How to poke pole

I’m leading tours now!  Skip the messiness, and come learn it first hand with me guiding you by your side!  Kids are welcome, just remember they should be comfortable moving around on the jetty.  You can find more details here.


Sorry in advance for the lack of organization so far.  Just lumping random things I know.  Still have a lot to learn but haven’t had time to get out there when the tide is nice.  Ideally will clean this page up in the future.

Going to try to cover all the things I’ve learned so far about poke poling; a how to poke pole if you will.  Hopefully I keep learning new things and remember to continue to update this page.

  • The following are all things that are a possibility to catch while poke poling: monkey face eel, rock cod, cabezon, ling cod, kelp greenling, rock crabs, dungeness crabs
  • If monkey face eels are your goal, don’t use anything less than 40lb test line.  I’ve lost many an eel when I used to run out there with only 20lb line tied to my hooks.
    • I have been told by experts like Kirk Lombard that its better to run 80-100lb line.  The reasons for this range from stronger line allowing you to really muscle a fish out to the stiffer line allows for better bait presentation.  Supposedly with this set up if you snag your hook on some kelp or rocks you just pull until you bend the hook and get everything back.
    • I personally just run 40lb line.  I’m not sure I’ll always be in a position where I can exert enough force to bend the hook.
    • An important factor when fishing for eels.  They are very picky in a way; most of them will not travel very far out of their hole to strike at your bait.  If you get a bite try to remember exactly how your bait was presented.  Often you have to present it just perfectly to drift it right into their face.  I wouldn’t say they’re lazy, but they’re certainly very cautious animals.  If you can’t drift into the mouth of the hole at the very least you’ll never be able to entice it to bite.  This is part of the reason you want to have a short leader to your hook (unless you prefer to run braided line as a leader and allow the current to drift the bait around for you).  By short leader I mean maybe 1-2 inches then snelled onto the hook.
    • In my opinion the way eels bite is very different from that of fish.  Eels tend to grab/suck/inhale (If you watch a video of poke poling where an eel is striking, you’ll understand) a small piece of your bait.  Once they’ve got it in their mouths they start tugging.  Its a pretty strong tug, but not like when you hook into a fish.  Its more like you’re holding one end of a towel and someone else holds another end then tries to tear it.  That’s how an eel biting feels to me.
  • From what I can tell fish tend to hold with sand below them and a rock above them.  They just wedge in there, or hang around in small cliff/over hang areas.  A few times I’ve stuck my bait down a hole that seemed to be all rocks and pulled fish out.  But that just seems much rarer.  Not sure if its just me or if that’s the case, its just what I’ve found to be true.
    • Fish biting is much different than eels.  They will often hit like a bass (as you’d expect).  When they’re hooked they fight like a bass as well and you’ll know when its FISH ON!  However if you fail to hook the fish on the first pass…it may be difficult to land it.  From what I’ve seen they tend to swim/sprint forward to strike at your bait.  If they miss or don’t get hooked, they usually swim off to hide somewhere else in the pool of water you’re fishing.  Its then a game of slowly dragging your bait around to find where it went and enticing it to take another try at your bait.
  • Eels on the other hand seem to prefer to hide in caves formed by rocks.  Usually there’s very little sand within or at the base of the cave/hole they’re hiding in.
    • Sometimes at night you can even see them swimming around.  So far I’ve only seen baby ones do this (all under 5″).  They will sometimes come out of their holes to peck at your bait as well.  Once again, only seen the small ones doing this.
    • The holes they tend to hide in are very specific.  They tend to be small maybe quarter sized holes that tend to go straight down (at first).  The general idea is you’re looking for a small opening that the eel can slide in and out of, and rocks below for it to wrap its tail around a rock and use that as leverage to tug and tear at your bait.  This is also what makes them somewhat difficult to pull out if they’re large.
  • A 5ft pole can work, but you’ll sometimes run into deep holes, or the only way to reach a hole is to stand somewhat far away and shove your pole at it.  In these situations its nice to have something in the 10′-15′ range.
    • An actual poke pole isn’t necessarily required.  You can technically poke with even just a normal fishing pole & reel.  Just keep in mind you’ll be shoving your rod into rocks and scraping it up occasionally.  If your rod is a very nice one, you probably want to at least get a cheaper rod to work with.
    • I personally use a home made copper pipe with a brass tip as my poke pole.  I also have some telescoping poles that work pretty well too.  A lot of people recommend 15′ telescoping rods.  I’m not sure how they tie their hooks on and what lb test line they use.  I’m pretty sure eyelets aren’t designed to handle that kind of stress.  Perhaps they tie it to the base of their rod somehow?
  • Recommended baits:
    • Frozen or fresh squid: squid is one of the toughest baits out there.  Pretty much everything you can catch out there loves squid.  The smell is also reasonably strong so it will attract fish and crabs.
  • This is slightly unrelated, but you’ll run into quite a few crabs poke poling if you’re doing it during the night.  A lot of the time you won’t even see them, but as soon as you drop your bait in the water sometimes you’ll see one emerge from the sand.  It seems that crabs will bury themselves often if they’re not busy wedging themselves into the rocks.
    • An important thing to note here.  Rock crabs rarely bury themselves out in the sand away from the shelter of rocks.  I’ve picked up many 3″ rock crabs buried, but never a legal sized one.  Normally a rock crab will be wedged into some rocks somewhere and you have to entice them out with bait.  Don’t just let them grab it where they are, you won’t be able to muscle them out usually without them letting go.  Drift the bait nearby, keep it almost in reach and slowly draw them out into the open.  Then you can dive in and grab them by hand (do keep in mind its illegal to take them by hook and line in California at least).
    • Dungeness on the other hand I’ve rarely found hiding in the rocks.  I usually find most of them buried in the sand nearby rocks at the Half Moon Bay Jetty.  I think they prefer to be out on sandy bottom.
    • My theory is if you’re going for rock crabs by snaring, keep your snare close to rocks for rock crabs, and toss out into a sandy area away from the jetty for dungeness.

So far all of my experiences are based off fishing both the north and south Half Moon Bay Jetties.  I’ve tried poke poling Bean Hollow State Beach (between HMB and Santa Cruz off Highway 1) with no luck.  The rocks there are very odd.  They’re laid out in straight lines.  I’ve read of huge cabezons being regularly caught in that area by casting out though.  Once I find a cheaper method of weights I’m going to give it a shot.

Anyhow!  I’m still searching for a good tide pool area to try poke poling in.  I know there are some nice areas along the Marin county coast, but I haven’t had time to try any out myself yet.  For those of you interested in going out in tide pools, make sure to get some shoes with good grip.  The rocks, algae, and kelp out there are especially slippery.  I nearly fell too many times to count when I went out to Bean Hollow State Beach (but hey, maybe it was because I was wearing flip flops…).

Adding a video of something related:

Here’s an example of what to look for (from the half moon bay south jetty):
3 Poke Pole Cave
Look closely, where are some potential areas? I count at least 3 in plain sight worth investigating. Sorry for the blur, camera wasn’t cooperating that day.

2 Poke Pole Cave
There are two spots in this picture. The orange one is where I pulled 3 eels and 2 rock cod out of, all keeper sized. All within a 20 minute period. The orange arrow is an arrow that could potentially hold fish. Looking for current like this is important. If there is cover along the current somewhere, you can bet there’s something hiding in it waiting to ambush stuff.

1 Poke Pole Cave
Pointing out the cave I fished in this one. Just another view.

4 Poke Pole Cave
Trying to convey what this cave turned out to be here. Essentially the cave extended MUCH farther off towards the right. Behind that giant chunk of red kelp the rock continued. But under & behind it was apparently open, which allowed for many fish & eel to hole up inside.
That right there is the secret and essence of poke poling a jetty. There are thousands of hidden caves and pools hidden in these piles of rocks. All it takes is an inquisitive mind and the spirit of adventure to discover them!

And try to remember those spots! I come back to this same area every time the tide is low enough. I’m 4 for 4 at this spot as far as getting multiple fish/eel out of the same hole so far.

Got more questions? Feel free to comment or send me an email! I’m still working on improving this section, and am painfully aware of how messy it is :[

Last updated: 7/29/2013

7 thoughts on “How to poke pole”

  1. I am 14 and I love poke poling for Monkey face eels and going crabbing at the pillar point jetty and I was wondering how to catch rock fish like grassies, cabezons, or lings? I have the same rods, baits, and hooks but I can never seem to catch any rock fish. Do I have to cast out to catch the fish of just bounce it near the rocks? Also, How far out do you go on the south jetty? 20? 30? 40? 50? I go around 30 and put my rod in the smaller holes. I am going to the jetty on Saturday 1/4/14 and I was wondering how far I should go and to which jetty. The south, north, or harbor jetty?

    1. Hi there! You can catch rock cod anywhere along the jetty. As long as there’s water & a large enough hole for them to hide in and ambush prey from :]
      Personally I don’t like to fish before the 30/35 marker. Just never had much quality or quantity come out from earlier, and for the most part, the deeper you go, the bigger rock cod get. I also will go all the way out to the end on either jetty. North jetty I’m not as familiar with, but after the first bend, go at least halfway down the wall (1st bend – 2nd bend). I personally haven’t found any good holes before that.

      You shouldn’t have to cast out far at all. Anywhere from 15ft out and in should net you fish. Many times they’ll come out from right under your feet.


      Here’s another example of what I’m doing. An eel comes out, but the idea is the same as when you’re going for rock cod. Bouncing your bait along the bottom slowly, looking for points where it drops down (basically there’s a hole, or terrain change there). That’s where they’ll like to be hiding. Big holes as well as small holes can hold them, The beauty is you never know what the structure is like under the water, who knows what might come out? :3

  2. Hi. I was just wondering where the South and North Jetties are in Half Moon Bay. I see the jetties, but I don’t no which is which.

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You had to be there, the fish was thiiiiiis big!