Creature Feature: Quillback Rockfish

quillback rockfishQuillback rockfish are found from Point Sur northward off California, but they are most common off northern California. This fish may be found in subtidal areas to depths of around 900 ft. Quillback rockfish are bottom dwellers, and prefer rocky areas and/or kelp cover.

Distinguishing Characteristics

  • Brown with yellowish to orange blotches toward the front of the body
  • Light-colored “saddle patches” extending over the head and through the spiny dorsal fin
  • Head spiny
  • May have orange to brown speckling extending back over body to just past the pectoral fins
  • Dorsal fin spines very long; membranes between spines deeply incised
  • Fins dark brown to black, except where dorsal fin is blotched

Life History & Other Notes

Quillback rockfish are primarily bottom feeders that prey on crustaceans, but they will take small fishes in the water column occasionally. They are believed to feed mostly during morning and evening hours.

As with all rockfish, fertilization is internal. Development of the embryos takes place within the ovaries until the young are ready to hatch. When the female releases her eggs, exposure to sea water triggers the embryo’s escape from the egg case. Young are released off central and northern California from April through July.

Quillback rockfish may be taken from the rocks or in offshore kelp beds using crab, shrimp, or squid for bait.

Quillback Rockfish Quick Facts

Scientific Name: Sebastes maliger

Other Common Names: Brown bomber

Range & Habitat: Point Sur northward, mostly off northern California in rocky areas with kelp cover

Length: To 24 in.

Life Span: To 95 years

Diet & Suggested Bait: Feeds on crustaceans and small fish. Try using crab, shrimp, squid, or live anchovies for bait, and artificial lures.

Excerpt from the California Finfish and Shellfish Identification Book

Single copies of the book are available to California residents free of charge by emailing a request to