Surf fishing is fun, great exercise, provides incredible scenery, different every time, and free! Here is what you need to get started.
General Gear and Supplies for Surf Fishing:
· Waders if possible with built in boots or whatever you feel is comfortable for the conditions at your beach of preference.
· Standard sun block, sun glasses, water bottle, snacks, etc.
· Bag to carry fish.
· Back pack for carrying tackle.
· Fishing License. (In case the DFG checks you!)
· Rod stand/stake to keep the rod off the sand while working with the line.
· Salt water worthy pliers/cutters for removing hooks.
Perch Fishing Tackle:
· Light to medium weight rod and reel for salt water with max 15 lb test mono or 30 lb braid.
· Pyramid weights from ½ to 2 oz depending on your rod rating.
· Swivels and bumper beads for leader set up.
· Hooks from size 14 up to 1/0.
· Extra mono or fluoro leader.
· 2” camo colored Gulp Sand Worms. The best artificial I have used so far.
· Blood worms are an option or free sand crabs can be used right on the beach.
· Small swim baits work as well as lures such as poppers and divers are popular as well. One real successful one is: 1 LUC-0029-3
Lucky Craft SW-SFPT115MR-702ZSDN Zebra Sardine SW Surf Pointer 3/4oz 4-1/2in $12.99, FROM TACKLE WAREHOUSE.
What You Need to Know:
· There is a bag limit for PERCH, 20/person/day, 10 max of any one species.
· There are different varieties of Perch and at least one “Red Tail” has a minimum size length limit of 10.5 inches.
· You might catch a variety of other fish so know other details for halibut, striper, etc. that can be caught from the surf.
· GREAT INFO BELOW LINK – Pics, regulations, locations etc.
You can find almost any beach free parking right outside the main state beach lots or anywhere along the coast line. The benefit to parking outside the lot is avoiding to have to move your car at sunset if the fishing is hot and you save $10. The benefit to parking in the lot is a shorter walk and the convenience of accessing your car, cooler, personal stuff quicker and easier. I do both.
It does make the day enjoyable when you’re not getting pounded by waves and the fish are more active. Check the local tide or surf reports and try and go on a day where the tides, surf and wind are relatively calm. Ideal is an overcast day with waves in the 1-3 foot range and 10-15 seconds between waves. Rough weather clouds the water making visibility poor, the fish are less active trying to preserve energy fighting waves, kelp is washed up making it difficult to cast and retrieve without snags, etc.
When to Fish:
Ultimate action is based on an incoming high tide. Bait fish get pushed into shore with the incoming tide. The primary bait for perch, sand crabs, become more available with the stronger tide stirring up the sand and pulling the bait to the feeding perch. The prime time to fish is from 1-2 hours BEFORE HIGH TIDE to 1-2 hours AFTER HIGH TIDE. You can catch perch any time of the day, but this is known as the most productive time. I guess you could consider it “Feeding Time”. High tide occurs in the morning and varies between early morning AM to early afternoon and then another high tide in the evening PM. Perch like low light and are more active so early AM and evening are said to be peak times.
Beaches have unique structure and conditions due to their location. Beaches can be protected by coves, exposed to the wide-open ocean, have sandy flat bottoms, have rocky bottoms, have a mixture of both, have grassy areas, have heavy kelp beds, etc. Each element provides a different environment for different species and thus allows for a larger variety of catch for us to enjoy. These environments affect the tide/wave action and that also has an effect in how the local fish feed.
There are many resources, YouTube being a great one, that you can learn and even find your local beach and pick up on tips others have documented. The surf is a fascinating and dynamic place that has some fixed features, but also has constantly changing ones as well that change with weather.
Observing the Conditions:
It’s time to fish. A great part of enjoying surf fishing is to become a master of observation over time. Unlike deep water, where you can’t see what the structure is like, surf fishing allows you to visually see current physical conditions happening that directly affects your success in catching fish.
Examples of Surf Conditions:
There are numerous descriptions for the surf. Holes, rifts, channels, points sand bars or “bars”, wave gaps, and many more describe physical areas or conditions with the water that help identify areas where the perch are local to and or travel.
Sand Bars and Channels:
Waves, for example, form when the water hits a sand bar. A sand bar is a long hill of sand under the water that creates a channel between two bars. There can be several sand bars and channels where the perch literally travel along that area like freeways. The fish are in the channel right behind where the wave forms; sometimes behind the 1st wave and sometimes behind the 2nd or 3rd wave out, but generally closest to where the bait is easiest to reach.
Points and Holes:
A hole is literally a hole. Waves tend not to form over holes and you can see this with gaps between waves as well as a color change in the water between waves. On the edges of a hole is where a point is. These points are where you cast and reel down the edge into a hole as the perch are waiting for the natural local bait to roll down these points (sand crabs and sand worms). The hole provides an area of calmer water because the waves are not turning the water here. The fish preserves energy and has better visibility in the holes.
Valleys and Rifts:
I am not sure if these are correct terms, but this is what I describe them as. When the waves go back out (not tides but actual waves) the beach is exposed and you can literally see these valleys or rifts that are perpendicular to the water in the sand. These areas create a very different effect within that area that becomes a “river” of bait, as I like to think of it, because the water rushes back in this channel and the bait isn’t strong enough to resist flushing down this mini river. Perch know these areas and will stay around these for easy feeding. The bait comes right to them.
Where the water meets the sand, you can find different slopes of the beach. This is also where you can identify sand bars during low tide and other conditions already described. The slope of the beach is another feature that helps identify a good fishing spot. Why? When a wave hits a steeper sand bank it turns the sand much more than a long gradual bank. It also gives the crab less time to escape the current compared to a long gradual slope where the water slows down and thins out. The sand crabs then get pulled out with the outgoing current into the ocean where the perch are waiting to feed. Compare it to riding a bike up a hill verses a flat road. One takes a heck of a lot more energy you may not have.
Leader Set Up:
I experimented with leaders quite a bit. You can choose whatever works for you, but for me the most successful set up to prevent tangles when casting and catches fish is the HIGH LOW RIG set up using a pyramid weight. The pyramid digs into the bottom verse getting pushed around or rolling that happens with other weights. This in itself helps the line to remain tight, which I believe makes the bait easier and more accessible to the perch to see and strike. I set this up with two J hooks that have the bait holder barb near the eyelet specifically for holding on bait. This helps prevent the plastic worm (or live worm) from sliding down or off. I use a dropper loop knot that allows the loop in series with the leader to be cut and results in a small “T” off of line for the hook to tie to. This reduces tackle such as swivels and clips making the leader more “invisible” to the fish. It also allows the bait to float free and move with the current.
The Gulp sand worm in camo color is a well known and very successful product. Almost every video out there is showing this as the go to bait of choice. Other choices suggested under tackle. For every strike on a bait (plastic or live) you will have to reset the bait on the hook. Carry several bags of the plastic sand worms as they only last for 2-3 strikes and then can’t hold on the hook and you lose presentation.
I personally use 20 lb braid for my main line and then a 2-3 foot section of mono (floats) or fluorocarbon (sinks) leader. With waves pushing the line around, mono is fine and will save you money. I use an 8-12 lb leader to keep it as invisible as possible but strong enough to withstand the rocks and teeth of the fish.
I think this is more condition specific to a hole verse a channel. I found fishing a channel much more productive. For this I would cast as far as I could at a 45-degree angle to the beach. What this does is allow you to drag your line more parallel to the beach and keep the bait within a channel or between the sand bars (fish freeway) where the fish are located. Casting directly out will cut the amount of time you drag the bait across the HOT ZONE or channel where the perch are located. Using a different weight such as an egg or torpedo will get carried through this zone with the waves even faster, shortening the time for the bait to be seen by the passing perch. Perch move laterally/parallel to the beach, so when you find that channel, it’s very consistent with catching fish that distance away from you. In a solid spot at the right time, you can get several hits almost every cast.
I start with slow reeling my first few casts all the way in until I get a bite. Doing this reveals to me the location of the start of the channel. I continue to reel to identify where the channel ends (if rocky), so that I get an idea how deep or wide that channel is front to back.
The “channel” where I like to fish is a rocky area and on both sides of that (in front and behind as I face the ocean) is smooth sand. This makes it VERY easy to identify as I reel in and my weight starts bouncing and vibrating my line like a fish was nibbling the line once I hit the rocks or start of the channel. Unfortunately, this is exactly how it feels when a fish nibbles on the line, so I had to learn a distinct way to identify a bite from the rocks I was dragging across.
Knowing where the rocks start is the first step. To do so, I simply stop reeling once I hit the rocks and wait. If the nibble continues I set that hook. You may get a little movement with waves pushing the weight one way or the other, but it’s very subtle compared to reeling. It then becomes very obvious when the fish is biting. If there is no nibbling, I start to reel in very very slow. Perch may nibble at the bait or strike it hard and make you wonder if it’s a huge fish. Most of the time it’s nibbling and you need to do a hook set or you will miss the majority of the fish. The perch doesn’t have a large mouth, so hook set is critical on the bite. You will develop the feel for it pretty quickly.
In a place where there is no rock structure, it will take the same approach to find the fish freeways. Reel in slowly, pay attention to how far out the bite happens and repeat. It’s fairly common to find them right behind the closest wave where the wave starts to form.
When you have a fish on, walk backwards away from the water as you reel and drag that fish out of the water. The fish will flop around and pop off the hook so keep tension and don’t stop. Take advantage of the incoming wave as it will help you get it in quick. Make sure your drag is set right before you start fishing so you don’t rip it right out of the mouth. Always keep tension otherwise you will lose a perch. The hook usually just barely sets on the lip. If it’s under 7”, it’s common to release it as there’s not much meat on it. If it’s a female, which is easy to identify by the bottom fin, it’s good to let them go as they keep the population going for us to fish. The perch gives birth to actual baby fish and not eggs.
If you walked a long way, it’s a tough walk back if your carrying 20 lbs of fish or more. Just a heads up as I have done this many times and had a sore back for days. I would tell myself pay for parking next time. Carry a change of clothes and have a nice size container to hold all your wet sandy clothes and foot wear. You will thank me for this reminder. Have a cooler with ice for the fish. They are smaller then rock fish, so the quicker you get them on ice the fresher they stay. You may find some beaches with fresh water spouts to rinse off. Make sure you rinse that reel off to prevent damage from the salt and sand. I ruined a couple reels before realizing how harsh the beach is and the fact that your reel gets wet from waves if you go into the water no matter what. Make sure you invest in salt water gear as fresh water has no chance to last.
Perch prep is descaling and removing guts. It is very easy and quick to do. The fish meat is very soft, so the best way to cook this fish is to fry it in oil. Powder them up with seasoning and cook them. They make Incredible fish taco meat. I normally don’t eat fish skin, but perch is so tasty and crispy I have to recommend trying it. Fry the fish for 4-7 minutes on each side until nice and golden. It’s absolutely delicious. Two perch in the 2 lb range fed our family of 4 with no problem. We each had 2-3 large fish tacos that were filling and full of flavor.
One of the larger fish that served up a feast. I had to cut off the tail just to get it in the pan.
It was better than I had imagined!
I hope this intro from my own experience and research gives you the encouragement to go out and give it a try. You don’t need to invest in a lot of gear to do this. Take what you have and just go experience it. Keep the reel OFF the sand and try to prevent water from hitting the whole reel.
I am a deep-sea guy, so the thought was at first to me a waste of time and a lot of work to have to “learn” something new. I had a friend take me out and I had such an incredible first experience I was instantly hooked. I caught huge stripers, a nice halibut, 2-3 lb perch and several other fish varieties. I lugged close to 40 lbs of fish back to the car (a 3 mile hike along the beach) and never looked back. I have repeated this several times since and I am fairly new to the surf fishing life.
If you don’t have a successful first experience, don’t give up. It truly fulfills the enjoyment of fishing once you can learn some of the basic concepts of surf fishing. What’s also nice is that you don’t need to spend $120 for a charter or rental boat at a lake. In my opinion, sur fishing is far more productive than any shore fresh water fishing. It’s nice to be able to know you can go out and fish with little to no cost and bring in a decent mount of fish that is also safe and delicious to eat. Something else that is quite different, is the fact that the fish fight like mad dogs. Similar to a fresh water bass or trout, but better. Hook up a halibut or striper from shore and there is nothing like it.
I took my son out for his first time and he came home with memories for a life time. He hooked up with over 20 perch in just 3-4 hours. We released around 5-6 smaller ones. Many of his perch were 1-2 lbs with a couple in the 3 lb range. We gave several neighbors 2-3 good size fish and had plenty to eat for ourselves. I vacuum sealed a couple as well.
See some of the pictures of one of our trips below.
My son’s first perch on a light tackle set up. He was so happy and proud.
Celebrating a fine catch, the beauty of the ocean and an awesome day with dad. On the next fish he ran up and fist bumped me with the fish in hand! There is nothing better for a father then to see and experience the natural joy of nature and spending time with your child. These are the memories that he will carry on one day with his family.