Creature Feature: Gopher Rockfish

Most gopher rockfish are caught between Pt. Conception and Monterey Bay in nearshore waters, but they may generally be found from Mendocino County southward off California. Gopher rockfish range from the intertidal zone to depths of around 282 ft., but are most commonly found at depths greater than 40 ft. [Currently, fishing depth restrictions apply to this species and many other groundfish.]

Distinguishing Characteristics

  • Olive brown to reddish brown, with three or more pink to gray blotches on the upper half extending into the dorsal fin
  • Broken pink to gray blotches along the lateral line; no light-colored strip along the lateral line
  • Strong spines above the nostrils and eyes
  • Anal fin rounded

Life History & Other Notes

Gopher rockfish feed on crabs, shrimps, fishes including sculpins and small rockfish, and squid.

As with all rockfish, fertilization is internal and development of the embryos takes place within the ovaries until the embryos are ready to hatch. When females release eggs, exposure to sea water causes the embryos to escape from their egg cases. Larval gopher rockfish drift with the currents until they are nearly an inch long, when they take refuge in upper kelp canopies. As they grow, they move down the kelp until they reach their preferred rocky habitat at the bottom. Individual fish shelter in holes and crevices during the daytime, emerging at dusk.

This fish is often taken with other rockfish species including black-and-yellow rockfish and vermilion rockfish.

Recreational fishing regulations for this species include depth constraints, seasonal closures, and gear restrictions. As regulations can change in-season, anglers are encouraged to check the CDFW Marine Region website or call the Recreational Groundfish hotline at (831) 649-2801 prior to fishing for current regulations.

Gopher Rockfish Quick Facts

Scientific Name: Sebastes carnatus

Other Common Names: gopher cod, butterball

Range & Habitat: Statewide over rocky or hard bottom, but uncommon north of Sonoma County

Length: To 17 in.

Life Span: to 35 years

Diet & Suggested Bait/Lures: Feeds on crabs, shrimps, small fishes and squid. Try fishing with squid or live anchovies, or try jigs.

post based on information from the California Finfish and Shellfish Identification Book with additional information from the Marine Species Portal