Surf Perch Fishing Tips for Beginners

Surf Perch Fishing Tips for Beginners

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surf perch fishing limits

Surf perch fishing has become one of my greatest passions over the past few years. Something about the relaxing atmosphere of the ocean setting and steadiness of a perch bite seems to draw me more powerfully than other types of fishing.

I’d like to share this special passion and guide you through all the surf perch fishing tips I’ve accumulated over these past years so you can hit the beach well-prepared. Whether or not you are a beginner or advanced surf fisherman, I’d like to believe I can still offer you some personal, valuable advice. Enjoy!

Species Description

There are a few types of surf perch species that you’ll come across out on the water. These include Barred, Calico, Rubberlip, Shiner, Walleye, Redtail, etc. There are quite a few other species but these are the most common.

Out on the beach you’ll mostly come across Rubberlip, Walleye, Redtail, and Barred perch, with Barred being the most prominent. Black, Rubberlip, Walleye, and Shiner perch are more easily caught on piers and jetties, but there’s always a chance you’ll hit them from the beach too.

Barred Surf Perch

Limits

In the San Francisco/San Pablo Bay, limit for perch is 20 fish total with no more than 10 fish per species (ex: 10 Barred & 10 Redtail Perch)

IMPORTANT

I highly recommend releasing any pregnant females, but if you truly want to take them home for dinner make sure you squeeze out and release their offspring before storing. The Department of Fish and Game will count each individual fish if the perch gives birth in your possession and you’ll fined for going over limit.

Simply toss the young back into the surf – chances are they may not survive but it’s better than nothing. Once again, I advocate releasing all pregnant females to ensure proper reproduction of the species.   

Locating Fish

You can target all surf perch species on a beach, jetty, or pier. From the beach, locate fish by identifying changes in the surf such as riptides – areas where two waves clash together. If you find an unusually calm spot between waves it may be a deep spot or “hole” as surf anglers call it. This is a prime place to find surf perch schooled up looking for bait.

When pier fishing drop a line straight down next to the pilings or fish near the beginning of the pier, casting behind the first few breakers. If you’re fishing on a jetty don’t cast too far, the surf perch usually hold close to the rocks.

Generally anywhere along the coast where you’ll find sandy beaches are potential spots. Here are a few of my personal favorites.

Surf Perch Fishing Locations
San Francisco, CA Pacifica, Baker, Ocean, Crissy Field
Santa Cruz, CA Manresa, Sunset State Beach, Seacliff State Beach
Monterey, CA Del Monte, Salinas State Beach, Marina State Beach, Pajaro Dunes, Zmudowski
Southern California Imperial, Pacific, Solana, Carlsbad, Huntington
Oregon Cannon, Neahkahnie, Nedonna, Manhattan, Diamond, Horsfall Beach
Washington Long, Copalis, Madison Park. Seabrook, Cama, Ruby Beach

Rod & Reel

Perch are relatively small fish, so purchase gear accordingly. You’ll want a medium-light setup including a 3000-size reel and any salmon rod in the 8’6”-9’ range. A salmon rod has the perfect soft tip for sensitivity yet provides enough backbone for a firm hookset. The 3000-size reel provides a compact body and deep spool to load with plenty of monofilament or braid.

For the surf we highly recommend 20-30# PowerPro Spectra braid – it gives you greater sensitivity when detecting a bite through the waves, helps to register a more solid hookset, and slices through vegetation better when high tide brings in thick kelp mats. If you’re off a pier or jetty monofilament is fine since you’d be dropping straight down or making a short cast.

Personal Surf Perch Setup
Lamiglas X-11 Salmon/Steelhead
  • Length: 8’6″
  • Rating: 1/4-1oz.
Penn Fierce II 3000
  • Bearings: 5
  • Gear Ratio: 6.2:1
  • Capacity: 10lbs/140yds
Phenix Trifecta Pro Salmon/Steelhead
  • Length: 8’6″
  • Rating: 3/8-1oz.
Shimano Stradic Ci4+ 3000
  • Bearings: 7
  • Gear Ratio: 6.0:1
  • Capacity: 10lbs/200yds

Terminal Tackle & Accessories

The beauty of perch fishing is that the terminal tackle is extremely cheap. By only spending a few bucks you will be able to piece together a perfect Carolina Rig to get the job done.

Aside from terminal tackle, other useful items include small needlenose pliers for gut-hook situations, a leader organizer such as a Tackle Buddy and a waist pack to keep your tackle easily accessible. I have a WFO Trek Pack but unfortunately they’re difficult to find nowadays.

Let’s recap my recommended tackle and accessories:

Terminal Tackle

  • 1-1.5oz Egg Sinkers
  • Small Barrel Swivels
  • Small Snap Swivels
  • 8mm Plastic Beads
  • 30lb Braided Line (Main Line)
  • 10-12lb Fluorocarbon (Leader Line)
  • Size 6-8 Baitholder Hooks

Accessories

Surf Perch Rigs

All I use is the Carolina Rig, but that doesn’t mean it’s the only method to catch surf perch. There are a few other rigs you can use to work different levels of the water column in the surf zone. Fishing techniques for these rigs are listed right below this section.

Carolina Rig surf perch rigCarolina Rig

The Carolina Rig is originally a bass technique, but surf anglers soon realized it was the perfect light-tackle rig for perch. The Carolina Rig helps you cover water efficiently while letting the bait drift freely for a natural presentation.

curly tail special surf perch rigThe “Curly Tail Special”

This isn’t really the name for this rig, I honestly came up with it for fun. The “Curly Tail Special” helps you fish your curly tail grubs (or even live bait) off the bottom, and sometimes this can be a game changer. This rig is basically a single Dropper Loop Knot tied directly onto your main line with a weight attached to the end. Best part about this rig is that you can choose how far your weight is from the hook, allowing you to fish at any water level consistently. If you don’t know how to tie a Dropper Loop Knot, use a small 3-Way swivel for the same results.

dropper loop surf perch rigDropper Loop Rig

The Dropper Loop Rig has been around for ages and is a great way to drift multiple baits for a better chance of finding fish. This rig allows you to leave your rod in a sand spike for a more relaxed, hands-free trip. The Dropper Loop Rig is also perfect for targeting surf perch off jetties, where a traditional Carolina Rig would snag too easily.

Best Bait for Surf Perch

Berkley Gulp Sandworms

For an unlimited supply of live bait simply dig into the sand where the waves recede – this will result in hundreds of fresh sand crabs at your disposal. Soft-shelled sand crabs are the most effective as the fish are able to crush their newly-molted bodies with less effort, making them more desirable. To find the soft-shelled crabs just squeeze each one gently until you find the right specimen.

Live pile/bloodworms are also a common favorite! You can buy them from your local tackle shop or dig them up if it’s available in your area.

Artificial grubs from brands such as Big Hammer and Kalin’s have been used for decades and are prime if you enjoy a steady retrieve. I enjoy using Berkley Gulp Sandworms because they are infused with scent, increasing the chances of surf perch fully committing to the bait.

Surf Perch Fishing Tips & Techniques

Two hours before full high tide is always a perfect time to head out, and you can fish a couple hours into outgoing tide until the bite dies. Always study the water! As mentioned before, look for any areas where two waves collide (riptides) as this dislodges sand crabs and other bait hunted by perch. Any visible calm areas in the waves are called “pockets” or “holes” and these are also major indicators of fish. Long dips in the sand that run parallel to shore are called “troughs,” and you can think of them as highways that the perch use to move between pockets.

Once you locate any one of these features cast past the area, let your weight hit bottom, and slowly drag your rig to the hot spot. When you’ve reached the pocket or trough, pause and maintain line tension – at this moment you’re letting your bait drift right in front of their faces, enticing a bite. Some anglers also enjoy a steady retrieve, slowly crawling their rig over multiple troughs and pockets and essentially covering more water. Both methods are equally effective so try both and use what works best for you.

If you don’t see any visible indicators, cast past the first or second wave break while moving along the beach. Remember, the fish are always on the move! If you locate a school of perch it may provide a steady bite for a short while then shut completely off. Don’t stay rooted to one spot as this greatly lowers your chances of locating more fish. Constantly scan for more changes in the surf and you’ll be rewarded greatly.

Important Surf Fishing Gear

  • Waders – Waders may be necessary (or just plain comfortable) especially when dealing with rough surf conditions during high tide. Most of the time you can get away with board shorts or swim trunks unless it’s too cold to bear.
  • Sunblock – Make sure you wear sunblock! Hours on the water can wreak havoc on your skin if you are completely exposed to the elements.
  • Hat – Pretty self-explanatory. Nobody likes skin cancer.
  • Sunglasses – Also self-explanatory… and you’ll look cool.
  • UV Buff Can’t go wrong with one of these for any kind of fishing, they’re a great way to protect you from the nose down to your neck while keeping you nice and cool.

Personal Suggestions

  • Unless it is completely necessary, there is no need to stand waist-deep in the surf. Sure it may help you cast farther, but chances are you’re standing on a crucial trough which could be producing fish. Every big 2lb+ fish that I have caught have been no further than the first breaker, literally a few feet away from me at times.
  • When using Berkley Gulp Sandworms, look for packages containing grubs that are straight. Packets that have warped/crooked grubs will cause line twist. If you are still having trouble with line twist try upgrading your barrel swivels or using thicker fluorocarbon line, possibly 12-15lb test.
  • If you are missing bites try waiting for a few seconds before setting hook – sometimes smaller perch will toy with your grub and peck at the tail end before fully committing.
  • To avoid carrying a bucket or cooler to store fish, stuff a handful of one-gallon Ziploc bags into your backpack. Most perch will fit in the bag and if you catch one that doesn’t fit then it’s huge! Keep your fish cool by burying the Ziploc under sand. The colder will keep your catch fresh for hours. A gunny sack is also a great way to store your catch hands-free if you don’t have a backpack.

29 COMMENTS

  1. Surf perch fishing is the best! Santa Cruz is always a pretty sweet place to go. I get great bites there.

  2. Thanks for sharing. Definitely use Gulp, I find them very effective when surf perch fishing and I honestly can’t say I personally have time to dig for mussels or crabs. The hard part though is finding the pockets or what I like to call “Money Holes”. It’s one of those things that takes time for your eye to catch. I would also add that you shouldn’t stay in the same spot. It’s good to move up and down the beach.

  3. Amazing article!! One of the best I’ve read on perch fishing. I am successful with most of the tips on here. I also learned a new thing or two. Thank you for sharing!

  4. Surf perch fishing is the best! The first time I went fishing was out at Santa Cruz Beach to catch these little guys and I literally caught 20. If you’re looking to get someone into fishing and want wack a bunch I highly recommend it. Especially since it’s on the beach. I’m actually taking my lil bro perch fishing this weekend.

  5. Yep I will for sure try these tips up here in NW Oregon. This will add another fishing opportunity to my fishing species and strategies resume. If anyone comes up this way Tillamook Sporting Goods is a great place to check in and buy those things you forgot to bring.

  6. I’m surprised after reading dozens of articles–not one mentions time of year. And it matters, the fall is when surf perch mate and the spring is when they spawn. There is a REASON the perch derbies ALWAYS occur in March or so

  7. Now that the storms have passed through Santa Cruz sandbars are starting to form fairly nicely and holes are much more obvious than they have been within the last month. Maybe it was my inexperience fishing during a storm surge, but I had very little luck the last few weeks. Last night, even though it was low tide, I was able to find a nice hole just south of SeaCliff Beach and finally got some bite. By the way very nice article! I was using the Carolina rig with 1.5 ounces of sinker, I may have done better with 3/4 ounces but it was late and I did not want to mess with my rig.

  8. Very informative article! We were able to catch several fish using the carolina rig that you had suggested, except the leaders were 17 lb mono. Since we are new to surf fishing for perch, here are some other things that we learned. Check the lure after retrieval because they tend to slide off the end due to bites and being dragged through the sand. After several casts, it helped to dip the lure back into the package in order to get some fresh scent. Also, the use of sand rod holders made it easy to tend to the line (i.e. attach lures, fix tangles, unhook fish) so that the rod and reel stayed off the sand.

    • Very good points about utilizing a sand spike to keep your gear free from water and debris! And you are absolutely right about the sandworm sliding off the hook after a few bites or simply after extended periods of use. Thanks for sharing your knowledge!

  9. This is the best surf perch tutorial I have ever read and seen( great pics by the way) I grew up fishing piers in San Francisco.. took the bus with my bucket and rod to Muni pier. Bought shrimp at the bait shop there and had a wonderful day of fishing.. bullheads. perch, the occasional leopard shark.. sometimes a striped bass with a big bobber and a drifted anchovy on the outgoing tide, salmon too.
    I surf fish crescent city .. brookings oregon area now.. Use gulp sandworms and the occasional motor oil grub. It is the best fun you can have If you love to fish and be in nature.
    Thanks for the great Blog…

    • You are definitely a veteran Bay angler! I appreciate the kind words, it really keeps me doing what I do. Email us with any fishing reports from SF or Santa Cruz and we’ll throw it up on the Fishing Reports section of the site. Thanks again buddy!

  10. I’m new to surfperch fishing. Fished Rio Del Mar last weekend using your tips, and caught nine Barred perch in the 8″ to 9″ range using camo colored Berkley Gulp sandworms on a #6 hook. I don’t have any special gear, so I just used my 6.5′ UglyStick and a Daiwa reel that I use for bass fishing. Started catching during the early afternoon about two hours before high tide. During that time I walked up and down the beach several hundred yards following a flock of Pelicans hunting a couple breakers from the shore. The tugging on my line that the surf break caused fooled me for a little while. Thought I had some bites early on, but probably didn’t. When the real bites started they were very different and obviously fish. Watched a pod of dolphins swimming around off shore for a while. At one point a seal even stuck its head out of the surf about twenty feet from where I was standing. The whole day was fun and relaxing. Thank you for the information. I will definitely be heading back to the beach again soon.

    • Guys like you are the reason I enjoy doing what I do. Anytime you need additional help with your surf adventures be sure to let me know! Brings joy to my soul helping people be successful out on the water. THANK YOU for supporting!

  11. Great article and super informative. I’ve become addicted to surf fishing, staring at the waves for hours at a time does something to you, something good. Plus, my wife loves frying that perch up. Thanks for the tips.

    • Very glad you found the info useful. Enjoy the fish fry! If you have an Instagram account please tag @scalzfishing in your photos so we can see your monster perch. Tight lines!

  12. Thanks for the great info for beginners. I was wondering what are the best months for perch fishing? and How is the fishing in November, December ?

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