By Tom Ryle/WDFW
Looking for an easy, fun, family-friendly way to go fishing this summer? Want to maximize family fun on our coastal beaches? Do you love fresh fish and generous catch limits? Then look no further than Washington’s coastal beaches, where surfperch fishing can be enjoyed year-round.
Where to go
Several species of surfperch inhabit the Pacific Ocean along most of the West Coast, making them an ideal target species for those venturing to the beaches for razor clams, kite flying, or even just watching sunset with friends and family. In fact, adding fishing to your plans can make for some memorable catch-and-cook experiences!
You can experience good surfperch fishing along all of Washington’s coastal beaches with miles of coastline access available. Anglers target them close to shore where they forage on sand crabs, sand shrimp, sandworms, and other tidbits loosened by the pounding surf.
License and gear
Gearing up for surfperch can be as simple or sophisticated as you’d like to make it. For those starting out, the same basic spinning rod/reel combination used for freshwater trout fishing will suffice, especially if fishing from or near rock jetties. Most surfperch are caught close to shore between the rows of breaking waves in depths ranging from one to five feet, so long casts aren’t necessary most of the time.
Most spinning rod and reel combinations will work well. Be sure to thoroughly rinse your gear after each use as saltwater and sand is hard on reels, rod components, and hooks.
While fishing you can use a clam net typically used for razor clams to hold your surfperch. A bucket of seawater on shore away from the surf works well too. It’s important to keep surfperch in cold water or on ice at all times to keep them fresh and firm.
Lastly, pick up a saltwater fishing license online or at one of our local license dealers and you’re in business. There is a daily limit of 12 surfperch and a daily limit of 15 shiner perch. Surfperch is open year-round and fishing from the beach is allowed during the winter bottomfish closure. As always, be sure to review the current fishing regulations before you go.
Rigging, baits, and lures
Generally, surfperch are opportunistic feeders that move in schools parallel to the beach in search of food. Imitation sandworms and natural bait such as clams, shrimp, prawns, sand crabs, and even ordinary earthworms all work well.
Surfperch are skillful bait-stealers even amid the torrent of the surf, so many anglers opt for small pieces of clam neck or imitation synthetic baits that replicate sandworms or sand crabs.
Synthetic baits such as these 2-inch sand crab-inspired creature baits (left) and sandworms (right) work extremely well for surfperch. Above is a size 2 snelled (pre-tied) baitholder hook.
Thread the bait by starting at the top, working the hook point down through the center of the bait and poking it out the side about halfway down. Lastly, slide the bait up over the knot. This creates a natural presentation as the bait drifts and flutters with the wave currents.
This small redtail surfperch was enticed by an imitation sandworm. (It was quickly released.)
Feel free to experiment with other lures as well. In fact, there are many YouTube videos posted by surfperch fanatics demonstrating success with a variety of lures and baits, from large crankbaits to spinners to spoons. Some experts suggest throwing larger lures to target larger fish, which is often a good rule of thumb in general.
Crankbaits (left) and a variety of spoons have proven very effective up and down the coast. These lures are easy to fish — just cast them out and slowly retrieve them. You’ll know it when a perch slams your lure!
There are many ways to rig up for surfperch, so it’s a good idea explore online resources to learn from others. Below is a typical high-low rig, also called a double-dropper rig, which will run about $3-$5 at most stores. They are typically made of steel leader material or heavier monofilament and come with a barrel swivel at the top to attach your mainline and a snap-swivel at the bottom to attach your weight. The T-shaped separator serves to keep your bait moving freely and prevents tangles with the rest of the rig. Some rigs will come pre-rigged with snelled (pre-tied) baitholder hooks but most often you will need to purchase them separately and loop them through the dropper loops as shown below:
1 oz. and 2 oz. pyramid and disc-style weights. Use 1 oz. for low/calmer surf conditions and a 2 oz weight for longer casts and rougher surf conditions.
As in most fishing, finding fish is often the alure and trick to successful fishing. Since these tasty perch tend to school and move laterally up and down the shoreline in search of food, you too may need to do the same. Experts on YouTube have put out many great videos describing technical details related to topography features to key in on, and we recommend exploring these resources.
I recommend fishing within 2 hours before or after a low or high tide, when possible, and I look for features — often called structure — that tend to hold fish. This could be adjacent to a stream that empties into the ocean, rock formations, or depression features called troughs that can collect food under the wash of the surf. If you fish an outgoing tide, pay attention to features like this trough below. An hour earlier, this 2.5-feet-deep trough was under water and not visible. These trough features can be perch magnets!
This is the same location as the photo to the left. Target casts into this trough to intercept perch traveling in search of food.
‘Never turn your back on the ocean’
A famous Hawaiian, Duke Kahanamoku, helped popularize the motto “Never turn your back on the ocean.” His reasons were twofold: He wanted people to watch out for the physical dangers of being hit by a wave and he wanted mankind to show respect for the ocean. (Source: https://californiadiver.com/never-turn-your-back-on-the-ocean/)
We couldn’t agree more with Duke’s reasoning. It’s easy to get lost in the joy of fishing, so be sure to note a prominent landmark on shore to find your way back and be aware of changing surf conditions due to tide changes, weather, etc.
Taking note of key landmarks, such as the windmills or white beach house above, is essential when recreating on the coast. Much of the coastline looks the same and one can easily get lost.
Most surfperch fishing can be done while wading in knee-high water or less and as mentioned earlier, deeper is not necessarily better in terms of finding fish, so don’t put yourself at risk by wading too far out, especially when fishing alone.
Make a day of it
Probably the best thing about surfperch fishing is the year-round opportunity and the 12-fish daily limit, but please keep only what you will consume in order to conserve the resource.
Paired with other beach-day activities, surfperch fishing can complete a day of fun on the coast with a fish fry on the beach while watching an epic Pacific Northwest sunset!
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