Olive Rockfish

Olive Rockfish from Monterey Wharf #2

Species: Sebastes serranoides (Eigenmann & Eigenmann, 1890); from the Greek words sebastes (magnificent), and serranoides, a combination of Latin and Greek words (resembling a bass).

Alternate Names: Sugar bass, Johnny bass or Jonathan (in Southern California), greenie (in central California); sometimes called kelp yellowtail, kelp salmon, bass rockfish, sugarfish. Called rocote falsa cabrilla in Mexico.

Identification: Bass-shaped and often mistaken for bass, especially kelp bass. Readily identified by the different shape of the dorsal fins (in bass, the third to fifth spines are much higher than the other spines). The coloring is olive-brown with light areas under the dorsal fins; light brown or olive-brown on the sides; light blotches on the back. Fins range from olive to bight yellow. Olives are similar in appearance to yellowtail rockfish and often mistaken for them. However, olives do not have reddish-brown speckling on the scales as do the yellowtail rockfish and the caudal fin is generally greenish-yellow instead of just yellow.

Size: To 24 inches, although most caught from piers are less than 12 inches in length. The California record fish weighed 5 lb 14 oz and was caught at San Augustine Reef in 1991.

Range: Islas San Benitos, central Baja California, to southern Oregon. Commonly found from Santa Barbara and the northern Channel Islands to Cape Mendocino.

Habitat: Recorded to a depth of 572 feet but generally they’re a mid-water species found in shallow-water kelp beds, often mixing in with schools of blue or black rockfish. Adults primarily feed on small fish (including juvenile rockfish), small crustaceans (including krill), cephalopods (including squid and octopi), isopods and worms. Both juvenile and adult fish may feed primarily at night (when more octopi are roaming around), but it’s less clear with the adults. Olives are known to compete for food and shelter with kelp bass. They’re also a resident species rarely moving more than a mile from their home territory.

Piers: Primarily found near piers that have a good growth of kelp. Best bets: San Clemente Pier, Cabrillo Mole, Paradise Cove Pier, Stearns Wharf, Goleta Pier (Pipe-Reef), Gaviota Pier, Morro Bay T-Pier’s, San Simeon Pier, Monterey Coast Guard Pier, Monterey Wharf #2, Santa Cruz Wharf, and San Franciso Municipal Pier (juveniles).

Shoreline: An occasional catch by rocky shore anglers in southern California.

Boats: A common catch by boaters fishing kelp beds in southern and central California; especially common in the Santa Barbara area, and the offshore Santa Barbara Island and San Nicholas Island.

Bait and Tackle: Light to moderate tackle, high/low leader and size 6 or 4 hooks seem to work best for these fish. Although they prefer live anchovies, they will hit ghost shrimp, bloodworms, and small strips of anchovy. They also will hit artificial lures such as swimbaits.

Food Value: An excellent eating, mild-flavored fish that is best fried.

Comments: An attractive rockfish that is rarely abundant at piers but which does visit most of the piers between Port Hueneme and Cayucos each summer. Historically an important recreational fish from southern California to Fort Bragg, especially in the Santa Barbara area, but numbers have decreased dramatically in southern California since the 1980s (83% decline between 1980 and 1996). One cause may be the drop in the numbers and size of kelp beds, when beds of Macrocystis decrease so do the number of olive rockfish. The fish live to at least 30 years with a few fish becoming mature (and reproductive) at 11.3-11.7 inches in 3 years, 50% at 12.9-13.7 inches and 5 years, all mature by 15.2 inches and 8 years. They are considered one of the fastest growing rockfish.

Many thanks to Robert O’H for the help with the pictures.

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Copper Rockfish

Copper Rockfish from the Morro Bay South T-Pier


Species: Sebastes caurinus (Richardson, 1844); from the Greek word sebastes (magnificent). and the Latin word caurinus (northwest wind), a reference to the first specimens being taken in the northwest off of Sitka, Alaska.

Alternate Names: Chucklehead, whitebelly rockfish, white gopher, gopher, white grouper, sailfin rockfish, yellowbacked rockfish, and my two favorites—fighting bob and never dies. In the 1800s usually called garrupa (grouper) by the Portugese fishermen of California; called yellow garrupa in Monterey. Later aquired a plethora of names from the Monterey fleets—barriaga blanca, barriaga branca (white belly), whitebelly rock cod, and palermotana (after Palermo, Sicily in Italy). Called taayii, xaadxadaay or hat’ by the Haida in British Columbia, Coppers are called rocote cobrizo in Mexico; kin menuke by the Japanese.

Identification: A deep-bodied rockfish. Colors range from dark brown or olive to pink or orange-red above with patches of copper-pink and sometimes yellow. Their bellies are whitish. Two copper-orange bars radiate backward from their eyes and their cheeks are sometimes yellowish. They also often have a pale stripe running along the rear two-thirds of the lateral line; the line is found in all color variations. Their fins are mostly coppery and often dark. Because of their variable colorations coppers were at times considered to be two to three distinct species with whitebelly rockfish being the most common.

Size: To 26.4 inches. Most coppers caught from piers are young fish under ten inches in length. The California record fish weighed 8 lb 5 oz and was taken at Pidgeon Point in 1985.

Range: Islas San Benito, central Baja California to Western Gulf of Alaksa, east of Kodiak Island

Habitat: Younger fish are typically found around pilings and jetties. Juveniles are found in loose aggregations around piers and wharves in bays. In southern California, adults are typically found in deep waters. In more northern waters adult coppers primarily live in shallow, protected bays and inlets among rocks or kelp beds and though most hang out at a 90-foot depth, they range down to 620 feet. Adults most commonly feed close to the bottom with crustaceans being the main basis of their diet—shrimp and several different crabs including Cancer sp., and kelp crab. Squid and octopi are also important food species while a wide variety of bottom fish are also eaten, especially cusk-eels, eelpouts, sculpins and young-of-the-year rockfishes. Morning and evening hours are the prime dining times. Once settled, adult copper rockfish rarely move more than a mile form their home.

Piers: I’ve only taken these from four California piers—the South T-Pier at Morro Bay, the Santa Cruz Wharf, the Commercial St. Dock in Eureka, and Citizens Dock in Crescent City, but they are also recorded from the Monterey Coast Guard Pier. Coppers are the most common rockfish caught from piers/wharves in Washington and British Columbia. Two excellent spots are the Mukilteo Pier and Seattle’s Pier 57, both in Washington, and wharves along Victoria’s waterfront in British Columbia.

Shoreline: An infrequent catch by anglers fishing from jetties or rocky areas.

Boats: A frequent catch by “rockcod” anglers fishing in central and northern California.

Bait and Tackle: Most copper rockfish caught by pier anglers are young fish hooked while the anglers are fishing around the pilings for perch or other bottom fish. Most are landed on high/low leaders using small hooks although some will be landed on bait rigs (Sabiki) being used for smelt, herring or anchovies.

Food Value: The flesh is flaky and tasty and can be prepared many ways.

Comments: Coppers reach at least 55 years in age with most of the largest fish being females. Maturity (reproductive age) is reached by some at 12.1 inches and 5 years, most at 13.3 inches and 6 years, all by 16 inches and 8 years. One female may release hundreds of thousands of tiny live young in April and May. The young must take their chances in the plankton and very few live to be adults. According to the California Fish and Game—“There has been no formal stock assessment of this species in California. However, there is compelling evidence that copper rockfish populations have severely declined in many areas, and large individuals are noticeably less common than in past decades.”

Many thanks to Robert O’H for the help with the pictures

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Treefish from the Cabrillo Mole at Avalon on Catalina Island

Species: Sebastes serriceps (Jordan & Gilbert, 1880); from the Greek words sebastes (magnificent), and serriceps (formed from two Latin words meaning saw head) in reference to the large head spines.

Alternate Names: Convict fish, lipstick bass, lipstick fish, barber pole and garrupa.  Called rocote presidiario in Mexico.

Identification: Body short and compressed with thick spines on the head. Easily identified by the yellowish to olive (sometimes dark olive) coloring with five to six vertical black bars on the side, pink lips and two blackish bands radiate from the eye. The young have white-edged fins.

Size: To 16 inches. Most caught from piers are under a foot in length. The California record fish weighed 4 lb 3 oz and was caught at Malibu in 2003.

Range: From Isla Cedros, central Baja California, to San Francisco; common in southern California but rare north of Santa Barbara.

Habitat: Although seen down to 100 feet in depth, they are primarily a shallow-water rockfish that likes to spend its time in caves and crevices, rocky areas, and kelp. Treefish are primarily night and twilight predators that seek out bethnic invertebrates such as shrimp, spider crabsand cancer crabs. However they will also grab small fish when they have the chance. A residential, homebody species that rarely strays far from home. Trees are also highly territorial, competing with fellow treefish and nearshore rockfish (black-and-yellows, grass, and gophers) for food and shelter habitat.

Piers: Due to habitat only found at a few piers. Best bets: Ocean Beach Pier, Cabrillo Mole (Avalon)—the best, Hermosa Beach Pier and Goleta Pier.

Shoreline: An occasional catch by rocky shore anglers in southern California.

Boats: Mostly caught by boaters and kayakers fishing shallow water areas in southern California.

Bait and Tackle: Will take a variety of baits including worms, fresh mussels, ghost shrimp, squid and anchovies. They will hit most bait fished on most riggings. However, a high/low leader utilizing number 4 hooks appears to work best.

Food Value: An excellent eating, mild-flavored fish that is best fried. Treefish received the second highest price paid to California commercial fishermen for rockfish in 1998 at $4.66 per pound.

Comments: Treefish live to 23 years of age but what’s with the Helena Rubinstein lips? Milton Love says these fish are territorial and the pink/red lips may warn off other fish. Sounds reasonable to me.

Many thanks to Robert O’H for the help with the pictures

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Gopher Rockfish

Gopher Rockfish from the Monterey Coast Guard Pier

Species: Sebastes carnatus (Jordan & Gilbert, 1880); from the Greek word sebastes (magnificent), and the Latin word carnatus (flesh colored).

Alternate Names:  Butterball, butter bass, gopher cod. Called rocote amarillo in Mexico.

Identification:  Deep, stout body with a steep porofile. Spinous dorsal higher than soft rays; spines on head small. Pale-brown, tan or olive-brown on back with flesh-colored or whitish spotting and blotches; darker rays radiate from eyes

Size:  To 15.6 inches.

Range: San Roque, central Baja California, to Cape Blanco, regon.

Habitat: Gopher rockfish typically inhabit bethnic environments 30-240 feet deep. They occupy rocky habitat at the base of kelp beds and though they will share reefs with other rockfish (especially kelp, blue and olive), they are territorial, defending their home territory and keeping other rockfish out of their bottom territories. Gopher rockfish are considered to be nocturnal and generalist predators that like to spend daytime hours in holes and crevices, emerging at dusk to dine. While the diet of juvenile gopher rockfish includes crustacean zooplanktors, adult diets include invertebrates such as cephalopods, gatropods, opiuroids (brittle stars), Cancer crabs, porcelain crabs, spider crabs, shrimp and polychaete worms. Small fish consumed by gopher rockfish include juvenile rockfish (mainly blue rockfish), sculpins, juvenile surfperch, kelpfishes, and plainfin midshipman.Gopher Rockfish from the Morro Bay South T-Pier

Piers: Smallish-sized gophers are sometimes taken from piers but most adults migrate to moderately deep waters. Best bets: Mporro Bay South T-Pier, Monterey Coast Guard Pier and Santa Cruz Wharf. One specimen was reported from the Crystal Pier but it may have been a brown rockfish.

Shoreline: Smallish-sized gophers are sometimes taken by rocky shore anglers in southern and central California but usually they’re found in deeper water,

Boats: A common catch for boaters and kayakers from Santa Barbara north to Monterey Bay.

Bait and Tackle:  Cut bait, squid, and shrimp fished with a #1 or #2 hook is usually all that is required.

Food Value: An excellent eating, mild-flavored fish that is best fried.

Comments: Gopher rockfish are very closely related to black-and-yellow rockfish   and though distinct in coloring, they may be the same species. Typical age of maturity is 3-4 years old when the fish are about 5 inches in length. Can live to about 30 years of age.

Many thanks to Robert O’H for the help with the pictures

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Brown Rockfish

Brown Rockfish from the San Clemente Pier

Species: Sebastes auriculatus (Girard, 1854); from the Greek word sebastes (magnificent) and the Latin word auriculatus  (eared, referring to the large spot on the gill cover).

Alternate Names:  Chocolate bass is a common name as is bolina (from Bolinas Bay where they were first caught in large numbers). Sand bass, sugar bass, brown bass, cinnamon bass, brown bomber, brown rock cod, ground owl, and garrupa (grouper) are other colloquial names. Called cha menuke and chairo menuke by the Japanese; rocote moreno in Mexico.

            On PFIC these fish are simply designated SBRF or sbrf in deference to the appellation first applied by “pierhead” (actual name Boyd Grant, the Yoda-like Pier Master and patient teacher of youthful, local padawans on the path to “Pier Rat” enlightenment).  He recorded the daily catch at Goleta Pier from 2002-2003 and found that nearly 30% of the fish caught from the pier’s pipe-reef were small brown rockfish. If it was a “larger” small brown rockfish it became SBRF, if it was a “smaller” small brown rockfish it became sbrf. To this day most regulars on the site know what the acronyms mean and use them in their reports.

Identification: Typical rockfish shape. Their coloring is light brown with darker brown mottling. A very prominent dark brown spot on the opercle (gill cover) most easily identifies brown rockfish. Sometimes confused with copper rockfish but the coppers do not have the dark spot on the opercle and are lighter colored. Up in the northern waters of Puget Sound hybridization between brownies, quillbacks and coppers can really confuse identification.

Size: To 22.4 inches; most caught from piers are less than 12 inches long. The California record fish weighed 6 lb 15 oz and was caught at the Colorado Reef, north of Princeton Harbor, San Mateo Co. in 2008.

Range: Bahia San Hipolito, central Baja California, to Prince William Sound, northern Gulf of Alaska. A wide-ranging rockfish that I have caught as far south as the Cabrillo Mole at Avalon and as far north as Pier 57 on the Seattle waterfront.

Habitat:  Shallow subtidal areas and in bays. In shallow waters they prefer rocky areas and kelp beds; in bays they are often found around structure (especially the younger fish) although some are also found in beds of eelgrass. Adults in deeper waters tend to hang down near the rocky bottoms. San Francisco Bay is considered an important habitat for juvenile brown rockfish. Apparently all of the brownies in S.F. Bay are five years of age or younger, after that age they move offshore into deeper waters. Adults can range down to 444 feet but are only common to about 400 feet. Most are caught in waters shallower than 175 feet. Apparently they are residential, rarely moving more than a couple of miles from home (although sometimes into deeper water during the winter). Their diet includes a variety of invertebrates, especially crabs and shrimp, and they will rarely pass up the opportunity to gulp down an available, smaller fish.

Brown Rockfish from the Morro Bay South T-Pier

Piers: Most commonly caught from piers north of Monterey Bay although the pipe-reef at the Goleta Pier yields a steady number of fish throughout the year. Small brown rockfish are one of the most common fish caught at Bay Area piers. Best bets: Goleta Pier, Port San Luis Pier, Morro Bay T-Piers, Piller Point Harbor Pier, San Francisco Municipal Pier, Port View Park Pier, Berkeley Pier, Paradise Beach Pier, Angel Island Pier, Elephant Rock Pier and the Fort Baker Pier. Many brownies are also caught from the piers and docks that line the Eureka waterfront, especially the Commercial Street Dock.

Shoreline: Sometimes taken by anglers fishing rocky areas in central California.

Boats: Taken by boaters, especially kayakers fishing in kelp beds and shallow water.

Bait and Tackle: Small brown rockfish are commonly caught under and around the pilings of Bay Area Piers. Small hooks, size 6 or 8, baited with a small piece of pile worm is by far the best bait although strips of squid and even cut bait will take some fish.

Food Value: An excellent eating, mild-flavored fish that is best fried.

Comments: Brownies can live to 34 years in age although few reach 25 years, a relatively short life for members of the rockfish family. A few fish mature and reproduce at 7.4 inches and 3 years of age, most mature between 9.4-12.1 inches and 4-5 years, all are mature by 14.8 inches and 10 years of age. These fish can be a lot of fun for youngsters to catch but most caught from piers are really too small to keep. According to the California Fish and Game “the brown rockfish has been identified as a species vulnerable to severe localized depletions in other areas; in Washington state, the Puget Sound stock of brown rockfish was recommended for listing as a threatened species in 1999.”

Many thanks to Robert O’H for the help with the pictures

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