CRUISING SOUTH WARD ALONG BAJA’ S COAST LINE, WE FOUND OUR SELVES ATONE OF CA PT. BARRY BRIGHTEN BUR G’ S FAVORITE SPOTS. ALL THREE ANGLE RS ON BOARD DROPPED BA ITS, THEN ONE, TWO, THREE, EVERY ONE HOOKED UP THE INSTANT THE BA ITS REACHED BOTTOM, AND WE A
Fog draped the Pacific waters when we left San Diego, California, so Brightenburg cautiously piloted the boat toward the Mexican border, just 8 miles below Point Loma, at the entrance to San Diego Bay. In an hour, we were fishing in 300 feet of water off Bahia Descanso, 20 miles south of the border.
Our targets on this winter day were Pacific rockfish and lingcod, but when pursuing Pacific bottomfish, variety is one of the highlights. More than 80 species of rockfish inhabit North America’s Pacific waters: canary, copper, green-spotted, olive, rosy, starry, vermilion and yellowtail rockfish, to name a few. Then throw in lingcod, California sheephead, ocean whitefish, and many other bottom species, and you never know what you might hook.
Why travel deep into Mexican territory? The answer is California’s fishing regulations, which close fishing for rockfish in January and February. That’s when Socal anglers traditionally turn to bottomfishing, but with rockfish closed in the Golden State during the winter months for the past few years, and with Mexico allowing the year-round take of rockfish, lingcod, sheephead, whitefish, and other bottom species, heading south of the border has become an excellent alternative.
The key to finding rockfish is locating structure, such as wrecks, in depths ranging from 90 to well over 350 feet.
You might have a book full of rockfish spots in your California home waters, but the first few trips into Mexican waters you will need to spend some time looking for the right kind of bottom and fish marks, or hire a guide to help show you the way. If you’re a newcomer to Mexico rockfishing, one way to locate likely fishing spots is by subscribing to fishdope.com, which offers a list of rockfish areas, in addition to fishing reports.
As a starting point, search with your fish finder along the 50-fathom curve that stretches southward from the Coronados to a seamount known as the Finger Bank, then undulates around the bank and turns inshore off Bahia Descanso to follow the coastline southward, taking a tortuous route around San Miguel Canyon, Isla de Todos los Santos, Banda Canyon and Cabo Punta Banda off Ensenada, some 60 miles below the border.
Unlike regulations in Southern California, which prohibit bottomfishing beyond 350 feet, Mexican regulations permit rockfishing at any depth, though bear in mind that they prohibit the use of electric reels, so it’s all human power on deep-drops.
While some of the biggest rockfish and lingcod come from depths of 300 feet or more, “You might find suitable