March marks the opening of Pacific rockfish season off Southern California following a two-month closure. After having the winter off, these fish are usually hungry and willing to eat come opening day. It’s a great time to focus on catching the biggest, jackpot-winning rockfish and lingcod by altering your tactics and working larger baits. In fact, this is a solid strategy to use anytime you find yourself fishing a season opener.
Fishing in 200 to 300 feet of water requires specialized rock-cod jigs made to sink quickly and dance when vertically jigged. I prefer to replace the standard treble hooks with a large, single siwash hook, which I adorn with a 6-inch curly-tailed grub. Bouncing this large offering off the rocks creates sound and incites savage attacks.
Throw the Rubber
Smart anglers cast and retrieve 7- to 9-inch soft-plastic swimbaits to catch lingcod up to 25 pounds. It takes practice and a 6- to 8-ounce lead-head to work these baits close to the bottom. Cast out as far downdrift as possible, and when the lure hits bottom, take 10 winds on the reel. If you don’t get bit, redrop and repeat. The key to hooking up is to resist setting the hook; just wind the reel until the fish is hooked and work it steadily to the surface.
Big fish eat big baits, and rockfish are no different. While others are using strips of cut squid or small anchovies, drop down a large live mackerel or, better yet, a 10-inch sand dab (a diminutive flatfish that’s common bycatch while rockfishing). Hang on!
Make sure your fish finder is ready for action by giving your transducer a once-over.
 If it’s a transom-mount unit, check that the alignment hasn’t been knocked askew during a season of trailering. The face should be level with the waterline while underway, achieved with just the slightest tail-down attitude at rest.
 Check the transducer face for marine growth and, if found, remove with water and a gentle abrasive pad. Heavy growth may require replacement.
 Check the speed-indicating paddle wheel for free movement, because small bits of flotsam often jam it up.
 With the boat in the water and at rest, test the accuracy of the temp probe against a pool thermometer. Many fish finders allow you to calibrate water temperature.