet in length, two hooks, a 12-pound mono line about six inches in length, and a torpedo sinker that’s heavy enough to sink to the depths you are fishing in.

  1. Tie a swivel to both ends of the line and tie two dropper loops, making sure they are 18 inches apart. This should give you about 10 inches from the dropper loop and to the swivel. (you can also use three-way swivels if you don’t want to use dropper loops.)
  2. Straighten out the loops and pinch the ends together before passing them through the hook eye. Loop the end of the fishing line around the hook and pull tight to secure the hook.
  3. Tie an end of the 12-pound mono fishing line to the swivel at the bottom of the setup and tie the other one to the sinker. This will break away if your sinker gets stuck at the bottom on a rock, and you won’t lose the entire rig.

Heavy Gangion 

 Heavy Duty Gangion Rig

This is a heavier rock fishing rig setup compared to the first one and is best used if you are targeting a bigger species using large bait such as sardines or whole squid. 

To make this rig, you will need a 60-pound mono fishing line that is four feet in length, four-barrel swivels, two hooks, a 12-pound mono that is about six inches long, two pieces of 40-pound mono line that is 8 inches long, and a torpedo sinker that is heavy enough to sink to the bottom.

  1. Inline two swivels into the mainline using small dropper loops making sure they are about 18 inches apart. 
  2. Snell knot a hook on the two pieces of the 40-pound mono fishing line and tie the other end of the lines to the swivels. You need to make sure that the leader’s fishing lines are close to the two hooks. Otherwise, they can get tangled.
  3. Attach a swivel to both ends of the rig and then tie the sinker on there using the same breakaway method outlined in the first gangion setup. 
Inline Swivel

Braided Gangion 

If you’re looking for a super-strong leader then try a braided gangion.

  1. Take a thick piece of monofilament and fold it in half and attach your circle hook.
  2. Rotate your hook 20-30 times until you have a nice tight braid.
  3. Tie a knot at the opposite end of the hook to complete your leader.

This will provide a thick and stiff leader that will be tough and ready to handle any big fish. You can tie this to your mainline or a swivel with a weight, depending on your needs.

How to Catch Rockfish Near Structures

rockfish waiting for rock fishing rig
A beautiful rockfish waiting for your bait near structure. Source: Eva Funderburg

Irrespective of the species you are fishing for, the rockfish will always be found around rocks and structures, thus the name. This includes species such as the starry Rockfish, copper rockfish, vermillion rockfish, and chili pepper. Whether you are fishing around an island or coastal areas, the longer the drift, the more time you have to get this elusive fish. 

The best way to get your hands on this delicious fish is by using the rig fishing setups outlined in this guide. Just make sure you utilize bait that the fish will like, such as squid, anchovies, and sardines. 

Picking the Ideal Depths for Rockfish Fishing

It always depends on the structure at the spot. Using the fish finder rig, you’ll be able to tell where the fish are residing. Generally, these fish are caught on party boats in California, so the captain will know where and how deep to drop your rig.

Frequently Asked Questions

What size hooks are ideal for rock fishing?

Generally, hooks that lie between 2/0 and 4/0 should do the trick, but you will also need lead weights in the 6oz to 12 oz range for your setup.

Are Rockfish good to eat?

A rockfish that is of average size has about 33 gms of protein and is chock full of omega-three fatty acids. It also tastes great and is full of vitamin D as well. Since they take a long time to mature, they will likely hold more hard metals in their meat, so eat sparingly.

When should I get circle hooks?

Circle hooks are best if your rod is in a holder, and J hooks are ideal if you hold the rod in your hands while fishing.

What type of lures are best for rockfish fishing?

Plastic lures will work, such as scampi tails, but the species will also bite onto lures that are dressed with bucktail or any other material that is similar to it. We’ve caught some big rockfish on ahi assault diamond jigs as well.

Where can I find Rockfish?

If you try your hand at fishing for Rockfish, you should plan a trip to the waters around Santa Barbara, Los Angeles, and the Orange County coast. Offshore islands also have an abundance of these species that you will like.

Jon Stenstrom
Founder & Angler
Jon Stenstrom is a fishing enthusiast. He has over 25 years of fishing experience, and 6 years of spearfishing experience, and is currently learning how to boat. Jon has his Open Water PADI Certification and FII Freediver Level 1 Certification. Jon has traveled the world to fish and dive, most notably in the Great Barrier Reef, Baja Mexico, Thailand, and Malaysia. More Articles
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