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!
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 Lamiglas LX 96MS X-11 or the slightly lighter Lamiglas LX 96LS X-11. They both have the length to keep your line up out of the waves but are also light enough that the perch still have a fighting chance.
When the seas are a little larger, you can jump up to larger sinkers and heavier rods, but in reality, 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 a size 40 Quantum Cabo spinning reel. 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 14-lb. test, which has the equivalent diameter of 6-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.
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 P-Line 8- or 10-lb. flouro leader and a 1/2- to 1-ounce tungsten bullet weight and you’re good to go.
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 and 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.
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.
Again, the sweet thing about this whole program is it’s super simple. Take a look at which way the water’s moving (tide and 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!
Check out my video that shows you how to catch surf perch on light tackle:
Light Tackle Surf Perch: The How-to Guide
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Spring Surf Perch Fishing