Cabezon Fishing Tips

Avid saltwater angler, Erik Halom, shows off a trophy sized cabezon.

Although the cabezon, (Scorpaenichthys marmoratus) is not a fish that is widely known or targeted by coastal anglers anywhere but on the west coast, it remains a coveted catch of those who regularly fish the rugged shorelines of these regional waters. Found from British Columbia down through northern Baja California, the cabezon is often an incidental catch that is made by those fishing the bottom adjacent to shelves, reefs and rocky pinnacles.

Cabezon usually weigh an average of 4 pounds or less, but can grow up to weigh as much as 18 pounds; the current Washington state record is 23 pounds. While they can dwell in much deeper water, most of them are caught at depths of 120 feet or less. As a matter of fact, many bigger cabezon can be taken in shallower water sometimes only a few feet deep. This can often occur in or around tide pools when a bait is dropped down into submerged crevices and grottos with the aid of a poke pole.

Luckily, cabezon are not hook shy and have large mouths that are well suited to inhaling whole baits like rock crabs, baby octopus, cracked mussels and ghost shrimp. Unlike many predator species that like to rove around in open water looking for food, the cabezon prefers to play the waiting game holed up in their rocky abode until their unsuspecting prey is right under their nose. They then quickly dart out and inhale the forage before retreating back to where they came from.

While whole and cut baitfish like anchovies, mackerel and herring can elicit a strike from a hungry cabezon, their favorite fare is the wide variety of Crustaceans and Mollusks that virtually surround the areas where they live. If you are unable to glean natural bait at low tide from the area that you plan to fish, a quick trip to the seafood market to pick up a few whole, unshelled shrimp or defrosted squid might be in order.

The frozen clams and mussels carried by many local bait and tackle stores are a poor second to the ones that you would harvest fresh, but they will work in a pinch. Cabezon are not known for taking lures, but some of the newer GULP! crabs and copper penny shrimp work quite well when rigged on a hook.

Although more cabezon may be caught by small craft anglers fishing inshore, their regular spawning migrations into shallow water puts them within easy range of those fishing from shore. Dropper loop or reverse dropper loop rigs are the most common ways to present your bait, but many anglers also experience consistent success when fishing with shrimp, crabs, squid or strip bait that has been hooked onto a lead jig head. Always be sure to match your hook to the size of bait that you are using.

There are not too many fish in the sea that are as tasty as cabezon. Their mild, flakey yet firm texture lends itself well to a plethora of seafood recipes. The one thing that surprises many anglers who fillet a cabezon for the first time is the aqua blue color of their uncooked flesh, as also occurs in certain strains of lingcod. In both cases, the fillets turn snowy white as soon as they are cooked.

Be aware, however, that their roe is poisonous to consume either raw or cooked. Hence, caviar lovers should look elsewhere.