Creature Feature: Vermilion Rockfish

vermilion rockfish illustration by Amadeo BacharNote: Recreational fishing regulations for this species include depth constraints, seasonal closures, gear restrictions, and beginning January 1, 2021 a new sub-bag limit of five fish. Visit the Frequently Asked Questions flyer for more information about the sub-bag limit. As regulations can change in-season, anglers are encouraged to check the Marine Region website or call the Recreational Groundfish hotline at (831) 649-2801 prior to fishing for current regulations. 

Vermilion rockfish are found throughout California waters near rugged, rocky areas and towards the bottom of oil platforms, near shell mounds and pipelines. They may be caught at depths between 50 and 500 ft. (usually less than 100 ft. off central California), although they have been taken from depths as great as 900 ft. [Currently, fishing depth restrictions apply to this species and all groundfish.]

Distinguishing Characteristics

  • Bright red on body and fins, black and gray mottling on young fish
  • Fish less than 12 inches long may have black-edged fins
  • Body moderately deep
  • Upper profile of head moderately curved
  • Large mouth, lower jaw slightly projecting, underside of jaw feels rough when rubbed from tail to head
  • Weak head spines

Life History & Other Notes

Vermilion rockfish feed almost exclusively on fishes, squid, and octopus.

Vermilion rockfish appear to mature and spawn for the first time when they are 3 to 4 years old. Fertilization is internal and they give birth to live young. A female measuring 20 inches long was estimated to contain 282,000 eggs. By this measure, a 30-inch fish may contain as many as half a million eggs. Most spawning takes place from December through March.

The vermilion rockfish is a very popular and highly sought-after fish. The usual fishing rig consists of baited hooks above a sinker heavy enough to take the line to the bottom on a fairly straight course. A lot of baiting time can be saved by using a tough, difficult-to-steal bait such as a piece of squid or salted mackerel.

Scientific Name: Sebastes miniatus

Other Common Names: red snapper, red rock cod

Range & Habitat: Statewide over rocky reefs or other structure

Length & Weight: To 30 in. and 15+ lb.

Life Span: To 60 years

Diet & Suggested Bait: Feeds on fishes, squid, and octopus. Try live squid and anchovies, or salted mackerel for bait, and artificial lures such as leadhead jigs, swimbaits, and diamond bars.