*Sharper Hooks*
*Tighter Lines*




Information & facts


Rockfish are distinguished by a stout, heavy build, large broad heads, usually bearing spines and strong ridges, and heavily-spined fins. The colour patterns vary from black and drab green through a brilliant orange and crimson; some are accented by the presence of wide red or black vertical stripes.

Rockfish are bottom dwelling fish that are often caught in the same areas as Lingcod.  There are many, many species of Rockfish including Yelloweye Rockfish, Goldeneye Rockfish, Copper Rockfish, Quillback Rockfish, Tiger Rockfish, etc.  For simplicity’s sake I will lump them all together along with fish like Pile Perch and Pacific Ocean Perch that have similar characteristics.

There is little information available about the migratory patterns of these fish and they are considered to be a non-migratory species with localized movement only. Although there are some species that undergo seasonal depth migrations, rockfish are primarily a bottom residing fish.

Rockfish Need Our Help

BC Rockfish come in all shapes, sizes and colours. These spiky, spiny, striped and speckled creatures are favourites with sportsmen and naturalists alike.

Unfortunately, recent monitoring and research programs have indicated that rockfish stocks in the Strait of Georgia are at low levels. Unlike salmon, rockfish rarely survive after being caught; therefore, one of the ways to ensure their survival is to avoid catching them. Rockfish live long lives, and are between the ages of 7 to 18 years (depending on the species) when they breed. They also live for a long time; the maximum ages for yelloweye rockfish is 115 years and 76 years for guillback rockfish. That is why rebuilding of these stocks, to ensure sustainability, takes a long time and rockfish must be carefully managed.

Quillback Rockfish


These fish are found near rocky reefs, in inlets and in shallow rock piles. A quillback is easily identified by its high dorsal fin with deep notches between the spine, large mouth and compressed body. Colouring is brown and yellow with orange-brown speckling on the lower back. The fins are dark, except for a yellow streak through the spiny dorsal fin. Average length is 35 cm; life span is up to 76 years.

Yelloweye Rockfish

yelloweye rockfish

In keeping with their name, these fish sport bright yellow eyes and are a bright red-orange in colour which fades to a yellowish-pink shade lower on the sides and belly; thus they are more commonly known as Red Snapper. While these fish are usually found in shallow water in early spring, they are generally caught in deep water (50 -100 metres). They will take bait such as herring but are also taken on jigs. A spine grows above each eye socket, and ridges grow behind the eyes. Their colouring is yellow-orange washed with pink tones. Fins are pink with black on the tips and include a large spiny dorsal fin with irregular notches and a rounded tail. Average length is 50 cm; life span is up to 115 years.

Tiger Rockfish

tiger rockfishA solitary, secretive rockfish that is typically found in deep water, especially near rocky crevices and caves. Striped like a tiger, these fish feature shades of pink, grey or rose, with five black or red bars running vertically across the body, and two black or red bars radiating backwards from the eyes. Bony ridges on the head may also distinguish them from other species. In younger individuals, tips of the ventral and anal fins are darkened. Average length is 30 cm.

Copper Rockfish

copper rockfish

These fish are striking in their variable colours, which may include dark or olive brown tones washed with copper-pink and occasionally splashed with yellow. Two yellow bands radiate backwards from the eyes, and the fins are copper-black. Length is up to 55 cm; lifespan can be 45 years.

How to catch Rockfish

The great thing about fishing for Rockfish is that you never know which species you will pull up.  Many of them are brightly colored and very beautiful.  They don’t put up much of a fight (often when caught in deep water their air bladders expand on the way up and they are unable to fight at all) but they do taste absolutely delicious.  If you are lucky enough to be able to fish for them shallow with light tackle they are a lot more sporty.

Rockfish are a great fish to get kids started on fishing because they are not usually very difficult to catch.  Usually a chunk of bait sent to the bottom gets a bite right away.  They don’t have big teeth but when handling them watch out for their long sharp dorsal spines.

There are many ways to cook them.  You can may like to deep fry them whole, but they taste good baked, steamed, grilled, and basically any other way you might want to prepare them.  They have a light, delicate flesh that is typically not fishy tasting.

Rockfish Tackle

Spinning or conventional tackle should work fine.  If targeting Rockfish in deep water or in heavy current you may need to use a lot of weight, which will necessitate heavier gear.  It is much more fun in my opinion to target these fish in the shallows when possible, although often the bigger ones are found deep.  Braided line is a must because its low-stretch qualities allow you to feel the bite even in deep water and make a good hookset.  If you are fishing shallow you can use a light baitcasting or spinning reel to make it more sporty.  When fishing deep you can use a conventional saltwater reel like an Accurate BX, although you actually don't need that good of a reel to fish for these.  A Penn Jigmaster is fine.  A shorter rod will work since these are fished right on the bottom most of the time.  

Rockfish Techniques

Rockfish are readily caught on both bait and lures.  Once they are located they are not usually difficult to catch; it’s just a matter of dropping your lure or bait down to the bottom.  Once in a while some species suspend above the bottom as well.  The key most of the time in rockfishing is to use enough weight to get to the bottom quickly and stay on the bottom, especially when fishing from a drifting boat.

Rockfish Lures

Metal jigs can be deadly on Rockfish and often result in bigger fish.  If you are fishing deep or in heavy current you want a jig that will drop straight down.  If you are fishing in shallower water you can afford to use a jig like a diamond jig that has a little action.  Whatever; these fish aren’t that picky.

Plastic lures such as scampi tails can work well.  You can fish these on whatever size leadhead gets you to the bottom or you can fish them on dropper loops.

Rockfish also frequently hit hooks dressed with bucktail or similar material.  

Rockfish often bite octopus type lures such as the Lucanus jig from Shimano.  Drop it to the bottom and slowly jig it up and down, pausing often.  There are a number of knock-offs that work well if you don't want to spring for the Lucanus jigs which can be pretty pricey to lose.

You may like to add a strip of squid to your lures to add to the appeal.

Rockfish Baits

Most small baitfish such as anchovies or sardines will work well for Rockfish.  Live is best but dead bait often works.  Strips of squid also work well.  I'm sure lots of other baits like octopus would work well but there is no need to get fancy.

When fishing for Rockfish with bait it's a good idea not to use a bare hook; use the bucktail flies or some other lure.  That way if the fish pulsl the bait off the hook you still have a chance of hooking something.


Many Rockfish suffer from barotrauma when being reeled in.  Barotrauma is damage to tissue caused by a rapid change in pressure.  Fish that have swim bladders are susceptible to it, especially if hooked deep as Rockfish often are.  Far too many times a Rockfish that cannot be kept is thrown back with an expanded swim bladder and floats around until it dies.  Whenever possible, Rockfish should be released in a way that gives them a chance to survive.  You can deflate the swim bladder with a needle to give them a chance to swim back down, or even better there are special cages that you can put the fish into and drop them back down to the bottom to release them with a better chance of survival.  If you fish often for Rockfish, it is worth familiarizing yourself with proper release methods.

More Resources on Rockfish

I hope that the information provided on this page makes you a better rockfish angler. In case you’d still like to continue your research into catching rockfish I put together the below list of resources. They should be sufficient for expanding your knowledge base.