Black Rockfish, Sebastes melanops
Also known as black seaperch, black bass, black rock cod, sea bass, black snapper
Features: Black rockfish are dark gray to black on top, with a lighter belly, and black spots on their dorsal fins. They can grow to be 25-inches long.
Habitat: They are found over rocky reefs most typically shoreward of 180 ft. of depth, and are common along jetties and other structure in estuaries. Occasionally schools of black rockfish will come all the way to the surface.
Technique: Rockfish feed on squid, octopus, krill, and other fish. They readily take both bait and lures. Common lures include rubber-tailed lead head jigs and shrimp flies.
—Sidebar information from the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife
ILWACO — Salmon and sturgeon are often heralded for their size and strength but another recreational fishery rapidly rising as a popular alternative off the Oregon and Washington coast.
“A lot of people who had salmon fishing trips decided to try bottom fishing,” said Sea Breeze Charters owner Pat Schenk after a successful afternoon of fishing in early August. Schenk recently semi-retired from the water, but continues to coordinate operations from the charter office.
“Today the F/V Legacy had 94 fish in less than one hour and the F/V Sea Breeze and F/V Salty Dog were right behind it. The bottom fishing has been really great.”
Rockfish opportunities increase
After a delayed start to the charter-fishing season due to the on-going covid-19 pandemic followed by a short ocean salmon season, bottom fishing has been a steady bright spot so far this summer, with anglers routinely taking home their limit of seven rockfish each trip, with an occasional lingcod, too.
“We started out with a five fish limit but then they bumped it up to seven rockfish. It makes a huge difference for people, especially when it was different between Washington and Oregon, but now they’re both the seven. I think it helped for sure,” Schenk said.
Trips typically depart daily, depending the tide, around 5 a.m., and return in the early afternoon, unless limits are reached early, which isn’t uncommon. Bottom fishing is also a good introduction to fishing for kids to seasoned anglers.
“Bottom fishing is something the family can do from kids to grandparents. We use light tackle so everyone can handle the fishing rod. It works out for all ages.”
Schenk, 73, was among the first to offer bottom-fishing charter trips out of Ilwaco as a result of restricted salmon seasons in the 70s.
“In the 70s they started restricting the salmon fishing. They cut us out one year around July and there was nobody on the port, so I started bottom fishing,” he explained.
“I ended up taking four trips in a row down there for a total of 12 people," he said. "We lost money on each trip doing that, but the next week I was hauling more and more because the word got out and people got excited. I was the only boat doing it. I made some money that year, not tons, but before buoy 10 opened up. It paid for my overhead because all we had was buoy 10. That’s how it got started. I was the only boat going down there for quite a while.”
Over time, Schenk honed a bottom-fishing method influenced by salmon and tuna fishing.
“Originally we had sinkers with salmon baits on them. It worked okay but kind of expensive because those banana sinkers weren’t cheap at the time. Then we went to using plastic worms with a coho fly.”
Today, Schenk prefers a finesse approach on bottom-fishing trips, using a ¾-to 2-ounce egg sinker with a live anchovy on a single hook, rather than a traditional top and bottom rig.
“I like to try new stuff all the time, to me that’s what fishing is all about,” Schenk said.
“The cove where we fish is pretty shallow water and the bottom is real jagged. If you’re using metal jigs they’ll hang up all the time and cost you a fortune. If each guy loses four jigs, which is not uncommon, that’s like $25 and that’s your profit on the trip. I came up with an ide of using egg weights and just a single hook like they do tuna fishing about seven or eight years ago and it works well.”