Light Tackle Surf Perch

Perch 1

Want to be a better surf perch angler and have more fun doing it? If so, forget everything you know about the sport. Leave the 40-pound test and the 4-ounce pyramid sinkers at home and put that 14-foot telephone pole and giant coffee grinder you’ve been using on Craigslist once and for all.

We’re not chasing sailfish here, people…the biggest perch you’re going to find off West Coast beaches are going to be redtails, which rarely top 3 pounds…so why all the heavy gear? If you scale back your tackle you’re going to put more fish in the bucket — and have a way better time doing it!

Gearing Up

So instead of the traditional surf rod, I like to run a light spinning rod. When surf conditions are mellow — what I call “3/4-ounce water” — I like the 8-foot, 2-inch Lamiglas X82MS
. Though only rated up to 5/8-ounce, it’s got enough punch to toss a 3/4-ounce lead no problem, but still gives the prech a fighting chance.

Perch Rod

When the seas are a little larger, you can jump up to a longer rod to give you more clearance over the wavetops — something like Lamiglas’ MBS 86M or, if you prefer a casting stick, go with the big dog — the ten and a half foot HSR 1263 by GLoomis. In reality, however, if the surf’s up enough that you need a big rod and more than about 1.5 ounces of lead, you’re kind of defeating the purpose of going light anyway.

As far as reels go, pick something that has a waterproof drag and anti-corrosion bearings, like Diawa’s Tierra 2500 or 3000. There are plenty of other companies that make fully-sealed reels — it all depends on how much you want to spend.

For line, I’ve really been liking FireLine Crystal in 8-lb. test, which has the equivalent diameter of 3-lb. mono. The cobweb-like thickness allows me to cast further and it also cuts through the surf better so my gear stays in the strike zone. It’s also super-sensitive, so I can distinguish even light bites from surf and kelp.

One of the real beauties of perch fishing is the inherent simplicity: you can pretty much fit everything you’ll need into your pocket — a few hooks, swivels and sinkers and whatever you’re using for bait and you’re in the game.

Surf Tackle

Though there are many ways to skin this cat, I’m pretty partial to the Carolina-rigged GULP! Sandworms. I’ve had success on clams, mussels and motor oil grubs, but for good ol’ simplicity’s sake, you can’t beat this rig. There are times when the fish will eat real bait better than the GULP! — but not often enough to make it worth the hassle.

In most situations, I’ll break the worm into thirds (or quarters if the fish are small) and thread it onto a No. 4 baitholder or Rebarb Hook. Next, add a 24-inch section of 8- or 10-lb. flouro leader and a 1/2- to 1-ounce tungsten bullet weight and you’re good to go…

Perch rig

Where to Fish

When chasing surf perch, you’re generally looking for beaches that are steep. As waves toss up onto the sand of a steeply-sloped beach, they wash food like sand crabs into the water. There’s usually a trough that forms close to shore (it will run parallel to the beach) and, guess what…that’s where all the goodies displaced by the wave action end up. Not surprisingly, that’s where the perch (and corbina & croaker if you live in Southern California) hang out. Waves also break closer to shore on steep beach like the one below, so the fishy water will be much easier to reach.

Perch Steep beach

In addition to the deep feed troughs near shore, you’re also going to want to target shore rips and “holes” — deeper spots that can be identified by the lack of breaking water…

Perch Zones


Again, the sweet thing about this whole program is it’s super simple. Take a look at which way the water’s moving (tide & current) and throw “upstream”. In other words, if the water’s moving right to left, toss your rig to the right of the water you want to fish so that the current will push it right into the zone.

When your gear’s on the bottom, start a slow-and-steady retrieve with the rod tip held high to keep the line off the waves. When the current’s really ripping, you can cast upstream and then allow your rig to bounce through the zone as if you were drift fishing for steelhead, reeling only to pick up slack.

In either case, bites usually come in one of two styles: dink..dink…da-dink — semi-subtle raps of the rod tip typically signify a small perch has come calling. Larger perch like redtails in the 1- to 3-pound class most often inhale the worm on the run and those are the no-doubt, can’t miss ‘em type of grabs that we love.


As with all saltwater fishing, tides do have a big influence on perch fishing. Generally, it seems the hour leading up to and after the change is best. However, the overriding factor in light tackle perch fishing is you need the surf to be down and manageable. So, I’ll base a trip more on ocean conditions than individual tides. In other words, if she’s flat, get out there!

For much more info, check out my ebook, Light Tackle Surf Perch. Available today. Get the book now for the Amazon Kindle and Nook or the PDF format (iPad and iPhone coming soon!)

Surf Perch ebook cover

available on Kindle available on Nook pdf_button

Related articles:
Spring Surf Perch Fishing

190 thoughts on “Light Tackle Surf Perch”

  1. Hey JD,
    I have been meaning to write to you sooner. My wife and I stayed at Kalaloch Lodge on the Olympic Peninsula over Thanksgiving weekend 2013. In preparation for our trip, I came across your article on light tackle surf perch fishing and decided to give it a try. We followed your instructions exactly as to gear, tackle and bait, put on our waders and hit the beach just below the Lodge where Kalaloch Creek meets the Pacific.

    What a great time! It took us a few casts to get our groove down, but after that it was “fish on!” about every 10 minutes until we had a bucket full. We fished just after high tide and followed the surf out for a couple of hours stopping to rest and enjoy the views every now and then. Most of the perch were in the 1 – 1.5 lb range with an occasional 2 lber thrown in. The weather was a bit off with an annoying Washington Beach drizzle coming down most of the time, but we didn’t let that slow us much.

    The neatest part was the fact that this area apparently doesn’t get much fishing action, so we had quite an audience lining the beach to watch us do our thing. The more daring junior lodgers would come in close and touch a fish. It was really special to see how these young people would light up when confronted by a little nature.

    On Saturday night, we made fish tacos with about 4 of the perch. A simple foil-wrapped broil in the oven with butter and veggies. Then strip the meat away from the bones and heat quickly over high heat in a skillet with a little Old Bay Seasoning. An Old Bay seasoned roumalade, some chopped cabbage, corn tortillas and a couple of Coronas and we were eating like “El Rey y La Reina”

    Anyway, thanks for the great article. You have created two, light tackle surf anglers for life!

    Thanks Much!

  2. People have asked me how to fish on the surf countless of times and you couldn’t have explained it any better. Next time il just refer this link to anyone who ask. Now I have more of an idea on how to find the honey holes instead of guesstimating. Thanks

    1. JYK, the diversity isn’t great in Nor Cal…perch, smelt, rockfish, etc. Down around LA, however, I’ve caught perch, corbina, spotfin croaker, small halibut, mackerel and others…

      1. Thanks for the info as well as your article, extremely helpful. I ordered a Lamiglas MH 8’6″ rod and Okuma Trio 40. Not exactly light gear for perch, but I figured it’d still work well (and be fun) and give me opportunities with other saltwater species and the salmon/steelhead run when the season comes (I’ve never done that either, if you have a beginners guide to salmon/steelhead let me know!).

        You have any beach suggestions for a first perch outing in Half Moon Bay area?

    2. I was just figuring out how to catch these surf perch and then found this article and tried it in Seaside,Oregon, and killed them a cpl weeks ago. Going again this weekend. Thanks alot.

  3. What do you think about using Kastmaster lures. i bought a couple today for trout but haven’t tried it for surf. do you think it’ll work? one is a 1/8oz blue and silver and the other is 1 oz silver

  4. where i live i have to use a heavier setup but i will try this setup to see how things go!!.. right now im using a lamiglas kenai special 8’6 baitcasting along a daiwa luna 253

  5. Rodeo at Lone Tree Point Rocks. Becareful of the trains though.u can make a nice bonfire at night when its cold as well. Be sure to havr a day license or permit cause the ranger will sit on the hill to the right withbinoculars tryna catch evil poacher s…… Lol

    1. Hey J.D.

      If u know of any books on Perch specific spots, techniques and other info on how to increase my knowledge on each species feeding habits, schooling patterns, targeting Slabs Please email me. Especially prime seasons in the Sf bay as im from Oakland and travel throughout the bay depending on fish and seasons. Thank man!!!

    2. Hey J.D.

      If u know of any books on Perch specific spots, techniques and other info on how to increase my knowledge on each species feeding habits, schooling patterns, targeting Slabs Please email me.
      Thank man!!!

        1. We’re doing pretty good in Crescent City, in spite of the high surf (11 ft this morning. You have to find a sheltered spot or fish from a cliff if you don’t want to get killed…) Things can only get better as the season progresses.

  6. Hey J.D.

    So i can catch Perch on low tide in San Pablo bay on low tide using these techniques. Im feening to go fishing and all the teports say the perch bite is Hot as of now.

  7. found this forum very interesting and educational for a land-locked (South Dakota) fisherman who is going to be in visiting relatives in Dana Point area mid february. What can i fish for at this time of the year. And how? Is the surf best or jetty?
    Any help would be greatly appreciated.

    1. Surf perch are there all winter but the fishing real gets better a little later in the spring when the fish start to spawn. Mussels, clams, GULP, shrimp, etc…

  8. It is really good info for the beginner like me.
    One question, do I need to get a license for the surf/bay fishing?
    I’m not very familiar with the system.
    Thank you.

    1. Where we fished for surf perch, in OR and WA, saltwater license is required. Check with your State’s fishing and gaming department for correct information. Most states should have those information up in their website.

      good luck.

  9. I’m still catching surf perch these days. It all started when i switched to light tackle set up. In fact, I caught my limit today at my spot in ocean beach using scented plastic grubs. And I don’t have to break my back digging sandworms and soft shell sand crabs. But if you guys want to go for it, do it when the tide is at its lowest. Negative tide is the best time to dig worms and sandcrabs.

  10. I’m still catching surf perch these days. It all started when i switched to light tackle set up. In fact, I caught my limit today at my spot in ocean beach using scented plastic grubs. And I don’t have to break my back digging sandworms and soft shell sand crabs. But if you guys want to go for it, do it when the tide is at its lowest. Negative tide is the best time to dig worms and sandcrabs. Plastics! I don’t leave home without it.

  11. Hey, Good luck with your move . It will all be good, respect mother nature and how can one lose in long run. Take care kandy.

  12. Hi, I fished the cove with the plastics and caught mostly rock fish. but that is what I was expecting. Sometimes you can get lucky and catch a flounder or a decent lingcod in this area. I released all the rock fish and kept the sea perch. Only caught three surf perch with plastic worms. With this tide cycle this week one can hug the cliff area and cast out
    with your plastics and catch many species of rock fish, all keepers. Be nice and only keep the bleeders. You will be happy when you return to fish again.

    1. Hey Kandy

      Where were you fishing? I live in monterey bay and just started to fish the ocean. I have no clue about when the fish are around and what types of species I can get at certain points in the season. How could I figure this out and should I be fishing of the beach or off the rocks? Anything that will help me get my first fish would be great! thanks

      1. In Monterey you have tons of great fishing. Just use the techniques mentioned on here. The best time to fish is 2 hours before and two hours after high and low tide.

  13. Can any one tell me the easiest way to make bait specificly sand crabs.
    When it comes to plastics or sand crabs, I always catch bigger fish with sand crabs, but it is so difficult to get those little rascals. Any ideas?

    1. It doesn’t sound like you have a problem. You are catching fish. if anything, try red thread rapped around your bait.

      1. Be on the beach right when the high tide is over, and is starting to go out. As the big set of waves comes in you follow it ebbing from the beach and you will see the crabs working. be ready to move north and south on the beach you are at as the waves will be different.

          1. Yes that will work . But be sure you have a strong frame that is holding the mesh to catch the small critters. You still need to pull towards the land to get them. So you are fighting the ebb and sand with each pull. My best advice is to walk out when each big set that comes in and when it ebbs do your dipping. The only thing I have against your method is that you want to see the critters before you start going for them. It will save time. Also walk the beach where the high tide line was at and you will find all kinds of sea life to use for bait.

      2. Why do you use red thread? And is that with the sand crab or other baits? What success have you had with the red thread? I saw some people last week using red or orange thread on the top of their shrimp. They caught a few but not as many as I on nightcrawlers.

        1. Way back in the day there was only thread to use to wrap your bait. Red thread was the type to use for attraction and it worked. You can buy red magic thread and it will break off easier than regular thread. Salt water with line cuts on your fingers can tend to be irritating but it is all worth it to me. When those sea perch start biting in a frenzy you have to work fast to take advantage of it. Did you notice on some days using sand shrimp, the female with eggs worked awesome.
          I like to use the red thread on male shrimp to make the bait look like a shrimp with eggs.

  14. Aug 15, 2012 will be my first time surf fishing. do I need to buy new rod & real or will my 6ft spinning rod and real get me there?

    1. You can get buy with your six ft. rod fishing light tackle in the right areas. At slack high tide you should be okay. The longer the rod the farther you can cast out into the surf. When you have the slack low or slack high you only need to cast out 15 – 20 yards. Again it depends on what beach you are fishing off. If you find the right area you will only have to cast out about 15 yards.

      1. Buy another pole in the same model you have , any where from 8ft. to 11ft. This will allow you to fish heavy tackle if needed and be able to keep your line above the breakers you see in front of you. If the surf is five feet and more and you are in an area where you have to use heavy weight, (4-8 oz.) you want your longest pole you have.

  15. Hi JD. Thanks for the article. I just moved to Pacifica, CA,, and am determined to master surfperch and stripers. Have only caught a few small barred perch and walleye, using the carolina rig as well as a standard 2 hook surf leader so far. How do respond to the small tick, tick, ticking that are obviously strikes. Do I try to set the hook at each strike?

    1. Yup, after two good nibbles set the hook. Anticipate the bite and try to set the hook on the first or second nibble. These nibbles we feel are good bites. After three to five of them your bait will be gone and just the thread will be there on your hook with a little left over chewed bait. Some days especially in certain areas on the beach you will only get the slightest nibble. I have caught some of my biggest stripped perch just inside the bay dealing with the smallest nibble. Just be ready, that’s the best advice

    2. I stopped setting the hook the traditional way. When I get nibbles I move the bait away from them by moving my rod laterally and slowly. This usually creates a reactionary (hard) strike. Since I’ve been doing the lateral move, I catch more fish.

  16. I just got back from surf fish and I caught about 4 using sand crabs as bait. I was wondering if the gulp sand camo worm will work just as well using your Technique.

  17. I have been surf fishing since I was six yrs. old. Used all the ways you could think of. Even using a rock for weight because we ran out of lead. Boy those were the days. The light rig is definitely the way to go when the conditions are right. Tides are important, but the surf conditions are first. If you find the right areas you can fish out going and low tide. In coming tide averages out to be the best. Bait, get the freshest you can. Dig sand shrimp your self or buy it. make sure you change containers if you buy the shrimp.
    I’ll give one bait rig that I bet everybody has used for trout but not for surf perch, worm and marsh mellow. I’am old school, these methods rarely fail.

    1. I was wondering what type of worm were you using with the marsh mllow? I’m assuming nightgrawler, but you know what happens when one assumes. lOL

  18. I took your advice and caught a perch in Imperial Beach this morning. 5/13/12. Never tried it before, but will go back soon. :)

  19. California fisherman with 40 years experience formal french trained executive chef. Wrote articles for Western outdoor news for Bill Karr and Bud Neville under the Santa Cruz surf report. Was sorry to see the western outdoor monthly magazine end. I wrote several perspectives on the California MLPAI acts,why fishermen need to unite more than ever and the facts to enlighten anglers as to the smoke screen the MLPAI ( Marine Life Protection Act Initiative) represents to avoid the real issue of fresh water rights in California.

    Life next to beach in Santa Cruz and getting good reports off southern beaches for stripers with several shorts and a few keeper halibut taking wide range of plastics (fish trap,zoom flukes,tube jigs on darter head) with #12lb test fluorocarbon.
    Capitola kelp gave up a nice 12lb plus size halibut to local Capitola mike on fish trap.

    A slip bobber rigged tray bait to keep the crabs off tossed into kelp holes bagging assorted rockfish to make panko or beer batter fish dinner. Grass cod to me are little fish versions of filet Mignon..

    Want more info usually check e-mails Early morning or later evenings and get updates from fisherman working waters Point Conception to San Francisco.

    Most unique fish so far a 4lb sand bass from Santa Criz which is kond of north for them however we see one here and there but ususally more into the summer.

    Tight lines to all.

  20. JD thanks for the article. It was very well put together when I was looking for ways to rig for Surf Perch Fishing. I’ve used the old school 10 to even the jaynormus rig 15′ surf rods. Tossing 6 to 8 oz led. Anyway I think this will work and from what I’ve read on your comments section, I can’t wait to get out there again. I’ll let you know how it works up here on the south beach of Crescent City California. You rock Dude. ;-}

  21. I really appreciate the great detail you go into! I just started reading into to surf fishing, and I’m really addicted now! I haven’t caught anything, but I’m re-gearing and going to give your most excellent tips a go! I’ll be fishing the Oregon shore anywhere from Tillamook to Astoria, and anywhere in between. I’ve targeted Seaside of late. I went fishing in Seaside at the cove, and a lot of fishermen out there were using nets to catch some kind of sandy looking sea shrimp/fea about 1 1/2 inch long to use for bait. I wasn’t sure what they’re called but the guy said they work very well.

    Question for you: Any suggestions specific to the Northern Oregon coast? Bait, location, or anything you’ve picked up!?


    1. I was just looking for some more surf fishing info and tips came across this informative page.Saw your post I lived in Tillamook for a couple years and now live on the beach in Rockaway Beach.I see people having really good luck surf fishing at the bar view jetty.Through the campsite and on the right side of the jetty seems like a promising area.

      1. Thanks Nolan, I’ll give that a shot. I’ve camped there a few times, so it’d make sense to harmonize the two on a nice weekend trip.

  22. Can i just use a basic 7 foot medium action shimano rod? and i know my walleye perch are near my local pier but i cant surf cast there the waves are really big should i go down the beach to find a better spot where waves are smaller?

  23. In late May I will be staying in Cayucos. Our house is right on some nice rocks with deep holes and kelp at all stages of the tides. Any tips for pulling some fish out of there?

      1. There are some nice perch in the rips near the Cayucos pier. Gulp sandworm on a carolina rig worked for just a few weeks ago.

  24. Thanks a lot JD. I was taken hook line and sinker with your “go light” techniques. Put away my 17 lb mono and 20 lb braided for a 6lb fluorocarbon line and 8 lb leader. Two weeks ago I went fishing to my usual spot but with a different result. My buddies who where there 2 hours earlier than me gave up with only a good size rainbow perch to bring home. An hour later I have to go home too bec the wind picked up and the waves beginning to swell higher than predicted. But two good size barb perch and a nice calico is not a bad thing. oh yeah, been catching perch since then. You rock, JD! Thanks and more power to you.

  25. Hey JD, I just want to let you know, I just got back from the Big Island and techniques you offered on this page worked great with Bonefish and Moi (Pacific Threadfin). The Berkeley Gulp Sandworm patterns worked better than live bait. Thanks dude. I’m going to try to fish Carmel Beach, as soon as I buy my 2012 California fishing license.

    1. Would a 7′ rod with a line rating of 4-12 and a lure weight of 1/8-1/2 oz. be a good rod?
      That is the setup I use, if surf is light I use #4 test with a 3/8 egg sinker so I get a longer cast. When surf is tougher I use Stren extra Strength in #6 with a 1/2 to 3/4 oz egg- its sized like a thin #6 but breaks at closer to 10 or 12 pounds. I also use the #6line when I throw Kastmasters or other chrome lures.
      Berkeley Sand worms in the camo color are called “perch Crack” here in SoCal, I have pretty good luck with the red ones too in overcast weather. I also cut them pretty short, just enough to cover my Owner #6 Mosquito hooks, Mosquitos are a light wire heat treated hook that is light but super strong- Its off center so I straighten them before use. BTW, if there is a lot of salad in the water, I hook the worm Texas jig style ( bury the hook tip in the worm body) to make it “weedless”
      Good luck!

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