OFF THE HOOK: Huge lingcod, rockfish biting off San Mateo coast
he drive down Highway 1 from Half Moon Bay to Santa Cruz is one of the most scenic stretches of highway found anywhere. Lush green fields of artichokes, Brussels sprouts and other crops are nestled above wave-beaten cliffs and beaches. Behind this dramatic setting loom the dark, cloud-shrouded Santa Cruz Mountains.
Cliff Clifton, the late owner of Hilltop Grocery in Half Moon Bay, said he never got tired of driving along this route nearly every day. Every time I drive along this route, I see something new, a farm house, a couple of trees, something I didn't see before, he told me.
The coastal scenery is even more beautiful and exciting when you approach it from sea, as Bob Ingles, captain of the Queen of Hearts, does every time he skippers one of his light tackle rockfish trips along the San Mateo County Coast. While the coast's scenery is legendary, it is also host to some of the best rockfish and lingcod action on the California coast.
With a full boatload of 33 anglers aboard the Queen of Hearts on Aug. 16, Ingles decided to stray away from his original plan to fish off Pescadero and instead target Pigeon Point, marked by the lighthouse of the same name. That decision proved to be a fortuitous one; just ask Kevin Miu, who landed an amazing 27-pound lingcod while fishing a shrimp fly.
After Miu put his shrimp flies tipped with squid strips down, he started bringing up a quality rockfish. He then felt a heavy weight on his line as he reeled the rockfish towards the surface.
When he got the rig up to the surface, a huge lingcod's toothy jaws were clamped onto a large China rockfish in a tug of war for the fish. Deckhand Mike Cabanas was quick with the gaff and put the hitch hiker lingcod into the boat.
I do a lot of bottomfishing from Monterey to Fort Bragg, and this was the largest lingcod I have personally seen in 15 years. The last lingcod bigger than that — a 28-pounder — was caught in the same general area aboard a Santa Cruz boat in the late 1990s.
Miu hadn't entered the fish in the jackpot, so the jackpot went to Michael Burchard of Oroville, who landed an 8-pound lingcod, also while fishing a shrimp fly rig. That's the biggest lingcod we've seen this year, commented Ingles.
While the day was highlighted by the 27-pound lingcod, it was the quality rockfishing that kept anglers busy. We were fishing in water from 15 to 80 feet deep.
"We fished Pescadero yesterday, but there was brown water and the fish weren't biting. We ended up with 3⁄4-limits of rockfish," Ingles noted in explaining his decision to go down to Pigeon Point.
The water off the point was also brown, caused by a combination of a light south swell and nutrient-rich water. However, by mid-morning the fish began to bite much better on the calm seas.
By the end of the day, all of the passengers had bagged full limits of rockfish and a total of five lingcod. The rockfish we kept ranged from 1 to 4 pounds.
All five lingcod, including the 27-pounder, were all taken by anglers fishing the custom made Half Moon Bay Sportfishing white feather shrimp fly jigs with strips of squid.
"Without a doubt, the flies have been working the best day in and day out," Ingles noted. "Everybody wants that secret fancy dancy lure to land that big lingcod. The shrimp flies aren't fancy dancy, but they sure do work. There have been a lot of squid in the area recently, so it could be one reason the white flies are working right now."
I agree with Ingles — the white shrimp flies, tipped with squid, yielded great rockfish action for me — I only caught two small rockfish while tossing out "fancy dancy bars."
Personally, I had a blast catching one rockfish after another on a mixture of bars and shrimp flies. My sack included big China, black and gopher rockfish and one 14-inch greenling.
Successful anglers aboard the boat include Logan Ho and his dad, Samuel, who teamed up to catch limits of rockfish and one 5.8-pound lingcod.
"The rockfish populations are rebounding," noted Ingles, who serves on the Groundfish Advisory Subpanel of the Pacific Fishery Management Council (PFMC). "Every assessment the federal and state scientists has done in recent years proves that the regulations are working."
While the salmon fishing had slowed at press time, Ingles said the overall fishing has been the best since 2004, with lots of big chinooks landed by private and party boat fishermen.
For more information about fishing aboard the Queen of Hearts, contact: Half Moon Bay Sportfishing and Tackle, Pillar Point Harbor, Half Moon Bay, CA, Phone 650-728-3377, www.fishingboat.com.