Santa Cruz Rock Cod – Rumors of A 5 Mile Reef

Videos been out awhile now:

I managed to finish editing it, but had no time to post :[  Been a looong busy last 2 weeks.  Went to Texas for a work conference, came back & it was a week of meetings for our offsite…  Hoo boy.  I was planning on going out for horseneck clams (looks like geoducks), but then we found out we had the week wrong.  So I’ll be up in Lawson’s Landing next Saturday!

Getting back into the swing of things though, lets go back & cover what happened in Santa Cruz!

22 inch huge big cabezon on swimbait from santa cruz, california fishermen never lie fnl
22″ cabbie

This ‘ere toad was the highlight of the day.  Caught him in a small 4-5″ swim bait of unknown brand:

mystery swimbait

Bought these at Fishermen’s Warehouse in SJ.  If you know what brand they are, please let me know!  They didn’t have any in the colors I wanted when I last visited.

swimbait best color rock cod
This color in particular worked suuuuper well

Unfortunately after 3-4 cabbie/ling bites it got torn up pretty bad.  Only bought like 2 or 3 of each color so was running low by the end of this trip :[

Anyhow, I’m sure you’re all more interested in the rest of the gear.  I fished mainly swimbaits on 2-4oz jig heads.  Didn’t seem to have any difference if they were painted or not, had eye stickers, or if they were triangle/circular heads.  In general, I seemed to do better with the 2oz ones, but they really did take quite a bit longer to get down there.

I tried both swimbaits on their own, and ones that had a teaser shrimp fly above it.  Both worked equally well, but the shrimp fly on top enabled me to get a triple hook up:

swim bait teaser hook shrimp fly rock cod ling cod best rig fishing
example swim bait rig

If you want to make your own swimbait rock cod rig, you should check out this tutorial I made:

Anyhow, my mom & kara were using 3 way live bait rigs (4oz weight), and shrimp flies.  Shrimp flies landed a black, blue, and a brown I think.

black rock cod santa cruz skiff fishing
black rock cod

My mom switched to a swimbait and managed to catch an astonishingly small fish:

fail fishing fish smaller than the bait lol funny
*sigh* sometimes, adding some squid to your hook isn’t the best idea…
my dear mother for scale

She trailed that as live bait w/ squid as well, and then hooked a small gopher.  Which was at least larger, but was going after the squid.

Yes, yes, I realize I’m sort of wandering through this report.  Sorry, I keep walking away and coming back to write a little more @_@  If you watch the first video in the post, you can see it all in chronological order d=

Before we launched, we saw there were already tons of people all along the pier catching bait:

These seemed to be the most successful ones


Besides mackerel, they were catching these too
double mackerel hook up!

We caught a few for bait, but nothing even came to nibble on them.  Same luck dropping mackerel and sardines down.  At least for the first time ever we managed to jig up sardines on sabiki though!  Last time I saw them follow my sabiki up to the boat, but they wouldn’t bite…


Anyways.  After catching bait we moved on to the red/white buoy.

red & white SC buoy

Why do I include a picture of this buoy you ask?  Perchance there’s fish near it?  No.  No there is not.  Its all sandy as far as we could tell.  We tried a 20 minute drift here since we saw other boats parked around it.  Aaaalllll sandy bottom, and no fish to speak of.  No sand dabs, no bait, no rock cod, no halibut, noooothing!

When we tried to leave, we found the engine wouldn’t start.  We tried all the tricks, called Santa Cruz Boat & Bait, and they walked us through some other attempts via the phone.  Nothing worked, so they said they’d send someone out.

1.5 hours of waiting, 4 or 5 calls, and theoretically 2 boats out looking for us later… help finally arrives and our motor is fixed.  We drifted over nothing but sand, and got to watch bait jumping about 100ft away, just out of reach of us the whole time.  Fuuuun…

Luckily once he fixed our motor, he showed us where to fish, so things turned up from there.

black and yellow rock cod santa cruz swim bait fishing report
black and yellow cod
aahh, what a great feeling!

cabezon swim bait santa cruz skiff fishing report
oops, gut hooked an underling :[
back he went

ling cod on swim bait santa cruz, ca fishing report
ling cod



Overall it was a meh trip.  Most of the action was with me, and it mostly happened in the span of 15 min over 1 spot.  I’d heard and seen in Google Earth that there should be a large reef miles and miles long…

We were certainly over it, but there were tons of patches of sand.  Way more than Google Earth would lead you to believe.

It probably bears a 2nd trip to really get a better idea.  And not spend nearly 2 hours drifting helpless :\


Tomorrow I may be going out of HMB and trying my kayak luck.  Or I’ll sleep in.  We’ll see!

Full album can be found here:

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9 thoughts on “Santa Cruz Rock Cod – Rumors of A 5 Mile Reef”

  1. Can you share where to drift over for the rockfish? My buddies are planning on going down to rent some skiffs at Capitola in a couple of weeks. Thanks!

  2. Also…regarding using swim baits, were you just jigging vertically or were you casting out and retrieving after it hit bottom? Thanks.

    1. Hey, sorry for the delay in replies. In Taiwan on vacation for the last 2 weeks.
      I was doing both. Most fish were caught casting out then jigging as we passed over it (cast ahead of your drift). I think the double ling/cab was when I got lazy and was dragging the bait on the bottom behind the boat.

      It really depends on the weight of your jig and your drift speed. I was throwing 1.5oz most of the time, and that took maybe 20 seconds to hit bottom, so you HAD to throw it far up drift to reach the bottom.

  3. Between Santa Cruz and Capitola, which has better fishing and which do you prefer? I’m thinking bout heading down there with my buddies in July. Do you mind sharing or emailing me the coordinates to the reefs? I tried to plug in those coordinates on the map that Capitola boat and bait give out, but they seem invalid. Those coordinates are d/m/s coordinates aren’t they?

    1. I’ve only fished Santa Cruz once, and we spent a few morning hours drifting over sand when the engine died sooo… not sure. We certainly hooked up with a ton of fish in the same spot, but don’t have coords since my battery for the fish finder died. Also there were a ton of lings & cabbies, but it seems this year there’s a ton of them everywhere.
      I’ve heard fish are bigger & more abundant in Santa Cruz.

      As far as reefs go…
      Capitola has small scattered reefs. If you’re not RIGHT over them, you won’t catch many fish. So as soon as you hook up try to triangulate your position w/ 3 points from shore (or ping your gps). If you’re even 10-15ft off, you’ll get nada. If you go I’d recommend catching some live bait (look for birds diving) then head out to Boomer’s reef and drift live bait. Anchovies, smelt, mackerel, and kingfish all work. Make sure to tie sliding 3 way rigs (trap hook slides) or you’ll miss fish that bite off the back half of macks.
      Santa Cruz supposedly has like a few mile long reef, but there seemed to be a TON of sand between rocky areas when we drifted through. Our success was in maybe a 20 by 20 ft area, and once we drifted out the bites would stop…

      For the Capitola reef maps, just add .00 at the end of your gps coords if you need to. That’s how I inputted them into my fish finder. From there you’ll just have to watch the water surface to hone in on the reef (or drift the general area until you get bites)

      Let me know how you do and if you have more questions! :]

      1. Thanks for the tips! You going to do any fishing in Taiwan? I’m curious what did you mean by watch the water surface to hone in on the reefs? What am I looking for? I tried plugging in .00 on the coordinates and still not working. Does your gps use the decimal system or d/m/s system? For Boomers 36-56-355 121-57-737, I tried plugging .00 in d/m/s and then tried to convert those to decimal system and they both drop me on land in the santa cruz area. I tried on google/maps entering in the decimal coordinates and same result.

        1. Sorry got tied up @ work and my desktop broke as I got back from Taiwan…
          I just plugged in 0’s for the missing portion. Don’t remember what the format is, I just remember the last 2 or 3 decimals being less important (and you’d only be off by like 10-30 ft) from what I could tell.

          Its hard to explain the water surface thing. If you look at, I think it was surfers reef, on the map they give you? You can see that shape if you get near surfers reef on the top of the water. That ‘flatter’ surface usually indicates structure below. I’d need a picture or to be there in person to point it out better for you. Sorry :[

    2. Oh, also, if you go out of Capitola, ask the guys (Ed and Glen if I’m remembering their names right, there’s a 3rd guy but I’ve never seen him in the morning) for tips on where fish have been caught the last few days.
      They’re really nice and can give you tips for triangulating the reefs based on landmarks.

  4. Hey Dennis,

    I thought I posted this question to you before but I can’t find it now, so I’m not sure if you ever received it, but where do you prefer renting skiffs from? Santa Cruz or Capitola? Also, the coordinates for the reefs given on the map they give you at Capitola Bait and Boat don’t seem to be accurate. When I try to plug them in, they are not anywhere near where they should be. Would you mind sharing the coordinates for the reefs so I can plug them into my gps app? Thanks!

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