Outdoor / Fishing

Thursday, May 09 2013 11:50 PM

Steve Merlo: Rockfish season opens on the Central Coast

By The Bakersfield Californian

I wrangled an ocean-fishing invitation from some friends last week, going out of Morro Bay on their private boat to do battle with some rockfish. The season had officially opened a few days before and we were eager to find some filets for the freezer.

The ocean stood relatively calm with only a light breeze when we started, so we made for some of the underwater rock structures only a few miles from the estuary's entrance to try our hands with relatively light tackle. Once fishing, we found a few rockfish, including gophers, chinas, vermilions and a handful of short ling cod that were fun to catch but had to be released (ling cod must be 22 inches from the tip of the nose to the tip of the tail to keep.).

These unusual and greatly sought after ocean denizens come in a wide variety of colors, depending on what they've been gorging upon when caught. Normally, the fish feed on rockfish, sardines, anchovies and other baitfish, but octopus and squid are equally sought after. Depending on what the ling has been feeding upon, the fish's mottled appearance takes on the color of its prey and so does the meat. It's not unusual to find green, blue or brown shades to not only the fish's skin, but to its meat as well. Fortunately, when cooked, the meat returns to its prized world class white flesh that ranks well up on any Epicurean's list.

Most anglers cannot help but be impressed by the fish's pugnacity and eagerness to eat just about anything that looks edible. A ling cod's gaping maw carries a mouthful of sharp teeth rivaling even that of a barracuda, and many a careless salt water fisherman carries one or more reminding scars from an accidental encounter with them.

This well-known Pacific Coast specie, known for its epic battles and bulldogging, straight-back-down-to-the-bottom runs, literally knocks the Dickens out of anything put in front of it. After the strike and hookup, lings often surge back to the bottom where they attempt to take shelter in a rock cave or grotto.

Usually, the thumping strike of a big ling hammering an ocean jig in deep water jolts a fisherman out of any daydreaming he or she had been doing before the hit. But that's not what happened when I let my jig settle onto the bottom over 150 feet down. Immediately hung up on the rocky bottom, I worked on getting my treble-hooked jig loose for a few minutes, then decided to break it off so I could retie and continue fishing. Putting all the pressure my 25-pound line could handle, the heavy, rod-bending weight suddenly let up and I immediately felt the pressure of what I figured to be a hooked and loosened rock and not a fish.

Pumping the dead weight slowly to the surface, I took a lot of ribbing from my friends about "rock" fishing and "rock" catching, but that all changed when the "rock" -- a 10- or-12-pound ling cod, loomed into view. Apparently, the fish took the jig just before hitting the bottom and then swam back into a hole where I unknowingly and eventually bulldogged it from its lair. The fish showed absolutely no fight, probably tuckered out from trying to stay inside its home.

Rockfish season began May 1 and runs until December 30, with a limit of 10 groundfish per day, per person. Cabezon and bocaccio limits remain at three fish each, which must be included in the general 10-fish limit. Ling cod must be 22 inches long to keep, with a limit of two per person, per day. Other limits and size restrictions also apply in the Central Management Area, including a 240-foot fishing depth limitation, so anglers are cautioned to review or consult all regulations. A California Fishing license is required to fish the ocean on the Central Coast.

Big game tag applications

Prospective hunters must have their applications for big game hunt tags into the Department of Fish and Wildlife no later than June 2.

Burtch Memorial Shootout

Don't forget about attending the 2nd annual Kern County Gun Club sponsored Dennis Burtch Memorial Shootout on May 18. Proceeds will benefit the Small Miracles Foundation and also assist in year round improvements and maintenance at the gun club.

The late Dennis Burtch was a staunch benefactor of Small Miracles and also the KCGC. Small Miracles is a foundation for terminally ill children, much the same way the Make a Wish Foundation has given young children a chance to fulfill their dreams.

This 20-stage sporting clays event will also feature a huge raffle where over 20 high quality guns will be given away. Any shooter firing a perfect score will win a new Dodge 4X4 truck, complements of Haddad Dodge.

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