Fishing for Sea Perch
The Washington and Oregon coasts offer a multitude of locations for
"Surf Fishing". This term generally refers to surf fishing off
the sandy beaches where clam digging is normally done. These sea
/surf perch are abundant in the above waters the year around, so even a sunny week-end during the
winter can be a chance to get the rod out.
There is a surf perch fishing derby on Long
Beach, Washington every summer in May as seen below, with one started at Westport
WA. in 2006, where many fisherpersons,
young or old, do participate.
This fishery can be something you may consider
getting the kids or grand kids involved in. However a saltwater or a
combination fishing license is required in the state of Washington.
Surf fishing also fits in nicely with a claming outing in the spring or
Picture supplied by Andy Le
from Portland OR and the redtails were caught in Newport OR. in
The Fish Themselves :
Sea perch many times called surf perch are widely available
in our marine waters. The three most popular are red-tail surf perch, striped sea perch and then pile perch.
Red Tail surf perch are the largest and most abundant of the three species of
perch caught along our coasts. Their fins have a distinctive reddish coloring
and dark vertical bars can be seen on their sides. These
fish, depending on the exact specie, can reach a length of 17" and can
weigh in at 2# to 3#, with the
average slightly smaller. The current Washington state record for red tail
surfperch (Amphistichus rhodoterus) is 4.05# & was 16" long, while striped
surf perch (seaperch) (Embiotoca lateralis) is 2.07#.
The females will be the largest of this specie.
They are an eager biter, making for
younger fisherpersons enjoyment. Like all
sea/surf perches, the red-tails
and striped sea perch are oviviviparous – which means instead of laying eggs like
most fish species, the females are internally fertilized in the fall and hold their eggs in their bodies until they hatch, and release live offspring
about 1" long into the water in about 8 months.
Bait : These fish will eat anything that they can
find or chase down, which means clams, shrimp, smaller fish like sand lances or
even surf smelt.
old standby bait has been clam necks. As this may be one of the natural
food for them. It has been said that these fish will bite off the necks of
clams that are feeding "necking in the surf". With the reduced seasons of
clamming, the perch fisherpersons have to freeze their clam necks. But in
freezing and keeping this bait fore any length of time, they dry out. It is
suggested to place this bait in a plastic bag partly filled with clam nectar or
clam juice used to add to clam chowder then marinate the bait.
Some fishermen have said they have great success on
ordinary night-crawlers, man, the fish love them, and they hook easy.
Or fishermen resort to other baits. The
easiest to acquire and equal in natural abundance for these fish would be sand
shrimp or even store-bought prawn. They however do not stay on the hook for the extended time as the
tougher clam necks do unless you wrap them with stretchy thread. You can
just rip the tails off and slide them up the hook like a worm but save
the heads and use those if you run out of tails (use stretchy thread) to attach
to the hook.
Sand shrimp can be dug on the beaches, with
some saying a
low tide being best, while others say a high tide is better. I
guess it is where you plan on digging. I have found them higher on the
beach, in this instance then the higher tide would be best. Look for small volcano like mounds with holes in the
top. Use a round clam gun that is common now. You can actually do better by pumping than digging.
Just find an area with a lot of shrimp holes and put your thumb over the hole on your clam gun and push it into the
sand or mud.
Keep this up for a bit. Release the pressure of your thumb on the backstroke and close it again on the downstroke. You apparently pump enough air or pressure
into the area that they can't stand and the little buggers will come shooting out all over.
Others say you can use a shovel or PVC gun and dig a large hole down until you hit
water, wait a while, the shrimp, seem to migrate into the hole and float
on the water.
Sand or piling worms are
another bait used occasionally. Chunks of squid also will
work for bait and stays on the hook well. If you can not come across any of this bait,
then using a egg snelled steelhead hook, you may be able to use a small sponge
or yarn saturated
with shrimp scent. Some even use a angle worm and marsh mellow.
A curly tail or marabou crappie jig works just as good in 1/4 to 1/2 ounce. Just bounce it back over the sand. One
favorite jig is white with a pink or red tail, but white and black also are
One fisherman as stumbled onto Berkley Saltwater Gulp sand
worms in the 2" size. He says he can't keep the fish off and the bait
stays on very well. They work best off the beach he has found and
not as well off the jetties though. I have used these for other species so
have no doubt he is right. Now, the last time I used some out of the
factory resealable ziplock bag, after a year, I found the seal did not really
work, the liquid dried up and the worms also dried out. I took the
few that were in this condition, placed them in a small ziplock bag, placed some
liquid shrimp and clam scent in with these dried worms for a couple of days,
which seemed to revive them.
These fish find their food initially be smell and then sight.
Therefore it would be of your benefit to use fresh bait or even use some
scent on it. Another idea would be to tie a small amount of Steelhead yarn
onto the bait, using it to absorb the scent prolonging your re-scenting. This
would also give the lure a chance to prolong the time the fish held it in their
mouth (increasing your possibility of hooking them) because the yarn may get
tangled in their teeth.
Terminal Gear :
The heavier the surf, the heavier gear. Some areas
quite mild and you can easily use a 8-12 steelhead or a 10-20 salmon rod
using 2oz. and 3oz. pyramids respectively with 15# test line. Other areas
in where the beaches are flatter you may need the 10' surf sticks
throwing 8 and 10 ounces (or more) using 30# test line.
Typically a pyramid sinker of from 2 to 4 oz. is needed
to cast as far as you can in the surf. This sinker dropper can be from 2'
to 3' and is attached to a 3 way swivel
at the end of the mainline. The leader to the hook needs to be about 3'
long and of a slightly lighter weight than the mainline. On this leader
a hook of an approx size of from #4 to #1 or larger is attached, with a #1 being
preferred by many. The larger hooks may benefit if you are trying to
keep the smaller fish off. If you go too small of a hook, they will take the
bait, but not get hooked. It has been found
that normal steelhead hooks and leader seem appropriate here. The
hook tied with a normal egg snell, just like the steelhead egg loop works great,
as this can help hold a shrimp onto the hook better than just threading it onto
the hook itself. Here is one fishery that WDFW has not come down on the
fisherpersons prohibiting the use of barbed hooks.
You might consider attaching 2 leaders with a
single hook attached. Here I would use the leaders shorter,
say 8" to 12" & place the shorter lower leader closer to the bottom or
nearer the sinker, but far enough away so it is not right at the sinker.
illustration used with permission of Russ Mohney from The Chronicle
from an article 11-11-05
illustration used with permission of Russ Mohney from The Chronicle
from an article 03-27-2010
Tackle & Type of
Surf fishing is really easy and there is almost no right or
wrong way to go about it. Basic tackle and rigging can be applied.
You can even use a stout salmon or steelhead rod. Some use 12lb line
tied direct to a 3/4 - 5oz weight (weight will depend on conditions), then tie
three even spaced dropper loops starting 12" above the weight. Use
the loops to attach #2 or #4 octopus or bait holder hooks. Bait the hooks
with clam necks or sand shrimp or Gulp artificial bait. You can also use
worms or herring chunks or anchovy pieces or squid chunks. Squid is nice
as it stays on the hook well. You also may try to bait each hook with a
different bait until you learn what the fish are biting that day.
the bait in to the zone, you may sometimes have to wade with receding water as
far as safely possible, make a long cast and retreat quickly while spooling line
out. Once back on the beach or safe in the shallows you can reel up the
slack. Never Never NEVER EVER turn you back on the ocean while you
are surf fishing. You do not want to be the victim of the unforgiving
nature of the sea. It can and does really happen.
Wait about 5
minutes for a bite, if no bites reel in ten feet or so, do this until you find
fish, then try to get your bait in that area each cast. Sometimes the fish
can be out a ways and other times they can be very close.
Also if you are standing in the water even a few inches deep,
a little sand pit will form when your are standing on the sand and surf goes
out. If you for any reason slightly loose your balance, you will get
tripped over knocking you down in the surf. You have to move
slightly to left or right to keep that little sand pit from forming too big.
Tackle will depend somewhat on the water you will
be fishing. We will classify surf beaches into three different, (1) being
a gently sloping, (2) a lightly sloping and (3) a moderately sloping. Each
one of these types will have a different breaker/surf pattern that you will need
to learn how to read.
These fish do not occupy a deep water with
possibly 20' being their limit.
(Type 1) The
gently sloping of most Pacific Northwest sandy type clam beaches would require
tackle which may have to cast up to a 4 oz sinker 100 yards, (using a heavy
special purpose rod & reel), a long rod does not hurt at all. Many
dedicated surf fishermen will use a heavy 12' rod and a line weight enough as to
not break off the sinker when casting.
A suggestion is if you have to cast this far with this heavy
weight, you might want to wear a leather glove or some form of protection on
your left index finger to protect it from being cut during the casting.
Using this heavy type gear, which is similar to the East
coast Stripped Bass fishing, you may cant to
CLICK HERE to learn about the
"Off The Beach Casting Method".
Now if you can find a beach has more of a slope, or a #1 beach
with shallow troughs either parallel or 90 degrees to the shoreline which may
hold fish, meaning the fish may be closer to shore, then a salmon rod
with a spinning reel would suffice. Probably the most used rod/reel
combo would be a 8 1/2' steelhead / medium salmon rod with a spinning reel capable
of holding a minimum of 100 yards of 12# to 15# test monofilament line.
Here it is suggested you use as light a sinker
as needed to hold your gear on the bottom for a reasonable length of time.
A 1 oz. or 2 oz. would be ideal, but depending on the water conditions you may be
forced into using a heavier sinker and tackle. This also may depend on how far out
in the surf that you are casting. But remember these fish may not be way
out, as they are trying to pick up feed off the beach. Most times, just
behind the first series of breakers is the farthest you would ever need to cast.
(Type 3) Now we get into a
different type of beach which may have more of a gravel beach
that has more slope as compared to sandy tapered beach. This would
normally be beaches on the northern Washington b beach coast like found near Klalock.
Here a lighter rod and reel could be used as casting could be
even less than fishing a small river. A heavy trout rod combo could
Most reels used here will be spinning type
reels. Level-wind reels work great also, IF you are used to them and have
the ability to control
There are a few items that my be
beneficial to have along for this fishery. One would be
something to carry your fish in after you have caught them. This is not a
place for a bucket since you may be moving along the beach, in the water, or following
the waves in or out. Plus if you happen to be one of those who use
chest waders and are in the water most of the time, you need a method of
retaining your catch with you. The simplest thing would be one of
the small nylon/rubber nets that attach to your belt that the clam diggers use.
Another thing would be some method of carrying
extra tackle with you. What works best for many is the canvas
rubber lined creels made by Danielson. They are inexpensive, have a large
rubberized inner pouch, have a couple of pockets on one side and have a
shoulder strap. Or use a small day backpack.
Remember that if you are going to don chest waders for this
endeavor, and you are the driver of the vehicle, you may want to remove your
vehicle keys from your pants pocket BEFORE you pull the waders all the way up.
You may just want to get into the vehicle for something and believe me, trying
to reach down into your pants pocket INSIDE your waders, well it can be done,
but usually not in any speedy manner.
the author at the age of about 12 & his father with a string
of nice sea perch
Time to Fish :
Most surf fishermen will tell you that the incoming tide
is the best, as the fish
will be moving up the beach to snatch up anything left by the outgoing
tide. However you may be fighting weeds being washed ashore. A few
dedicated surf fishermen may confide that fishing can be productive all the way
thru and into the bottom of the outgoing. Now this makes a lot of
sense in that you are not fighting any weeds, plus the waves are pulling your
gear outward instead of toward you. I think it is important if you can find a depression,
trough or deeper spot that they
could congregate in.
The best fishing is when the surf is moderate to calm.
When the surf is rough and the waves are breaking far from shore seems to not be
conducive to good fishing. It is a common belief that at this time the
fish retreat from the rough waters & feed farther from shore. When fishing
rough water conditions is usually slow and the surging surf can be dangerous.
For those of you who clam dig, this can be an
additional chance for recreation during the day since most of the clam digging
is in the afternoon, even into dark, depending on the time of the low tide.
This gives you a chance to surf fish at a different time than the clamming takes
Driving on the Beach :
A possible problem driving on the beach during the summer is
that with little rain, the upper sand becomes so dry that unless you have a 4
wheel drive vehicle, good tires and know how to drive in sand that you can very
well get stuck. It is not that bad once you get onto the wet beach itself, but
getting on or off at the approaches is where the fun can come into play. Getting off
may be worse because you many times can not really see where the main
is. If you start to bog down, do not stop, but just keep the power to it
but without spinning the wheels. Do not give it gas to speed up as you will
just bury the tires.
Also in Washington state, the beaches are usually considered
State property so driving on them is covered by Department Of Transportation
speed limit laws in force. One is that you can not drive on the clam beds
which are closer to the water. And there is a 25MPH speed limit.
There also may be restrictions as to access.
When chasing surf perch, you’re generally
looking for a steeply sloped beach that the waves will break hard on. As
waves toss up onto the sand of a steeply-sloped beach, they wash food like sand
crabs into the water. When the tide is high a "pool" will form at
the base of the slope and will allow the fish close and safe access to the food
supply which will be washed down the steep slope as the waves churn the sand and
the water when the wave retreats. The waves also break
closer to shore on steep beach so the fishy water will be much closer and easier to reach.
However, surf perch can be caught off the sandy razor clam
type beaches by
usually casting as far into the waves as possible and reeling back in. You have to
pick the right spot, not just cast anywhere into the surf.
These fish are looking for food that washes out as the waves pass over.
Find a trough that this food collects in and you have found the fish. But be
aware that they will be moving all the time, so if you catch a few. then it
goes dead, move one way or the other to try to intercept them again.
Also you will find that it is unusual for the water to be
coming directly onto the beach, but there will be a current pushing the water
along the beach. This means after your first cast, you will be able to
tell which way the current is moving, adjust your fishing methods accordingly.
If you see a seal or seal swimming in the surf a few
yards out, note that they are fishing for the same prey as you are.
A good strategy would be to find a prospective spot, cast,
then move a little up or
down the beach with each successive cast until the fish are located. Then
your next cast can be adjusted so the bait will pull through the same area.
The fish are there possibly because of a depression or it liked something about
the wave or current action. The normal method is to cast far
out and up current and reel in slowly as the bait arcs around to about a 45
degree position. Then reel in and start over. This will usually take
about 4 to 5 minutes.
A more sophisticated method would be to drive down the beach at
minus low tide and pick out all the big depressions
or troughs that where when the tide comes in, that food will be washed into and the perch may
Walk out to inspect any possible good looking location. Mark each
a handheld GPS unit. If you do not have a GPS, then drive tall
stakes with flagging on the top in the sand to mark your spot on the upper beach. Make notes as to which location was furthest out and which ones would be good as the tide
comes in on a piece of paper so that if the first one you try does not produce,
you have a backup or two. The key is finding calmer areas where
the fish will be in feeding close enough to reach them.
Once you decide which spot looks the best, head for it as
the tide comes in. The fish will move around in these troughs so it may
be best to keep moving your casts around, but stay on the same "hole" for a while.
If your bait happens to be on a shelf and not
in the trough, you may not get as many bites as your fishing partner a few feet
away down the beach. Cast out and slowly reel in, moving your bait
across the bottom. This also keeps the sinker from becoming "sanded in".
Here is a lesson if you enter the derby below, be there a week or so before, mark some spots, then try out these marked locations.
Pick your spots the day of the derby and then camp on the best one for at least an hour
before the tide is best at that trough. Don't go searching at this time because
other fishermen will stake it out as the tournament starts. Remember
IF you are here to try and to win money, you will need to keep your lines in the
water for the maximum exposure to have a chance to catch the most fish.
These fish travel in small schools which
usually consist of the same size fish, so if you are regularly getting small
fish, you may want to change your casting location hoping to find a school of
larger fish. Schools often congregate within 30 feet of the
shoreline, darting in an out of the surf's surge.
If you can cast far enough, then you can stay
on the dry beach. Others may want to don hip boots or chest waders
and enter the shallower parts of the surf to do their casting from.
If you do use chest waders, be sure to secure it with a belt so if you get hit
high by a wave, the water does not fill the top. A point of safety here, be ever vigilant of the waves
and move around slightly to
keep the waves from washing out around your boots, creating a hole that you may
You may have to move to a different location if your best pick was
one that is subject to lots of floating grass as the tide comes in. It is
unproductive if every time you pull in a large gob of sea grass.
of the breakwaters on "the point" at Westport.
The above picture is of one of the revetment
"the point" looking toward the ocean from Westport. This can also be a good location to use
the same tackle as used for surf perch fishing, with the chance to also catch black
sea bass, flounder, or even a ling cod.
Pile perch are more
common in Puget Sound, where they're often caught around docks, floats and piers
on an incoming tide. They are a smaller Specie than the surf perch. One method used around the docks is to use
herring jigs. These are a section of line with many short leadered
small gold colored hooks attached to the mainline. These simulate Krill or
many smaller insects that these fish feed on.
This fishery can well be one that the whole family can participate
in. However, it is highly recommended that EVERYONE who fishes
wading IN THE WATER wear a Personal
Device. The best is the
newer self inflating type that are worn like a shoulder harness. They are not
anywhere as bulky as the older units and are quite comfortable to wear. The reason for wearing these here is
that if you are wading in the surf to get farther out, then a sneaker wave
comes in and knocks you down, things can get pretty disastrous very
quickly. Also if children are present, be sure to have them wear a
PDF, as you the fisherpersons can not watch them all the time, if you are
concentrating on fishing also.
If fishing off of jetty rocks, make certain before you begin
fishing that you have a spot that will allow you a very fast escape route for
any reason. If the spot you find is difficult to get down to it will take
to long to get out of if a large series swell comes your way. This also
happens frequently. If fishing on the ocean side of a jetty be extra
careful. The surge is powerful enough to move boulders or wash you right
off of one and in to a hole. Be prepared and fish safe with a friend if possible
Share the Beach
With the advent of "Surf Boarding", there may be surfers where you
want to fish. Be courteous and offer to share, or move to another area out
of their way. They need big waves but in somewhat protected areas to do
their thing, these areas may well be confined to certain locations as to
compared to the water that the fishermen will be using. You can move to a
new area a lot easier than they can, plus if they are there, the fish may not
The state of Washington's limit on sea perch is 15 per day.
Method of Preparing the Catch :
All specie of sea perch are also a very
good eating fish if large enough to make it worthwhile. These fish can be filleted,
and skillet fried, deep fried in
peanut oil, batter dipped, or many other methods which can produce a nice change of diet for many.
It like most white meat fish seems best if eaten as fresh as possible, meaning
For a link to the
below derby website
12th Annual Surf Perch Derby
May 19th 2012
(the Saturday after Mother’s Day each year).
Long Beach Washington, Peninsula Community
Surf Perch Derby
$25 per person pre-registration; $30 day of the tournament. Click
to download and print a registration form.
REGISTRATION & WEIGH IN:
Registration on the Saturday of the derby is at the booth at the
Bolstad approach in downtown Long Beach (north end of the
All fishermen MUST check in before going fishing.
6:00 am – 8:30 am
The booth is also the weigh-in location. Weigh-in 2:00 to
Winners announced at 3:30 p.m.
Raffle drawings and door prizes too!
Breakfast with “all you can eat pancakes” from 6:30 to 11:00 am,
also on the Bolstad approach. Enjoy the world-famous Kiwanis
breakfast of pancakes, ham, scrambled eggs, cranberry juice, coffee
and milk. Open to the public; Extra meals are $8 per person.
Questions? Contact Al Harper (360) 642-8322.
Winners based on total weight of catch for individuals or 3-person
- 1st Place: $100
- 2nd Place: $50
- 3rd Place: $25
- 1st Place: $300
- 2nd Place: $150
- 3rd Place: $95
There is no extra fee for team event; if you do not have
a team, you will be placed with others not having a team.
Team entries need to come in together.
Carry-Over Fund Bonuses
- If the 1st Place team beats the posted weight
AND all 3 team members fished the derby last year, they qualify
for the carry-over fund bonus.
- If the 1st Place individual beats the posted
weight AND fished the derby last year, they qualify for the
carry-over fund bonus.
- The overall heaviest surf perch winner must
have also fished last year to qualify to win the carry-over fund
- Should any funds not be claimed, they will carry-over to the
The 2006 derby 1st place
brought in 64lbs total & 53lbs was good for 3rd . The big fish for
the day weighed in at 3.02#
All information appearing on this page, Copyright © 2004 - 2013 LeeRoy Wisner,
with credit given for original illustrations.
All Rights Reserved
Originated 6-05-04, Last updated 06-02-2013
contact the author click here
Fishing Derby at the Westport/Grayland / Tokeland area May 26, 2007
Entry fee $20.00, no ticket
sales after 9:AM derby day
& weigh in closes at 4 PM,
Awards at 5PM at weigh in station at Angler Charters across from float 8 in
pay out to be cash, based on percentage of ticket sales
360-268-1030 or www.anglercharters.net