Cliff Fishing Tips and Techniques

Cliff Fishing Tips and Techniques

cliff fishing australasian fishing tackle
Photo courtesy of Instagram @aft_fishing (Australasian Fishing Tackle)

No beach access? No problem! Cliff fishing is a great way to target multiple species while staying high and dry. If you’re not too fond of walking a long stretch of beach in search of fish, dropping a line off a cliff can provide the same (and better) results while saving you from sore legs. Let’s get into it! Below you’ll find the most in-depth cliff fishing tips to help you land limits while keeping everything efficient and organized.

Finding the Right Cliff

I live close to the Santa Cruz and Monterey, CA areas, both of which offer amazing cliff fishing opportunities. There’s really not much to look out for when scoping out a spot, but a few factors can help you increase your chances of landing limits.

  • Look for steeper cliffs: If a cliff slopes outward it makes it more difficult to drag your fish on shore, but try to find cliffs that aren’t too tall as it makes it hard to pull in a bigger rock cod, ling cod, etc.
  • Pay attention to bottom structure: The bottom structure surrounding a cliff is completely different for each location. Some will have larger patches of flat, sandy areas whereas others will have a larger rock structure or a mix of both. Others will have thick kelp patches making it difficult to penetrate through. The only reason you need to pay attention to this is because you will snag, and it’s a matter of how much tackle you will potentially lose every trip.
  • Which species?: Cliffs can offer access to an array of rockfish, perch and other groundfish, but some areas will produce more of one species than the other. Rock cod, lingcod, cabezon and other fish will hold around thick rock structure whereas pile perch and surfperch can be targeted in both rock and flat sandy areas. If the timing is right you may even run into the occasional striper!
  • Google Maps is your best friend: Use Maps to save you both time and a ton of gas! Always scope out a few potential areas so you have a plan B if the first few spots aren’t as promising as they looked online. While you’re online make sure to check local reports and gain any other info possible before you head out.

Proper Cliff Fishing Gear: Rod & Reel Setup

There are two directions you can choose from when setting up your cliff gear. Some people prefer the heavier, 10-12’ surf poles whereas others choose to fight fish on lighter tackle with shorter 7-8’ rods. It also depends on how strong the current is during higher tides as you may need heavier weights and thus, heavier gear.

I personally love fighting perch and other rockfish with a lighter rod, so my own setup consists of a smaller 3000 size reel and 8-8’6” salmon/steelhead rod. The salmon/steelhead rods in general have a very light tip while providing enough backbone to haul in a bigger fish. Here’s a few potential brands to choose from if you decide to go this route:

Salmon/Steelhead Rods

  • Fenwick HMX 9’2” ⅜-1oz.
  • Okuma SST 862 MH ⅜-1 ½oz.
  • Lamiglas X-11 8’6” MHC

Reels (3000-4000 size)

  • Penn Fierce II
  • Penn Battle II
  • Shimano Symetre FL

There’s nothing wrong with going the heavier route either. You’ll often see cliff anglers sporting larger pier or surf poles along with heavier line. This is a great method of handling stronger ocean swells and provides you with more backbone to lift a bigger rockfish along with your 4-6oz. weight. Even though you’re running a heavier main line you can still fish with lighter line as a leader for the same results as a finesse pole. If you love to pier fish as well then these rods may be more suitable and versatile for you.

Surf/Pier Rods

  • Penn Prevail Surf 9-10ft
  • Daiwa Emcast Classic EC 10’ (1002MHFS)
  • Ugly Stik Bigwater Surf Rod (BWS1100100)

Surf Reels (6000-8000 size)

  • Penn Fierce II
  • Penn Battle II

Terminal Tackle and Rigging

The Dropper Loop Rig

The most common rig for cliff fishing is the Dropper Loop Rig. Make sure to master the Dropper Loop for this one! It can be a bit confusing at first but allows you to tie your own leaders and control the quality, length and hardware of each rig. Here’s what you’ll need.

  • 18-24” Leader Line (15-20lb Fluorocarbon)
  • Size 2 Owner Mosquito Hooks (perch and smaller rockfish)
  • Size 1/0-2/0 Gamakatsu Octopus Hooks (larger rock cod, lingcod, cabezon, etc.)
  • Barrel Swivels
  • Snap Swivels
  • 1-6oz. Pyramid or Torpedo Sinkers

Keep in mind that a Torpedo sinker will slide in and out of rocks and other snags easier whereas a Pyramid sinker tends to snag more but it will keep your rig planted on the bottom better. This is where you really have to inspect the bottom structure and figure out which one is best. If there’s sandy openings I’d recommend a Pyramid to keep the rig as stationary as possible.

The Sliding Sinker Rig

If the area is less snaggy you can also use a Carolina Rig, also known as a Sliding Sinker Rig. This rig allows your bait to drift around rather than be tethered to the main line and also allows you to drag the bait around and cover more water. Once again I would only recommend this rig around sandy flats where you won’t risk snagging all the time.

  • Barrel Swivel
  • 1-2oz. Egg Sinker OR Sinker Slide w/ 1-6oz. Pyramid Sinker for heavy current
  • Plastic Trout Beads (doesn’t matter what color)
  • Snap Swivel
  • 18” Leader Line (10-20lb Fluorocarbon)
  • Size 2 Owner Mosquito Hooks (perch and smaller rockfish)
  • Size 1/0-2/0 Gamakatsu Octopus Hooks (larger rock cod, lingcod, cabezon, etc.)

Live and Artificial Bait

You have many bait and/or lure options when cliff fishing. Live bait never fails of course, but sometimes frozen and artificials can save you money while still landing quality fish. Live bait options include pile worms, bloodworms, grass shrimp, sand crabs, ghost shrimp, etc.

Frozen bait works great as well and is fairly inexpensive. Frozen squid is one of my personal favorites as it stays on the hook very well and costs about $4-5 per pound, enough to last you hours on the water. Frozen or fresh shrimp is also a great option especially when targeting big pile perch or surfperch.

Lure Options

If you want to induce a reaction strike make sure to give lures a shot. Often times lure will provide you with a more ferocious bite as well as produce larger fish. Fishing live bait can get a bit boring at times so these lure options will provide you with more action.

Surf Perch/Pile Perch Lures

  • Blue/Chrome, Silver, Gold Kastmaster ⅛-⅜ oz.
  • 2-2.5” Curly Tail Grubs (Motor Oil w/ Red Flake)
  • Mini Jigs (Blue/White, White or Green/White)

Rock Cod, Ling Cod, Cabezon Lures

  • 1-2 oz. Jig Head
  • Big Hammer 3-5” Swimbait
  • Spro Prime Bucktail Jig 1-2 oz. (Dark Shad, White, Spearing Blue, Crazy Chartreuse)

Personal Tips

  • Take care of your gear. As mentioned before, the rocks can be devastating to your rods and reels but saltwater is also a major factor. Always clean your gear after each trip but you don’t have to be too excessive. For example, after a trip simply remove all the spools from your reels and run them under warm water. If you douse the entire reel you risk unwanted water running into the reel and staying in there, rusting your gears. Use warm water because warm water dissolves salt much more efficiently than cold water does. Use a bit of soap if you’d like, and simply wipe down the rest of the reel with a damp cloth and you’re all set.
  • Always check the tides. I use just Google “NOAA (insert your location) Tides” before I head out to give myself a general idea of what the prime hours are. If you don’t spend the extra time you could potentially head out there during the last bit of outgoing tide and be left with nothing (not always bad though!). Do the research and the results will definitely pay you back.
  • Make life easier for yourself. Bring a folding lawn chair to sit on and towels to lay down if a chair won’t stay properly on the rocks. The towels can also be used to lay down on sharper rock before you lay your rods/reels against it. I’ve scratched my gear pretty badly before so I learned the hard way.
  • Be safe. I can’t emphasize this enough. Keep an eye out for slippery moss or wet rock and always check each incoming wave. Mother Nature is never consistent! One tiny wave can lead to another one knocking you down if you’re unaware.
  • Prepare to lose tackle. I have been on many trips where I constantly lost weights, hooks leaders, and other cheap terminal tackle but it added up quick. Since cliff fishing tackle isn’t too expensive, spend the extra cash and bulk up your tackle box to prepare yourself for any situation. You can even play around with more weedless hooks like worm hooks for bass that you can Texas Rig your bait or soft plastics with.

I truly hope this has helped you both gain a better understanding of cliff fishing and given you the confidence and knowledge you need to make a successful trip out there. Please let me know if there is anything you’d like to know or add in the comments below! We thrive off of our feedback and would love to engage in a conversation with all of our supporters.



  1. Awesome insight! I tried looking for cliff fishing tips a while back but most of the info online was bunk. Thanks for taking the time to share your knowledge. What are some good cliff fishing spots in SoCal?

  2. Andrew, you mention checking the tides before you go out. If anyone is interested, there are two tools that I use for this that seemed to work pretty well and use NOAA tide predictions. Tide Graph Pro that runs on the iPhone, and Tide Graph for the Macintosh. The iPhone I find especially valuable because I can take it with me when I’m on the beach and at a quick glance can tell where I am in the tide cycle.

    • Great tip Greg, I never though of that. I just downloaded the app. This will very useful for when I go cliff fishing. I’m usually out there crossing my fingers that I went at the right time.

    • Thanks for the great input as always Greg. I actually haven’t used those before but I’ll definitely check them out next time I head out. I’ll let you know how it works for me buddy!

  3. cliff fishing sounds awesome! i’ll have to try it out down here in SoCal. i bet Sunset, Laguna Cliffs, and Dana Point would be perfect for this kind of thing. They have some solid dropoff points and plenty of room to set up and fish off of.

  4. anyone know anything about fishing in Negril Jamaica? I would like to purchase a rod and reel for my friend . I have to bring it on the plane. I know they catch big red snapper , jack fish?, barracuda, king fish , parrot fish etc. He fishes off of pretty high cliffs and needs a decent rod, reel, line etc ( 80 – 120 test) They can’t readily get decent gear in Jamaic. Thanks

    • Hi Jeanette, although I’ve never fished in Negril, I can still suggest some gear for targeting the larger game fish. Since the red snapper, barracuda, etc. are hard fighters, you definitely want to spend a little extra on the gear. For the best quality at a decent price I’d highly recommend Penn reels.

      The Penn Conflict and Penn Clash in the 6000-8000 sizes should be perfect, and I would spool them with 65lb braided line (Daiwa J-Braid or PowerPro Spectra). For a decent rod you can look at the Phenix M1 Inshore series, they’re just under $200 but have lifetime warranty and feel amazing. If you don’t want to spend that much, try the Penn Prevail spinning rods in the 9′ and 10′ models. I have the 10′ and it’s awesome for only around $80.

      If you need any further suggestions please let me know, I’d be happy to answer any other questions. Thanks again for the support Jeanette!

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