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Those Incredible Zons
Season: July 1st through December 31st
By: George Van Zant

Nothing can match the ugliness of cabezon, not even ratfish, lizardfish, lingcod or sculpin. The name cabezon is derived from the Spanish word "cabeza" which means big head. In fact, theyhave massive heads with mouths full of minute teeth that look like a wire brush. Located deep in their throat is an organ meant for crushing crabs, clams, and anything else that ends up down there. Their fins are thick and fleshy, especially the pectorals whose fleshy spines extend like fingers past the soft rays. Lying in ambush they move around on the rocks and debris dragging themselves with their pectorals. They are incredibly strong jawed and can remove finger skin with ease.

Cabezon RockfishCabezon are caught extensively in the cold shallow tide pool zones of the northern California coast. Northern anglers fish for them in kelpy areas with lots of eel grass and rough turbulent water. They are caught in these areas along with greenlings and lingcod. In Southern California, anglers catch them incidentally on deep-water reefs around the oil platforms and on the artificial reefs. A popular spot is the Long Beach breakwater. Breakwater anglers actually walk out on the rocks or step onto the rocks from a boat. They drop their bait on heavy lines down into the deep holes formed by the rocks and can consistently catch limits of cabezon and other fish from the habitat. Sometimes a cabezon can reach 8-10 pounds but 90% of them weigh less than five pounds.

If you want to catch extra large zons on virtually every drop try fishing under the Huntington Beach platforms. Anchor your boat so the current carries your bait under the platform. The basic problem with drifting the bait is a nuisance, but the necessary nuisance of snags. Steel cables, old pipe, rope, lost gill nets and all kinds of junk are piled high under the rigs. This junk and how you handle it is the major issue in the successful capture of the mighty cabezon. Basically, if there is no debris, there will be no cabezon. There must be debris and your tackle must be in direct contact with the junk.

I like to use 3 to 4 ounce sinkers to insure this direct contact. When the sinker falls into the junk, hope that it doesnıt drift. The object is to try sinkers that are light enough to drift under the platform but stick immediately with no further movement. This is very difficult but necessary and obviously you need an armada of sinkers. Rig a 3-foot leader about 6 inches above the sinker and use a 4/0 to 6/0 hook. The rule of thumb for zons is that the bait has to intertwine with the debris, which means that if you do not hook a fish say goodbye to your tackle. Zons love to gravel around in the junk so high swimming live bait isnıt as good as dead or cut bait unless you have Live squid and thatıs the best bait possible but thatıs nothing new.

Heavy line is necessary and 20 pound test mono is probably as light a you can risk. Line tests of 30 pound or heavier allows you to pull out of the numerous tangles. When the sinker hits the bottom let out line to allow a belly of slack to hang off the end of your rod. Wait about a minute and lift the rod. If it pulls resistance or tugs back slowly set the hook with gusto and get at least four winds of the reel against a hammered drag. If you hook a 15 pounder the hook set will feel like a solid, stuck debris, hookup. Hang on and lift. Slowly some line will be gained and the zon will identify himself with a pumping resistance two or three times on the way up. If you donıt feel a pumping resistance you are probably fighting a piece of pipe.

Many times you have to wait for a bite especially after two or three have been caught. While you are waiting every few minutes lift the slack up slowly then allow it to drop. This pulls the bait off the bottom to hopefully drop to a different spot. This is why long leaders are important. You can also drop a chum bag to the bottom to attract them to your area. This always seems to bring them back.

In Southern California down hill currents are always the best for catching fish. This is especially true for the cabezon. When you are fishing any of the platforms remember that the west side is almost always the side to fish. Also you will undoubtedly catch a variety of bottom dwellers, calico bass and sheephead along with the zons. Carry lots of different weight sinkers and above all donıt be afraid to lose them because you will.

The best eating size is those 15 inchers. (which is the legal minimum) Their meat is solid blue in color but turns snow white when cooking. After you filet them you have to cut off the side bones which creates two skinny pieces from one side. You can barbecue or fry them. Either way they are always moist and very difficult to overcook. They are one of the finest eating fish going. The super taste offsets the super ugliness. But donıt forget, you can only bag three fish.

Fishing for cabezon is a very different technique to most anglers in the Los Angeles waters. It takes courage to drop the bait into the junk and face the reality that you either catch a fish or lose your tackle. Be brave and catch em!

 

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